The recent push for more and more entry level trails might be great for introducing new riders to the sport, but let's not forget that mountain biking isn't supposed to be easy, safe, or quick to master.
Many of us cut our teeth, as well as our shins, on raw singletrack that invited progression, and taking that option away from new riders just doesn't seem fair. Of course somewhere like the North Shore, a location that pretty much only had insanely difficult trails up until just recently, needs some easier lines down the mountain for those who don't want to go searching through the bush for their shoes after every yard sale of a crash, but the Shore is the exception rather than the norm. So many mountains out there are seeing only ultra-smooth "flow trails" added to their maps, despite the fact that the already existing trails don't go much beyond blue or green on IMBA's rating scale.
The argument for all of these so-called flow trails is usually based around bringing more riders into the sport, which must be a good thing, right? Well, I'm not going to make any friends by saying this, and I fear that it might sound terribly offensive, but why should many of us care if Jim from accounting or that guy three houses down gets into the sport? Bikes are amazing in that they make people happy, and I really do want Jim from accounting to be happy, but I don't want every new trail that gets built to be as smooth as glass, or existing trails to be graded down to the point where they lack any sort of character just so Jim doesn't feel intimidated.
|It isn't about "getting gnarly" and drinking Mountain Dew - I despise that sort of attitude as much as anyone - and I have no shame in dismounting to walk a feature that unnerves me, but I don't want us to forget that our sport might not be for everyone, so let's not try to make it for everyone.|
| There is a contingent that would like to see many sections like the one pictured here during the B.C. Bike Race smoothed out. Where do you stand? Photo: Dave Silver|
A lot of the rationale behind the latest craze of smoothing and stomping everything flat boils down to money. If I had a Clif Bar for every time someone defended either a new flow trail or the neutering of a challenging singletrack by arguing that more riders mean more money being injected into the sport I'd likely be making a healthy side income from selling them to my riding buddies. But I'd rather give those bars away because I don't give a shit about money, be it in my own pocket or tourism dollars. Yes, I make a living by working in the cycling industry, but that isn't why I ride. I ride because I love it, and I know that it's the same for you. I know that you'd ride regardless of if your local trail association sees that tourism money, receives that government grant, or gets fifty new members next season.
Hell, it seems like most of the money that many local associations receive goes straight towards building the easiest trails that the terrain permits rather than funding difficult singletrack that longtime club members and riders would find challenging. Something is wrong with that picture, but criticizing trail work of any kind is like joking about cancer in that you're likely to offend anyone that hears you. Cancer most certainly isn't funny, but is all trail work good trail work? Is smoother always better? Is there such a thing as over-maintaining a trail?
I'm writing this from Whistler, the location that we're using for the first of three week-long test sessions that will see us ride and rate the latest and most interesting bikes on the market. Now, everyone knows that Whistler is the Mecca of lift-assisted riding - you want to spend all day smashing berms so hard that it feels like your face is going to pull off from the G-forces? There're at least three or four groomed runs that will allow you to do exactly that. Rather test your skills on steep, natural trails with roots as big as a 30ft long anaconda? Whistler has that in spades, as well as everything in between, and the only thing stopping you will be how soon your unsuspecting hands turn into lobster claws permanently shaped around a set of Ruffian grips... you'll know exactly what I'm talking about if you've been here.
Whistler's local Valley trails, those you have to access using your own power, deserve just as much praise - they're rooty, filled with rocks, and it seems like they are either pointing straight up or straight down. There are easier trails, of course, but I don't think I'm out of line when I say that the average Whistler trail, be it in the bike park or out in the valley, is substantially more difficult than most other places in the world, and I say that having sampled more foreign goodness than a single guy on a Contiki bus tour through Europe. The incredibly hard work that the locals have done in the Whistler area has created an amazing trail network without forsaking riders who like to be challenged, and those who are in charge of their own community's trail work should make an effort to come and see it for themselves.
We need to forget this idea that new or less skilled riders should never have to walk or put a foot down. Mountain biking isn't easy, and that's a good thing.