The Pinkbike Podcast: Episode 74 - The Best Trails We’ve Ridden and What Makes Them So Special

Aug 5, 2021
by Mike Levy  
Pinkbike Podcast
Art by Taj Mihelich


What’s the most important ingredient required to make mountain biking a good time? Sure, we love to talk about fancy bikes and gear but while it certainly can be a factor, I don’t think that stuff has much to do with enjoying your ride. And while it probably helps to have some friends to be out there with you, plenty of us do most of our riding solo, so maybe it’s not entirely about the company, either. If you're anything like me, you can have a great time by yourself while riding an old bike with a bald rear tire… I mean, just as long as the trail is good, right?

While I don’t mind doing my time on a gravel road to get to the good stuff, it really is all about that good stuff - the singletrack. That singletrack is why we all ride. A 5,000-foot steep ass climb up a gravel road in the blazing summer heat while wearing oversized knee pads and riding an overweight trail bike with DH tires and an idler pulley? We’re happy to do it if the singletrack is good. Today’s podcast is all about the trails; we’re gonna talk about the singletrack that each of us loves and why, the factors that make a good trail so good and less good trail a less good, why we owe everything to the people that build trails, and some trail features that either blew our minds or maybe scared the shit out of us.

What do you like to see on a trail? What can ruin a trail for you?





THE PINKBIKE PODCAST // EPISODE 74 - THE BEST TRAILS WE’VE RIDDEN AND WHAT MAKES THEM SO SPECIAL
August 5th, 2021

Step 1: No skinnies, please.


Featuring a rotating cast of the editorial team and other guests, the Pinkbike podcast is a weekly update on all the latest stories from around the world of mountain biking, as well as some frank discussion about tech, racing, and everything in between.




Previous Pinkbike Podcasts
Episode 1 - Why Are Bikes So Expensive?
Episode 2 - Where the Hell is the Grim Donut?
Episode 3 - Pond Beaver Tech
Episode 4 - Why is Every Bike a Trail Bike?
Episode 5 - Can You Trust Bike Reviews?
Episode 6 - Over Biked Or Under Biked?
Episode 7 - Wild Project Bikes
Episode 8 - Do We Need an Even Larger Wheel Size?
Episode 9 - Why Are We Doing a Cross-Country Field Test?
Episode 10 - Getting Nerdy About Bike Setup
Episode 11 - Are We Going Racing This Year?
Episode 12 - What's the Future of Bike Shops?
Episode 13 - Are Bikes Too Regular Now?
Episode 14 - What Bikes Would Pinkbike Editors Buy?
Episode 15 - What's Holding Mountain Biking Back?
Episode 16 - Who's Your Mountain Biking Hero?
Episode 17 - XC Field Test Insider
Episode 18 - Electronics on your Mountain Bike: Good or Bad?
Episode 19 - The Hardtail Episode
Episode 20 - MTB Conspiracy Theories
Episode 21 - Stuff We Were Wrong About
Episode 22 - Does Your Riding Style Match Your Personality?
Episode 23 - Grim Donut 2 is Live!
Episode 24 - Why Even Buy a DH Bike?
Episode 25 - Fall Field Test Preview
Episode 26 - The Three Most Important Mountain Bikes
Episode 27 - The World Champs Special
Episode 28 - All About Women's Bikes
Episode 29 - Freeride or Die
Episode 30 - Would You Rather?
Episode 31 - Wet Weather Riding Tips & Tricks
Episode 32 - What Needs to Change in the Bike Industry?
Episode 33 - Behind the Scenes at Pinkbike Academy
Episode 34 - Grilling Levy About Field Test Trail Bikes (and His Bonspiel)
Episode 35 - Story Time - Stranger Than Fiction
Episode 36 - Grilling Kazimer about Field Test Enduro Bikes
Episode 37 - The 2020 Privateer Season with Ben Cathro
Episode 38 - Editors Defend Their 2020 Best-Of Picks
Episode 39 - Predicting the Future of Mountain Biking
Episode 40 - The Pinkbike Awards!
Episode 41 - Racing Rumours and Team Changes
Episode 42 - Mountain Biking's Guilty Pleasures
Episode 43 - Dangerholm's Wildest Custom Mountain Bikes
Episode 44 - Mountain Bike Suspension Decoded
Episode 45 - What Makes a Good Riding Buddy
Episode 46 - The RockShox Zeb vs Fox 38 Deep Dive
Episode 47 - High Pivot Bikes: The Good, The Bad, and The Why?
Episode 48 - Rides That Went Horribly Wrong... & Why That Made Them So Good
Episode 49 - What's the Best DH Bike?
Episode 50 - Are Bikes Actually Getting Less Expensive? (Value Bike Field Test Preview)
Episode 51 - Should MTB Media Post Spy Shots?
Episode 52 - Our Most Embarrassing MTB Moments
Episode 53 - Should Climbers Still Have the Right of Way?
Episode 54 - Best and Worst MTB Product Marketing
Episode 55 - Big Dumb Rides & Staying Motivated
Episode 56 - What Were the Most Important Inventions in Mountain Biking?
Episode 57 - What Were the Best (and Worst) Trends in Mountain Biking?
Episode 58 - Debunking Mountain Biking's Biggest Myths
Episode 59 - Value Bike Field Trip Surprises & Spoilers
Episode 60 - What Kind of Mountain Biker Do You Want to Be?
Episode 61 - Athlete Pay, Lycra, Equality and More from the State of the Sport Survey
Episode 62 - Editor Preferences and Why They Matter
Episode 63 - Our Best (And Worst) Bike Buying Advice
Episode 64 - Who's On Your MTB Mount Rushmore?
Episode 65 - The Hardtail Episode
Episode 66 - The Best and Worst of Repairing Bikes
Episode 67 - The Story of Mountain Biking's Most Interesting Man: Richard Cunningham
Episode 68 - Who Are Mountain Biking's Unsung Heroes?
Episode 69 - The Good, Bad, and Strange Bikes We've Owned - Part 1
Episode 70 - The Good, Bad, and Strange Bikes We've Owned - Part 2
Episode 71 - The Story of Mountain Biking's Most Interesting Man: Richard Cunningham - A Pinkbike Podcast Special, Part 2
Episode 72 - Hey Outers!
Episode 73 - The Details That Matter... and Some That Shouldn't


87 Comments

  • 29 2
 What can ruin a trail for you? When you rode a trail so many years, it was techy, roots and stones. And when you come back and its built like a highway just for the mass.... and when you search something similar like that, its closed for bikers...
Its soo cool just building flowtrails.... nooooot!
  • 9 0
 There need to be trails for the masses.....but not ALL trails need to be more the masses. I'm luck to live in an area with a lot of natural tech trails. But it is unfortunate that, generally, many of the best technical biking trails started as hiking trails, and are being closed off to bikes one by one. I wonder how much demand there actually is out there for technical natural trails, or if we're just part of a dying niche.
  • 2 0
 Smooth everything out - trail is way faster - too dangerous to have bikes on it with the hikers - close trail to bikes - do it all again.
  • 1 0
 100% true. Nothing beats natural trails.
  • 1 2
 gimme rocks. lots of rocks. I am not big fan of speed, but I like going slow over technical and complex terrain.
  • 15 2
 If Alicia has interest and time, would love a podcast hosted by her, or her and Sarah — or just give them the reins for more of these episodes. Neither get enough time and space in the Mike & Mike show (for Levy’s many strengths, I don’t think incorporating Alicia and Sarah in his questions to the “guys” is one of them). Alicia has an interesting riding background and a journalistic style that would make for interesting listens and diversifies perspectives with her roots in Montana. Might also avoid having her preference for road gaps being treated like she comes from Mars and the undercutting references to some years-old video. Not looking for less of Mike & Mike, just more of Alicia and Sarah.
  • 4 0
 Yes! Let her speak!!!
  • 5 0
 @genny1, we’ll definitely have Alicia on in more episodes. We were having some internet issues with this one, and the lag made some of the conversation not flow as well as it could have.
  • 4 0
 Excellent idea - Alicia will be on a lot more. We had some tech issues and ended up having to cut out a bunch of her stuff about trails due to the audio not working Frown
  • 2 0
 Great, I will look forward to hearing more from Alicia! Thanks for the kind and helpful replies, and all the work that goes into Pinkbike, it is very much appreciated.
  • 1 0
 Yesss! More road gap stoke, less bitching about skinnies (or personal clipped in decisions)!!!
  • 9 0
 Natural technical features make a trail for me.

There is nothing worse to see on a great trail than a disrespectful trail user(s) which fortunately isn't often, but when I do it makes me feel like it's the beginning of the end of that trail.
  • 3 1
 Hips & Lips!!
Natty doubles that can be triples.
Rollable steeps that can also be step-downs.
Advanced options to PROGRESS all riders.
Skinnys are great practice for those committed lines with almost no room for error.
Great talk, PBrs
  • 6 0
 @mikelevy, @mikekazimer,
Question for the pod. Upside down shocks, I sweat buckets, like buckets full of sweat and I think I go through a bb a year just from saltwater running down my seat tube into the bb. Is this a thing? How is all that sweat not going into my shock? Has someone invented a shock umbrella?

I enjoy the pod, thanks
  • 9 1
 natural, sketchy jank trails >>>>>>>>> flowy park trails.
  • 4 1
 Kaz!!!!

I'm really sorry BUT the vultures are not the ones that made Argentina go broke...(for the eleventh time)
The Argentinian government does it it on their own.

Para los Argentinos, mis respetos y fuerza. Es solo para aclarar las cosas. Nos vemos en la cordillera!!
  • 3 0
 Any suggestions on how to get local trail groups to open their mind to bike specific trails with actual features? We have lots of great trails but they are all multi-use...trails days are important and great, but the biking group is generally buffing out hiking trails then talking about limiting trail conflict. The bike trails we do have suffer from what other have mentioned and become dumbed down after folks get injured, complain about technicality, etc. How do places like Bellingham and Squamish get the balance right and buy in from the community that big or scary features are a good thing?
  • 3 0
 A lot of it has to do with the types of riders that end up on the trail groups. If your local trail organization is run by riders that love mellow trails and are afraid of rocks or roots it's going to be pretty hard to convince them to built a dirt jump park or even a pump track. Go to meetings, bring your buddies with you, and try to show that there's a legitimate demand for harder trails. Bellingham and Squamish have large riding populations with what I'd consider a very high average rider skill level - that makes it easier to get projects approved. In Bellingham, the fact that the trails near town are on city, state, or private land helps - it can be very hard to get Forest Service approval for projects in any sort of timely manner. Directional trails are also a great thing to propose if possible - one way, bike specific trails help minimize user conflicts, but you'll want to make sure that you're not totally shutting out the hiking, horseback, or moto groups - having alternative areas for them helps avoid issues.
  • 2 0
 @mikekazimer: Your point is a good one - our local group does 'suffer' from having suffer fest type folks on running it. Its all good, but leaves the rest of us longing for technical and jumpy options. Part 2 - how do you convince those people its worth it to come to those meetings instead of just digging on the pirate trails? lol
  • 1 0
 @mikekazimer: The forest service delay often benefits the more difficult natural trails as they as slow to ban the multi use / hiking trails to bikes. That is one reason I enjoy national forest trail so much.
  • 2 0
 @MikeyMT: The same way you convince the other people already at the meetings to build trails how you'd like them to be, by being persistent and consistent.
  • 1 0
 I think that land managers have more to do with the picture than users often give credit. Most USFS will destroy and ticket anyone building features and bike specific features on multi use trails. One of the best ways for the local orgs to get some real riding to an area is through private land access (Galbrith) and state DNRC pay to play (Spencer Mountain)
  • 3 0
 Can Pinkbike incorporate a review segment where they try to anonymously claim warranty, get tech support or buy service parts like a regular customer?

Hell even just name and shame manufacturers that use non-standard parts and bearings for no good reason.
  • 4 0
 Hi, Wairoa Gorge trails in Nelson NZ were gifted to NZ Department of conservation and the trails and shuttles are managed by Nelson mtb club. Not privately owned by billionaire any more. Awesome trails
  • 1 0
 Nice, that’s good to know. Thanks for the update.
  • 1 0
 @mikekazimer: It's open for the public about 4 days a week. The numbers are limited to 30 people a day though, so it still has the same feel. Totally agree about the best trails in the world - 800m vertical of 'private' lift accessed singletrack.
  • 3 0
 I love the "I know a great trail, it is so cool, but you know, it is secret so I cannot tell you cause we do not want a mob like you to ruint it. But it's soo cool" stories Razz
  • 2 0
 Yeah, I know it's a bit meh but so many trails exist in that in-between state where they're not that well known but also known by plenty of locals but also kinda on the down-low. I had planned to talk about a bunch more trails that we like but it all would have sounded like that, which isn't how I want to sound haha Smile
  • 1 0
 @mikelevy: This was a half-serious rant. There are a lot of illegal trails where are ride and it happened more than once that the land owner got pissed off after his forest became a highway, because someone published the trail on trailforks. So people are cautious I get that. But unless you publish a track somewhere, the risk is negligible. In fact scouting for hidden trails is an adventure and not that many people are willing to sacrifice their time for this.
  • 2 0
 I dont really have a favourite feature type, I just like it when you nail it; drop, jump, turn, rocks, roots... just, that bit faster or sketchier than you should have done, you nearly crash, but you pull it off & that squirt of adrenalin makes you feel like a hero, your airways expand, your heart speeds up, you reach that climax, aaaahhhhhhhhhhhh
  • 3 0
 Love the pod, but would love it even more if you guys had guests on more often. Would be fun to hear perspectives of other riders (pro's, other folks in the industry) in addition to your own! Would keep things fresh!
  • 2 0
 Eagle vs Shark in Rotorua, New Zealand it's the best trail I've ever ridden. It's worth the 12 hour flight. When Pinkbike rated it Trail of the Month in May of 2015 you said it was a green trail- not so! It's a blue intermediate trail. The warning sign at the entry says "WARNING! HIGH ACCIDENT AREA, this track is fast." If you like a super adrenaline rush from riding fast though trees on wonderful dirt, this track is for you! Pinkbike don't discount flowy trails- this one keeps you on your toes while giggling with joy the whole way down!
  • 2 0
 I thought about the Eagle vs Shark trail as one of the best I’ve ridden, but with only three rides I wasn’t sure. Good to see someone else appreciates it.
  • 2 0
 Another great episode everyone.
1) My Local Trails: Roots, Rocks (trail candy) and flat corners that have the perfect radius.
2) Vacation Destinations: Cleaning steep rock slabs, with just enough exposure to scare the shit out of me (Sedona, Squamish and Moab).
3) Always love those Epic rides that @mikekazimer mentioned like Whole Enchilada, Monarch Crest Pass, etc., but never seem quite as good 2nd time around.
  • 1 0
 TLDR; When to break out the spare tube on the trail? (Rather than attempt to repair with plugs etc...?). After a long absence I've been riding for around a year and both my bikes are tubeless - so far I've been lucky with punctures / flats but I know it's only a matter of time before a big one. When do you give up trying to repair your tubeless (on the trail) and get a tube in? Spare tubes strapped to the frame seem very popular. We know Levy carries an ancient Park Tool multi in his bibs, and much to Levy's dismay Kaz has all the tools in his fanny pack. Rumour has it, Brian sometimes carries tools but doesn't always know how to use them so if he gets a flat he's going to be on diaper duties for a week after he's 2 hours late back from his ride. RC "apparently" carries a CO2 inflator but generally prefers to engineered the repair back together using things he finds on the trail.
  • 2 0
 There's always at least one spare strapped to my frame, and maybe another on my body if I'm out for a big ride, but I rarely need to install a tube... maybe once per year? Now I've jinxed myself. Tire plugs can seal some crazy large holes, especially if you're using multiple large plugs, and I also have a small tube of Super Glue that's come in handy when the hole is too close to the bead to use a plug. If all that fails, a tube goes in.
  • 1 0
 On the subject of keys in pockets while riding: I have integrated my keys in a small, folding multitool which I always have in my pocket and also prevents my keys from puncturing me. Also, this means I always have tools on me as an EDC.
  • 1 0
 The best thing in a trail is when the features can be linked together nicely, regardless of if its a drop, corner, roots or gap. One of my favorite trails has a flat turn that takes some skill to carry speed around, followed by a few flicks between trees into a drop that gives you a boost into a fast corner then then scrubs speed and turns technical. Its all easy to see without riding it a million times and when you pick a line that works it feels amazing.
  • 1 0
 The question I have about trail sanitizing is when is it sanitizing and when is it restoration. In Colorado (can’t speak for everywhere) a trail lifecycle can go like this: it starts out smooth (often too smooth and boring), then erodes and/or vegetation grows in to a sweet spot, then it gets totally blown out and terrible. Lastly it gets “fixed” or people end up rerouting by riding around until you can’t even tell what’s the original line. But that point of blown out and terrible is highly subjective.
  • 1 0
 Totally forgot to talk about how not all trail work is good trail work! Next time..
  • 1 0
 I want a trail to some features that scare me a little. Be it drops or stupid straight speed or rocks rolls, I want something that makes me a little on edge. I don't mind wood but I prefer it be ladder drops and not skinnies.
  • 1 0
 Already been said in the comments but the number one way to ruin a mountain bike trails to open up the dog walkers clean the dog shit off the trail nothing worse than coming around the corner running over a bunch of dog shit and be getting a slug up in your face
  • 1 0
 Question for the podcast team:
How long do you think mountain biking will be “cool” for? Skateboarding, for instance, has had fluctuating periods of popularity. Even the focus on the different disciplines within skateboarding have changed over time (flat ground in the 80s, vert in the 90s, now street). Was there ever a time when the public’s interest in mountain biking waned? What mountain bike disciplines have come and gone and which is the next mtb sub group to be in the spotlight?
  • 1 0
 Why did you let a someone post a review of a bike that he is almost 2 sizes too large for ? Then proceed to compare it to other bikes that are clearly going to ride better because they are actually in his size . The resources wasted to out the bike might not hurt as bad because of the coming paywall but come on guys ! Also let henry have a couple more goes at this podcast too!
  • 2 0
 We'll cover the Knolly review in the next podcast! Henry will be back on for sure, even if it's just for his (wrong) opinions.
  • 1 0
 Question probably for Kaz: Could you dig back in to the Lyrik/36 vs Zeb/38 debate as far as which fork you would prefer when? I'm a big guy (over 250 lbs) looking for a fork to go on a new build that I'll be using for trail/all-mountain riding. No enduros in my future, which seems like is all the comes up in any discussions about Zeb/38. Would my weight make the Zeb/38 a better fit, or would it be overkill? Thanks!
  • 1 1
 I have a Ripmo AF, that came with a 12 speed NX drivetrain (11-50T, 32T chainring). I have liked the durability of the steel construction, but not the weight and it will need to be replaced next season. Wondering if you had a bike with a HG free hub, what would you run to save money, weight and still have similar gear range for the steeps? 11 speed with 11-42T and a 28 chainring (I don’t care if this looks goofy) A different cassette that is HG compatible? Which one? I don’t want to change my freehub then spend a boatload on a fancy cassette. In 2021 is there a great choice for those still running HG?
  • 7 0
 garbaruk
  • 1 0
 @Kmccann137: I had good luck with an xtr 11-40 (xt would work too) and a wolf tooth expander. Ran that setup with a 32 up front for years on a couple of bikes (including Ripmo AF).
  • 1 0
 I'm derpy this morning apparently. NX on HG is still 12 speed. Drinking the coffee now...
  • 1 0
 Swap to 12 speed Deore? Loose nothing, gain everything in some opinions?
  • 1 0
 Duplicate
  • 1 0
 ZTTO from Aliexpress. They make HG free hub full steel 11 speed casettes - www.aliexpress.com/item/1005001651993534.html
Have one, so far so good, shifts a bit worse than Shimano, but ok. Mine does not work with KMC 11 SL chain (works with Shimano and Sram chains though) on the largest sprocket (I think KMC makes particularly tight chains and the tolerances on the ZTTO are a bit "relaxed").
  • 1 0
 I'm an HG holdout myself. I have NX 11-50 with 30T on bike 1 and 11 speed Sunrace 11-42 with 28T on bike 2. Both work really well for the riding I do. Deore 11 speed 11-46 it's probably what I'd upgrade either of these bikes to if I had to replace the drive train today.
  • 3 0
 box 9
  • 1 0
 Just get the same dependable cassette you have now. The bother of switching for weight just won’t be worth it
  • 1 0
 Rode a secret loam trail about 4 weeks ago, true loam, barely a tire track. Rode again a few days ago, all loam is gone, rutted out dust pit now. Was fun while it lasted , guilty pleasure as I knew it wasn’t sustainable.
  • 1 1
 they shouldnt had open that gate for you and everybody else to ruin a beautifull trail Razz
  • 2 0
 @mikekazimer I’m going to Bellingham for the first time in mid Sept. What’s the one trail I need to ride while I’m there?
  • 3 0
 There are loads of fun trails, but I'd put Dad Bod on your list if you end up on Galbraith. It's a good one.
  • 1 0
 @mikekazimer: Sweet, I'll check it out. Thanks for the recommendation Smile
  • 1 0
 My local trail is HAFTA. It’s like a dump truck unloaded miles of rocks through the forrest. The trails aren’t fast, but they are a work out and it takes time to master all the lines., if you ever do.
  • 1 0
 Sounds amazing, finding the flow when it's nearly impossible to find.
  • 2 0
 I have 100% tied my key to my laces before. I thought it was common sense. Don't listen to the haters Brian.
  • 1 0
 Just here to lend my support to Brian as well. Been there, done that.
  • 1 0
 A great trail is fast and flowy sections, well-built jumps and berms + proper drainage. A line or Crank it up lower at Whistler are excellent examples.
  • 1 0
 Salmon Run in Queenstown, if you know you know! Nothing like some picturesque views and certain death exposure in the one trail.
  • 1 0
 I’m with Kazimer on the rooty trail sections. Especially when it’s chunky roots and my suspension is working overtime.
  • 2 0
 How to ruin a trail.... put it on the interweb... wnd of story
  • 1 0
 wow no talk about canyon that should be big news. not going to say more but if canyon is on headlines soon i told you so.
  • 1 0
 here is a question for you guys, will MTBs ever chase aero gains? I think we are one scott spark away from it
  • 1 0
 JTR. If touch the skis, you know.
  • 1 0
 Yep, that’s a really special one. Jack was an amazing guy.
  • 1 0
 @mikekazimer: has definitely inspired some of the trailwork that I have been involved in.
  • 2 0
 I cant ride berms fast
  • 1 0
 I take WBP for granted...have to admit
  • 1 0
 Bummer! I can't edit my comment with a typo!
  • 1 0
 There was cow poo on my nipple. Nuff said.
  • 15 15
 The #1 way to ruin a trail is to make it a strava segment.
  • 5 5
 wrong. I ride thousands of miles of strava segmented trails every year and they are almost always great.
  • 7 3
 Nah, I love Strava and almost everything I ride is a segment or about to be a segment. It's all still great.
  • 8 2
 Luke really is dumb turns out
  • 2 0
 Riders who rip though trails and braid the turns will do it regardless if they are on strava or not... A lot of it comes down to lack of skill to get around a feature or laziness.
  • 1 0
 Totally agreed if it’s an uptrack. Nothing I hate more than choking on my lungs suffering and then have some dweeb in spandex telling me to move and not having a second to appreciate mutual enjoyment of trails
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