Trailforks Trail of the Month: Santa Cruz Flow Trail

May 15, 2015
by Brent Hillier  

Flow Trail, Santa Cruz, California, USA

Trail of the Month

Santa Cruz is a community infamous with Mountain Biking. Unfortunately like many of the Mecca's of Mountain Biking its trails have been illegal and even punishable with tickets and fines. The Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz have made leaps and bounds to change that. And last month saw the opening of the sixth and final stage of their brand new, legit Flow Trail.

With the sport of Mountain Biking evolving over the years many communities around the world have jumped on the bandwagon and created their version of flow. At the same time many long time mountain bikers have resisted the movement demanding more tech and steeps. Whether you're a new-schooler or an old-schooler I dare you to ride this trail without smiling. Some are describing it as the best flow trail ever, and we at Trailforks can't help but agree.

Inga railing the Santa Cruz Flow Trail

Built with donations totalling $200,000 from a number of private donors, industry and bike shops. This trail was funded and built by the community, providing a fun trail that can be enjoyed by everyone, no matter the age or ability. The entire process started in the Summer of 2012 with construction beginning February 2014. With 21 trail days, over 500 volunteers, 6300 volunteer hours and a work crew chipping away during the week the final section was completed April of this year.

And if you've got more time then check out everything Santa Cruz has to offer, at least what won't get you a ticket.

Hasselblad 500c shot on Tri-x 400

If you like what you see then please support our friends at the Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz and earn some Trail Karma while you're at it.

MENTIONS: @ktm151z @ingabeck @BellBikeHelmets @SpecializedBicycleComponents @santacruzbikes


  • 35 1
 Just rode it this past weekend. I'm not a fan of flow trails, but this was actually one of the most fun trails I have ridden. It's exceptionally well built, the turns are arced and bermed perfectly, plenty of small jumps, no momentum killing spots, no need to brake ever (which I hope will reduce erosion), the speed at some points along the way are Mach f*cking fantastic, and it just seems to go on forever (4 miles). Seriously f*cking good Job MBoSC. Well done.
  • 9 0
 I rode it last Friday. It had rain the day before so it was hero dirt all day long. I went to bed dreaming of those berms! All around fun trail that will put a smile on any skill level rider.
  • 13 0
 Totally deserving of "Trail of the Month." Rode it a few times a couple weeks ago and couldn't hold back the laughter. No, it isn't technically difficult and raw, but it isn't supposed to be and don't knock it based on an internet video either. Whoever designed and built that trail knew exactly what they were going for (FUN!) and executed it perfectly. KUDOS to you all for your excellent work. I've never had the chance to ride a groomed trail like that and really appreciated the unique experience. It constantly keeps you working and giggling like a child.
  • 4 0
 been up there about half a dozen times now. Its so much fun. Its not difficult, its just damn fun!! Thanks to everyone involved.
  • 31 2
 Im struggling to understand how this cost $200,000. Is the dirt imported?
  • 6 1
 I was thinking the same thing, How this cost $200,000 is beyond me!!
  • 19 1
 Prob $200,000 of red tape to go through
  • 8 4
 It's the cost of running that digger. This is a newb trail.
  • 42 4
 it must be expensive to remove every single rock and root from the trail
  • 4 0
 ^ Bingo. $40,000 per km.
  • 2 0
 The trail is long, try to sweep up the whole thing.
  • 13 1
 ^ we recently built a 7km trail here, with numerous features, jumps, etc. Took a half dozen guys a season to complete and it's always evolving, but it cost only a few hundred in tools and wood (for some features to clear sensitive areas) and was built by and for cyclists. When you let diggers and builders have at it, the trails rock and the work is free.
@BDKR Don't offend the newbs!!! lol
  • 5 0
 I rode SantaCruz a few months back, pretty much all of the trails are smooth (well by trail standards in North Scotland), they are all simple also, by the new grading system they would be Blue trails with the occasional red trail.
I love Black to Canadian double blacks, but I have to say that the trails in SC are super fun to ride, they do require a fair amount of pedaling but they do make a very good use of the hill side.
It is a shame that we do not have the weather to have trails like this up here, if we could have one of the trail building guys up here develop trails like in UCSC, Monterey etc. that would be great. Glenlivet is the closest to Santacruz trails that we have up north and it attracts a good number of visitors for a Northern trail center.
I nearly turned up for a volunteer day when I was over, but headed to Napa instead and rode the upper trail there (with the push up) with some local Clunkers, which was such a great laugh. Getting to ride with real Clunkers is a once in a lifetime for me.
Keep up the good work SC guys.
  • 81 1
 I was intimately involved in this project and I personally think that $200K for a project of this scope was a bargain! Without being defensive, Coastal California is an expensive place to do business and we built a trail where there was absolutely nothing previous other than logging slash. This project was done in cooperation with CAL FIRE - the land manager - but the costs of design, construction, conducting the environmental view and securing the permit was borne by MBoSC and the local mountain biking community.

Most of those costs went to the 2-4 employees that we hired (and we pay living wages), payroll taxes, design work, environmental review, equipment rentals ($2000/month for a skid steer), fuel, inmate crews for remove slash and corridor clearing and it starts to add up. There were also the costs of capital equipment like plate tampers, 150 hand tools, a power wheelbarrow, generator and a tool trailer. Luckily the capital equipment can be used on future projects. These costs doesn't include CAL FIRE staff time or the value of the in-kind goods and labor donated. If we itemize those costs then we are looking at about a $350K project.

A project of this scope can't be done by volunteers alone. We had 530 volunteers with at least 21 volunteer events over the course of this project. We like to treat our volunteers well so they will continue to come back (over 10 volunteer donated over 80 hours). We provide free coffee, pastries, a good lunch, beer and snacks and a generous volunteer raffle at the end of the day. These costs add up when feeding and organizing 60-70 volunteers per event - even after the discounted food, beverages and free schwag. This itemized costs are just for construction. There were many other volunteers working behind the scenes doing accounting, project management, fundraising, equipment maintenance.

Thank you Pinkbike for featuring this trail as trail of the month. We at MBoSC are proud to bring this trail into the world for the enjoyment of mountain bikers for many decades to come.
  • 7 0
 mrtoadsc Thanks to you and all the others involved. This is a really FUN trail!
  • 12 3
 And to think all you needed was a couple Canadians and some beer! Razz
  • 4 0
 Thanks for your efforts mrtoadsc. The trail is super fun. Can't wait to get back down there!
  • 7 0
 I think a living wage in the 831 is about 2X what it is elsewhere on the planet. I don't think this is crazy prices, for where it is.
  • 4 3
 Great, thank you for building it! It's was fun riding it, but not for me. Definitely NewB Trail. I'm old school and prefer tecnical trails, with some skinnys and drops like Braille Trail was once. Braille unfortunetly is now neutured since the introduction of Enduro event at Demo.
  • 4 6
 I take it in my ass
  • 8 3
 You are struggling to understand how it cost $200k in the yuppy capital of the universe? Now I'm confused, but I'm just hill folk from norcal
  • 3 2
 @atrokz : Nothing against the newbs. I was one before. In fact, I have nothing against flow trails either, as long as they are not replacing existing tech, like what's going on around here.

@mrtoadsc : I believe you are right when you say a project of that scope can't be done by volunteers but that's due to the cost your digger, tampers, and feeding blokes and chicks. Without that cost people have already built miles and miles of trail systems all over the planet on nothing more then volunteer power alone with things like shovels, axes, and chainsaws. 5 miles from my house there is a 14+ mile bandit system that was built by people that just went out there and got it done. There exists example after example of this kind of thing (bandit and otherwise) all over the place.

If all we want is 5 mile flow trails then you're right. Somebody is going to have to come out of pocket. But if you just want a trail, all people need to do is just go dig.
  • 5 7
 More passing lanes than my local freeway. Smoother surface than my neighborhood streets. Just as boring as the drive from Baker to Barstow. Can't expect much from a flow trail.
  • 6 0
 @BDKR There are plenty of "bandit" trails here in Santa Cruz, MBoSC wanted to go by the book on this one. The money was donated by people and organizations that were happy to donate and went to people who need to make a living. I don't see anything wrong with that, especially considering the trail was built in the most expensive place in America.
  • 1 0
 @Rogr : I'm aware that they wanted to do it "by the book". Also, I lived there for 10 years so I'm aware of cost (Marin may be more expensive). I'm aware of everything you said there.

My contention is with the comment "A project of this scope can't be done by volunteers alone". I just don't agree with it under particular circumstances. In particular, something other then 5 mile flow trails. Too many examples, bandit AND OTHERWISE, that proves as such.
  • 9 2
 Constantly amused by all these comments about money, spending, costs, and bashing the bike business on PB. It just occurred to me - A lot of those folks commenting about this subject are complete Newbs when it comes to any sort of wisdom about money, commerce or business.

Do you realize when you post those kind of comments you are the equivalent of the first time rider out on the trail - wearing knee high socks, stopping to adjust his gears in the middle of the trail, a complete newbie?

I am also amazed,and grateful for all of the wonderful technical knowledge about biking that so many folks here have. Have picked up some great things from reading the forums. But when it comes to money issues... not so much...
  • 5 0
 @BDKR I would love a world in which a trail like the SDSF Flow Trail could be built by volunteer labor alone in Santa Cruz but it's completely unrealistic. This is a legal trail built with the cooperation of a local land manager. Having paid staff and an organization to support them gave them the confidence to move forward on this project.

I do believe in the power of volunteers. There was a huge volunteer component of building this trail but having a few people who's full time job was the design and implementation of this trail led to it's completion on an aggressive timeline over the course of 2 seasons.

The obsession with the costs are surprising. It's not a big deal. Santa Cruz is the playground of Silicon Valley and a bulk of our donors were in the tech industry. They have a high willingness to pay for mountain biking experiences so this trail was something they were willing to fund. Many of them volunteered their time as well. I spoke with several of our donors at the opening celebration last weekend and they are very happy with the project outcome.
  • 7 1
 No need to defend the project toad. We send billions over seas everday. We can spend some on ourselves to build a responsible trail. Cheers
  • 2 0
 Even provide beer, well done. Gotta come check it soon.
  • 1 0
 I love the argument around flow trails are dull, I want tech. We have it all the time.
One persons tech is another persons flow (depending on how you ride and what level you are at).
The thing with tech is where does it stop?
I built a flowy dh track (very much like the Dh trail down from the containers at SC uni), a mid level, a tech and this weekend started on a very tech dh track.
The flow dh track is the one that sees the most traffic, the mid level one sees less traffic and the tech very little traffic as it is scary for most and hard to carry speed into the 2 drops.
The very tech that is just being built is pretty much an experiment.... time will tell how much has to be dulled down on a couple of features.
I am the local trail inspector (qualified) for my woodland trails (man made flow trails), I would never expect to see my Dh tracks adopted, especially the gnarly ones.
I also help to set the Scottish Downhill Association race tracks, and riders want flowy race tracks with a couple of technical sections to make them think, some elite lines where the advantage is with the rider who can hit certain lines in a certain way.

Keep building official flow trails, there are what people want to ride. The joy of this sport is that we are not all the same and do not want the same thing. If a flow trail is boring, fit faster tyres, or pedal more until you get loose Wink
  • 1 0
 @mrtoadsc : Well I suppose whether you can or not is neither here or there. We could discuss that ad infinitum. The truth of the matter is that the next time I'm out there I'll ride the trail. My GF would feel a bit more comfortable on it for sure. Speed makes everything fun.
  • 2 0
 The concrete is on order, give it some time and soon it will be paved.
  • 4 0
 Awesome job the Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz did on this trail. In April I rode flow trails at Bend OR, Redding CA, Camp Tamarancho and then the Demo Forest. This flow trail is in a league of its own and as somebody already said, impossible to ride without a big grin. I did the Braille trail too and really liked that as well. A repeat visit is in order as the 6th segment wasn't open yet when I rode it.
  • 2 0
 I agree, every time i ride the flow trail in demo I end up whooping and grinning the whole way down
  • 6 0
 Please post links to decent paying jobs in the local areas of videos like these please.
  • 9 0
 1) Learn to write code
2) work from home
3) Win!
  • 5 0
 The Bay area is probably the world's capital of high paying jobs, seriously.
  • 1 0
 Or: learn how to sell, find a cool company, work from a hammock trailside and ride when you finish!
  • 1 0
 @smgishot13 It's also the location with the highest cost of living and highest rate of rent increase. There's a lot of companies who will pay competitive salaries for a job "here" while you telecommute from another area.
  • 1 0
 Those are the sh1t jobs.
  • 4 1
 cruel video, had to press pause few times to pick up my imaginary shovel and patch up some dirt in those turns so I could continue watching... but great video especially heart-pumping-soundtrack-wise and of course that nice flowy trail Smile
  • 3 0
 Having been riding Demo for close to 20 years now I was initially super stoked to have some great new trail being laid with the effort, help, sweat, and dedication of some rad folks at MBoSC. I'm not a fan of Flow trails, but this is just too much fun and sets a benchmark for this type of trail in the area. However... The impact this has had on the trail system as a whole was not addressed. It's a mad house now, and the parking lot is overfull on the weekends. The biggest issue is riders who have very little skill or experience are now inundating the area. While the Flow trail is very accessible to newer riders, many of the feeder trails are not. Lot's of folks on Walmart bikes, skate helmets, and blank-what-the-hell-is-going-on looks on their faces. Last several weekends I have been out I have heard and seen many injuries on the trails, sirens blaring in the distance. This used to be very rare. I fear Cal Fire will tire of this quickly. Riders, resist the urge to take new riders here until they have developed decent handling skills and trail etiquette knowledge. The trail itself is not technically demanding, but it's easy to pick up speed, and mistakes for going off trail can be severe.
  • 4 0
 The bay is fred central. it's home to mtbr.
  • 1 0
 It's a brand new trail. The crowds will spread out more as time goes by.

I know it sucks to see crowds and noobs on the trails but to me it's a sign that the industry is rebounding. That's a good thing. I ran in to this snowboarding the last couple seasons. My local spot made the stuff I've been riding for 20 years "soft bounds" and gave them trail names. Noobs started riding them. I've personally guided people out of there because they get out there and they're like... wtf is going on. Where's the lift. Should see their face when I tell them... no lifts out here dude.

I definitely get it. But have faith... it'll slow up.
  • 2 0
 I didn't realize it's become that bad. The flow trail at Tamarancho had a similar effect. Lot's of noobs. But I think the overall impact has been positive. A lot more interest in mountain biking. More people exposed to the sport, and it's fostering a community of trail stewardship. What Jim and Davie have done up there is amazing. Although the Demo trail is much larger, and in a way more advanced, they should really talk to the Tamoflow guys for some lessons learned community wise. Good point about mtbr, but there are plenty of good riders here too. I wouldn't say the initial noob fest on walmart bikes is a good representation of our community. Pretty sad actually.
  • 3 0
 That's a good point about Tamarancho, the crowds did ease up. I'm all for the growth of the sport, and have introduced many, many people to my favorite trails. I do get nervous for the future of Demo. The Santa Cruz Super Enduro race was cancelled this year due to overuse and people digging and riding illegal trails (among other reasons). More people on the trails who don't know what is at stake or the rules makes it risky to attract large crowds. A lot of riders in the bay, and the US in general, don't know the fight over the last two decades to access what trails we do have. They take it as a right to have access, and that is a dangerous mind set with so many hikers, equestrians, and landowners with too much free time and bad attitudes about sharing trails are around. NIMBY in full effect.
  • 3 0
 The Flow trail is fun to ride and will be using my MINI-BMX on it this weekend since my 26" Nomad is wayyyy to much bike for that trail. Lets build back Braille with drops and skinnies. It's what Demo have been known for years past, but someone went out there and neutered it, Enduro. Can I suggest a future addition would be a DH Trail?
  • 1 0
 I'm definitely on board 100% with your last statement norcal101. Things have been getting closed constantly since I started riding in SC in like 93 or so. Things were illegal back then but starting in the mid/late 90's the hikers started pushing hard to get everything closed and actually get it enforced.

I think organizations like MBoSC and our local rider community have gone a long way to fighting back and taking some of it back.... and showing we can ride/build and not destroy the habitat. Then people build up illegal stuff and it back tracks the community... back and forth...etc.

I think efforts like this are going to be critical in this new era of riding in california where everything is regulated. If we're not careful it's going to shift toward things like motorcycles and boats where you have to buy annual passes and register your bikes. But you've hit the nail on the head of the catch of the catch 22.

drivereight. I gotta be honest. I haven't been on Braille in a while. I didn't realize all the good stuff was gone. Sucks.
  • 3 0
 This trail is fun. I live about 15 minuets away from the entrance. I remember ten years ago signing petitions and trying to keep the trails in the demo forest legal for mountain bikers. This trail has made what was a little hidden gem in the mountains a pretty big deal. I used to never see the parking lot so full on weekends. this is now my weekday ride trail, as on weekends there can be backup on it. It's rad to have flow trail though yet still be able to get more tech with sawpit and braille. I think it is a blessing and a curse. I'm glad to see how big biking has gotten, and I dont mind having to share the trails a bit. The trail isnt super crazy, but I have had some "Oh shit" moments on it. Just like any trail, its as hard as you want to make it. And with nobody out there on a wednesday at 5:00pm I'm trying to fly down it. I'm curious to see how to forest department will act if people start getting hurt on it. It is not easy to get to someone quickly out there. Hope that doesnt happen, and if it does I hope it doesnt change the status of the trails. See you all out there tomorrow, I'll prob be hitting braille though.
  • 5 1
 That was a great day of shredding out there! Deserving Trail of the Month. Thanks Trailforks for keeping up all the good work.
  • 2 0
 I grew up in the SC area, Felton, Ben Lomond, ect. I'm stoked to see that trail & the efforts that went into it.
I have to say, who gives a crap how much it cost? It's there so go enjoy it!

Props to giving the hired help a living wage & treating the volunteers like volunteers should be treated. Hopefully one day I can go back with my kids & ride this trail.
  • 1 0
 ~$13 per foot + land costs + many many volunteer hours + convict labor. Ouch.

Mountain biking is going to need a huge culture change on how it views trails. The free lunch of sweet trails is long gone (at least in the more populated areas of the US).
  • 1 0
 Uh, the thing about demo is that nothing here is all that "easy". Yes, a novice can have all kinds of fun on the Flow Trail, however getting to the top takes a bit of fitness, even shuttled and hike-a-biked. The great thing about a trail like this is that it brings more people in to our sport. Which equals more exposure, and therefore more acceptance and access.
  • 1 0
 Sorry Inga, Im sure your a great rider. Some people would justifiably use a 29er on a trail like that. There are some very capable 29er enduro rigs. I dont think they would be a good fit for most women though just based on the fact that women are smaller in general. But that was my mistake. I still think knee pads and a tank top are a bit at odds with eachother but we all make our own choices on what protective gear to wear.

I should have left my comment at "the nice looking women" More women should be on bikes, wear what you want.
  • 2 0
 I was suprised to see the rider coming up the trail, I would think with a designated flow trail like this it would be directional to prevent any accidents/collisions?
  • 5 0
 it is, they are just an idiot probably trying to redo a section.
  • 2 0
 this guy was not smart! I was warned several times, he had a bell that he rang. But there is no way you'd see him coming around a lot of the berms. There is a perfectly good climbing route right beside the trail, no need to climb Flow.
  • 2 0
 Looks bloody fun to me, can't believe how long it is seems to go on forever. Next time in Cali will check for sure
  • 1 0
 Watch the vid of the flow trail by the 'rideordie mtb' crew. That the way it should be ridden, it's a blast when really railing it.
  • 1 0
 Watch the vid of the flow trail by the 'RideorDieCrew mtb', it gives a better perspective of the trail,,,,,it's a blast when your railing it...
  • 1 0
 I couldn't stop thinking thoughout the video why his bike sounds like it's running a bmx hub on the rear!
  • 2 0
 And of course there is the one guy riding uphill
  • 1 0
 Nice trail...Thanks for reminding me not to get one of thoes rear hubs!
  • 1 0
 All I could hear was his heart beat.
  • 2 1
 ischiller- Spoken like a true Californian D-bag
  • 1 0
 hahahaha.... awesome. it is called irony. I love me some demo. Your right though. From California and half a d-bag.
  • 2 1
 This trail, no, this entire riding destination sucks. Stay away.
  • 1 0
 Santa Barbara is soo much more heady/badass
  • 1 0
 that trail is so fun
  • 2 5
 A women (nice looking tho it seems) with a tank top and knee pads? sitting on what appears to be 29er. I wont say more.
  • 21 0
 Hi, I am the nice looking woman in the photo (thanks). The day this photo was taken, I had ridden Sawpit, Braille and then 2 laps on the Flow Trail. So I think a tank top was appropriate for the amount of pedaling I did that day in 80 degree weather. Oh, and this is a Santa Cruz Bronson (why would a picture of a 29er on a flow trail be posted on PB?!). I love the new Flow Trail trail - it gives the existing trail system some diversity, not to mention it teaches mtb'ers how to pump and corner properly. It is a solid glute burn and a ton of fun. Kudos to MBoSC and all the volunteers, I am very grateful for all your efforts. Thank you!
  • 9 0
  • 2 0
 Inga - your smile says it ALL!!!
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