There's an unfortunate trend that seems to be happening more often at my local trail network – straightening out corners. And I don't mean going a little wider to avoid needing to jam on the brakes too hard. No, I'm talking about blatant straightlines, blasting right down the middle of a beautiful section of squiggles in order to avoid slowing down. All it takes is one or two riders to start taking a different route, and before you know it that becomes the main line, since humans seem to be hardwired to take the path of least resistance.
It's not just KOM-hungry Strava racers that are to blame either – there are other sections where straightlines are developing because the alternative would be to navigate over a series of slippery roots, and maybe a puddle or two, something that requires (gasp) slowing down to avoid getting spit sideways, and some basic bike handling skills.
I've tried dragging logs over the cheater lines, covering them up with a pile of debris that makes it abundantly clear which way the trail is supposed to go... and then a few days later the straightline will be back again. The concept of stopping to unblock a trail braid boggles my mind, especially since it means someone is too lazy to work on their cornering skills, but motivated enough to stop and open up their own easy off-ramp.
Cornering is one of those skills that most riders will never truly perfect (myself included), and it's a big part of what makes riding so much fun. Mountain biking is supposed to be hard, at least some of the time. Every ride is like a puzzle, a quest to unlock the flow and find the cleanest way through a section.
Putting in an egregious straightline, whether that's in the quest of speed or in an attempt to make things easier, is disrespectful to the next riders down the trail, and it's disrespectful to the original trail builder. Turns are there for a reason – take the time to enjoy them, to revel in the body and bike movements that are required to maintain momentum.
Yes, I know that this article fits into the 'old man yells at clouds' category, and expressing frustrations over trails being straightened out or dumbed down is a well worn path. However, the fact that it's still occurring, and seems to becoming increasingly common makes it seem like it's worth shouting some more.
Years ago, Seb Kemp wrote a great article over on NSMB
that still pops into my mind sometimes. He wrote, “Life is full of twists and turns and we have to train ourselves to deal with bends in the trails of our lives and not slip and fall when we’re faced with a curve.
” I'm not going to get all touch-feely here, but there's something to be said for not backing down from a challenge and embracing the awkward. Tight turns and weird technical sections of trail are good for the soul, even if it doesn't immediately seem like it. Spend enough time trying to appreciate the old school, techical jank and you might be surprised – one day it'll all start to click, and flow will appear where it previously didn't seem like any existed.
For that vast majority of riders out there that aren't
cutting corners, pat yourself on the back - thanks for playing nice. And don't be afraid to close off straightlines, drain puddles, and remove blowdown (keeping safety in mind, of course) – those small acts of trail maintenance can go a long ways. While you're at it, feel free to knock over any unnecessary stacks of rocks too. Rock stacking isn't art, it's obnoxious and unsightly, but that's probably a topic for another time.
As for the riders that are making those straightlines in the first place, well, the pinch flat fairy will find them soon enough.