Save the Tech
I've been lucky to have ridden singletrack all over North and Central America, many parts of Europe, Asia, and even the Middle East, and there's been a common thread shared between most of the locals I've talked to who call those places home: their existing trails are being made easier and easier, and the focus of fresh trails seems to be only on finding the smoothest, most mundane terrain.
The supposed reasons for this aren't difficult to pinpoint. First, more and more locales are going straight instead of building rouge singletrack. That in itself is hard to argue against, especially when funding might be required, but there's little chance of getting funding for your raw, scary line when said funding is only coming because the source of it has been sold on growing the sport by attracting new riders. New riders are, understandably, scared of dying during their first few rides, and search and rescue needing to collect broken riders every other day is generally bad for business. And let's not forget that is exactly what this is... a business.
Trail associations are often (but not always) looking for funding to offset the expenses of trail work, and that funding is usually only going to come for entry-level singletrack that promises to encourage growth of the sport. More riders mean more money spent by riders, of course, which is the ROI of that funding.
Okay, so why can't guys who want difficult, technical trails just go build it themselves? They can, of course, but it's often not that simple anymore. With trail building going legit in more places, the days of wandering off into the bush to build whatever you want are, for better or worse, probably behind us. There are hoops to jump through now that higher powers are involved, so you can't just go put shovel to dirt like many of us used to. And with many trail associations seemingly focused solely on growing the sport by building entry-level trails, or trails that only get approved and funded, it's almost like these associations represent people that don't even ride yet instead of those who have been riding and investing in this sport for many, many years. Why would someone back a group that doesn't even recognize them?
Politics aside, the push for smoother trails is robbing new riders of the progression and accomplishment that's such a great part of our little sport. Worse yet, I doubt this mindset will ever do a U-turn. When something becomes no longer acceptable, easier, or quicker, it rarely reverts back to being acceptable, difficult, or slower; that's just not how us humans work. Soon we'll have a whole slew of riders who've become used to not having their skills challenged, and those riders will eventually be calling the shots years down the road. How do you think that's going to turn out?
Bring the Flow
I've been lucky to have ridden singletrack all over North and Central America, many parts of Europe, Asia, and even the Middle East, and if there's one thing that connects riders from all those locations is that we all just want to have a good time on our bikes. And you know what's a really, really good time? Coasting through a set of huge berms and snakey singletrack that delivers flow to riders without them needing pro-level skills.
Mountain biking has long been viewed by much of the general, non-riding public as a dangerous, rowdy sport that costs riders their collarbones on a regular basis. Events like the Red Bull Rampage, along with countless two-minute hucking 'edits,' have people like my mom thinking that I surely have a deathwish. I don't have a deathwish, but I do wish for endless, flowing singletrack that'll have me feeling like I'm surfing on dirt. I mean, who wouldn't have a shit eating grin on that kind of trail? Only a jerk who doesn't support their local trail association, I assume.
I don't need to point out to you how fun a downhill pump track of a trail can be, but I am going to point out why that sort of terrain can only be a good thing for our little sport. You know what people like to do? They like to have fun, and the more fun we can make mountain biking, the more people we'll get on bikes. That's great, but there's a selfish reason for wanting more riders: it should mean that we'll eventually have more trails as well due to more manpower and bigger numbers lobbying for singletrack.
Sure, a lot of those new trails are likely going to be easier than what the 'core' riders are looking for, but a good number of rookie riders will stick around long enough to want more challenging terrain, and that's when we'll hopefully see more of all types of trails, including the scary ones.
As much as I pine for the days when mountain biking was a weird, niche sport that not many people were interested in, those days are long behind us and they ain't coming back. Mountain biking is mainstream because, well, it's a damn good time, and I think we can all agree that more people need to be having a good time out in nature.
Trails that scare the bejesus out of people generally don't make for a good time, however, so let's embrace the flow instead of complaining about the berms that I know put a smile on everyone's face.