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11 things mountain bike trail builders wish you wouldn’t do
Crafting trails takes hours of mud, sweat and tears. Trail builders create your trails and keep them running smoothly – here are a few tips to keep them happy.
What does spending hours lugging dirt and rocks, splitting chunks of wood and wielding a spade actually offer? For Aleksa Havelaar, a trail builder who's also on the the Board of Directors for TORCA North (Terrace Off-Road Cycling Association) in British Columbia, it’s all about the challenge and creative problem-solving.
“We don't have ‘rake and ride’ type of terrain,” says Havelaar. “It's rocky, it's rooty and it's steep. You can think you have the perfect plan for a new trail; you've walked a line a dozen times, moved pin flags, put them back, moved them again and everything is dialled. But then you start digging and everything can change. We don't always know what we're going to find under that thick moss carpet. It's those moments where we're like, ‘Oh damn, I didn't expect that,’ that I really love!”
Having spent so many hours of hard work to create something beautiful, the last thing trail builders want is for people to trash it. These are 11 things that trail builders wish riders would do to help.
1. Pick up after yourselves and others
Every trail user is responsible for taking home what they bring – no one wants to see garbage left in nature. But we all know that occasionally littering can be accidental, if you see litter on the trail, pick it up and pack it out.
2. Dig in
If you want to ride the trails, make time to help maintain them and join your local trail association’s organised trail days. It can take a long time to build even a relatively small feature, but many hands – and the right resources – make light work. In many places, like Terrace, the terrain can be challenging to work with, so features like berms and tables can take several weeks and many wheelbarrows, to build.
“Everyone has their reasons for working or not working on trails,” says Havelaar. “Some people just don't know that trail maintenance is done by volunteers, others don't have the time. My hope for every rider is, at the very least, to be a member of their local bike club/trail association. The majority of trails in BC are still built and maintained by volunteers who are generally underfunded and under-resourced.”
3. Remember that skids are for... well, no one
All skidding does is erode the trails and create far more work for builders who maintain the trails. If you want their energy to go into building new trails, do your part and brake efficiently and effectively. If your braking skills aren’t up to par, take a lesson.
4. Respect trail closures
If a trail is closed, there is a reason. The reason for the closure may not always be obvious but riding past the signage or tape can create safety issues for riders and builders alike, not to mention, excessive damage to the trails surfaces.
5. Be smart about wet-weather riding
If you live in a place where the trails can be damaged with wet weather riding, don’t do it.
“Coming back from a ride covered in mud from head to toe shouldn’t be a badge of honour to show how hardcore you are unless you’re riding in Whistler where hundreds of thousands of dollars of paid maintenance is the norm,” says Havelaar.
If you aren’t sure what is right for your area, she suggests checking in with your local trail association before heading out for a ride in a torrential downpour or in the spring during snow melt/freeze thaw cycles.
6. Don’t leave a trail blocked
If there's an obstacle like a large tree limb that's blocking the trail, stop and clear the trail. If you're unable to clear the obstacle, like a fallen tree, be sure to report it to the group responsible for trail maintenance so it can be dealt with for the safety of other riders.
7. Stick to the trail
Don’t braid trails. “If there is a line or feature that you can’t ride, there is nothing wrong with walking your bike or sessioning it until you get it,” says Havelaar.
“If you find you’re going around a lot of features that don’t have purpose built ride-arounds, then work on your skills first and then go back to that trail," she continues. At the end of the day, making your own line—for any reason—just creates more work for the trail builders.
8. Don’t be selfish
One of the best parts of mountain biking can be the community. Because of that, trail builders need to think about the whole community when they build trails and develop networks.
“Trailbuilders have to think about the majority of riders and balance that with their capacity to maintain trails,” says Havelaar. “You can't always build for the handful of people who want 15ft-high skinnies that end in drops to flat.”
9. Focus on your skills
A pet peeve of many trail builders is the complaint that a trail isn’t technical enough from riders who don’t yet have the ability to get the best out of what is there (e.g. riding around the bottom of berms). Before criticizing a trail, consider how improving your own riding skills could improve your experience.
10. Stop staying should
“Other than trail braiding, my biggest pet peeve are the words ‘you should,’” says Havelaar. “‘You should build more trails, harder trails, easier trails, bigger jumps, more progressive trails…’ The list goes on. Instead of saying ‘you should’, try, ‘How can we help to promote/create/develop.…’
"Don't get me wrong, we always need to be listening to what the needs of the mountain bike community are, it's just about the approach some people take. As a volunteer, having multiple people tell you that you should be doing something when you're already doing a lot of things can be a little disheartening.”
11. Work with your local trail organisation
“I worry about the people who just go out on their own and start making changes to trails without checking with their association and trail builders first,” says Havelaar. This practice can be dangerous and unsustainable.
It’s not just the building; there’s a lot of work that goes into a trail before a shovel even touches dirt. Find out what options are available for you to help volunteer in your area and engage with your local volunteer groups.