Poll: When Does a Trail Become a Roadway?

Nov 4, 2019 at 16:11
by Richard Cunningham  
Trail Update Monashee Provincial Park - New Alpine Singletrack
Alpine trail at Monashee Provincial Park. Steve Shannon photo

Our sport was built upon the backs of previous wildland users, primarily hikers and equestrians. Many miles of those trails were less than perfect for cycling. If you were lucky, like the folks in Squamish and Pemberton BC, motorcycle trials riders also pioneered your trails (arguably some of best and most challenging mountain bike routes to this day). Regardless of who made them, initially, most backcountry trails were about two feet wide (60cm). They offered a technical challenge, a closer rub with natural surroundings and most of all, an escape from grinding up and down 20-foot-wide dusty fire roads all day. Mountain bikers spent two decades happily exploring them.




Made-for-Mountain Bike Trails

Inevitably, diggers began to modify existing trails with simple features - berms and jumps spiced up popular descents. Alternate lines and wooden features offered more technical options. Made-for-mountain bike trails launched the freeride movement, and on the heels of freeride's legendary diggers, popular ski resorts cashed in on the fun with dedicated downhill lines and no-sweat uplifts. As this evolution ("progression" if you want) moved forward, trails got faster and wider - in some cases, a lot wider.

Your idea of the perfect mountain bike trail probably hinges upon where you came from and at what point in the past 40 years you hopped onto the mountain bike bus. Old-school riders from the '80s and 90's are typically happy on any trail from a foot wide on up. Those who cut their baby teeth riding BMX jump lines might accept four to six feet (two meters) as a comfortable trail width. Riders who entered the sport during the relatively recent flow-trail era seem to relish five to ten foot wide lines, depending upon the features. Then there's the "Whistler effect."

Photo Robin O Neill
Melissa Penrose shreds Whistler's Dirt Merchant trail - A-Line's big brother. Robin O Neill photo


The Whistler Effect

Downhill bikes added a whole new dimension to the sport in regards to speed and features. Whistler mountain bike park was the first to realize that catering to big bikes required new trail parameters. Almost anyone can go fast and big on a DH bike, but the delta between an average, good, and pro-level rider is so large that passing lanes became a necessity. You could drive a trophy truck down portions of Whistler's most famous lines, and make it down many others driving a narrow wheelbase UTV. Traffic concerns aside, bigger is arguably better at the bike park. Wide landings offer more options for tricks, monster berms ensure you'll roll into the next jump with ample speed to clear it - and there's also the need to expedite emergency vehicles to every corner of the property.

Whistler's flow-trail architecture became the inspiration for lift-accessed mountain bike parks worldwide. Many of today's most influential riders learned their skills racing DH, and riding features at lift-access trail centers. Builders who have sprung forth from those ranks are carving wider swaths and erecting more monumental mounds as they express their visions of the perfect mountain bike trail. The Joyride course doesn't seem out of place above Whistler Village, but a homemade version in the dedicated open space above your home town is sure to draw some criticism.
Preview of the Redbull Joyride course in Whistler Canada on August 7 2019
Preparing the 2019 Joyride course at Whistler. A perfect location for huge features and 50 thousand fans.

So, How Wide is Too Wide?

By definition, mountain biking is a contextual activity. Ski areas are basically curated clear cuts. No mountain bike trail could possibly be a negative impact in a place where hundred yard swaths have been leveled to facilitate snowsports. I'm not sure if it's the same in Europe, but in the Pacific Northwest, many mountain bike flow trails are constructed on logging leases that are slated to be clear cut, which makes a strong argument for ambitious builds. Most of our sport, however, occurs in shared environments - public lands intended to be preserved and protected and enjoyed by future generations. In such cases, size definitely matters.

photo by Jaret Brantley
"Enticer" is a mile-long flow trail near Redding, California - a joint project in the Mule Ridge & Swasey Recreation area. Jaret Brantley photo

Sanctioned or otherwise, flow trails are the prevailing trend, and we're building them in various sizes and lengths on public lands, where other users neither share our aesthetic, nor have the slightest need for the features we hold so dear to our mountain bike experience.

Expressed or implied, there's a responsibility for those who recreate in shared natural environments to blend in. Some builders are masters at this. Some, not so much.

Flow trails are manufactured fantasy experiences for cyclists. (Disclosure: I absolutely love riding them.) The rare few I have hit that actually were placed carefully into the natural landscape were magnificent creations. The other 99 percent, with their spacious, curated corners and sculpted, institutionalized features look like travelling carnival rides in paradise.
Then send it
Master builders create trails that utilize natural features and flow with the landscape. Chris Spilling photo

Pinkbike Rainbow Heli-drop
Nathan Hughes photo

Have We Come Full Circle?

Did we reach the point where our skills and technology have eclipsed the singletrack experience? Do we need to carve private roads into the mountains to enjoy mountain biking at a higher amplitude? Will future riders depend exclusively upon dedicated mountain bike trails? Have we outgrown the concept of a shared environment? Tough questions. Fortunately, today's poll will be far more simple to answer:

If you had to live with one width - how wide is your perfect mountain bike trail?




Disclosure: Hero image of Nico Vink preparing the LooseFest XL course (by Eric Palmer) used tongue-in-cheek as click bait.




204 Comments

  • 437 5
 It's not as simple as "How wide" , it's "how many lines" . A 30cm single line trail can be duller than a 5m root and rock fest trail with 1000 different lines down it.
  • 26 3
 Someone gets it!
  • 40 11
 Yeah it comes down to the terrain, trail type and if its on resort land for commercial use or not. Personally I feel you're phrasing the question incorrectly when talking about different lines though. A trail doesn't have to be a wide, completely cleared out area to have multiple lines. You can have multiple single-track lines for one section. Whenever building a trail, I make it a little wider than the rake but then you find out after riding the trail, you need to make certain areas wider for riding at speed or for splitting off into different lines.

This is probably the most odd and inaccurate poll I've seen on Pinkbike. "Derp is 1-2 ft. preferable or 3ft? HOW ABOUT 5FT?!"

Wtf is this shit?
  • 2 0
 Yes but I would interpret to poll such that these possible lines you can take still shouldn't exceed 2ft or so wide. It is cool to transfer from one line to the other but if it becomes a continuum where everything is possible and rideable, it becomes boring.
  • 24 4
 The very simple answer is that trails are now wider not because of the machines making NEW or re-routing old road beds/logging roads/horse trails.

The answer is that municipalities and IMBA and every other trail organization have an agreeement that helps SELL trail to locals. It's that the builders will design trails & make sure that first responders have easy access for extractions with a 4 wheeler.

It's the big giant hurdle all trail pitches are using to overcome the "danger & speed & remoteness" argument. They promise to make the trails built accessible for fire departments & rescue personnel. And it's MURDERING TRAIL DESIGN.
  • 18 44
flag millsr4 (Nov 8, 2019 at 13:06) (Below Threshold)
 My thoughts exactly! I'd much rather take a 10ft wide trail with multiple lines than boring single track.
  • 26 27
 @millsr4: That's called a roadway, you jackoff. Get outta here with this BS.
  • 6 20
flag racerfacer (Nov 8, 2019 at 14:17) (Below Threshold)
 This. can accommodate different abilities/speeds, good sight lines for avoiding wildlife and other users, no branches scraping your arms and catching your bars
  • 12 2
 @scott-townes: Not when it's covered in roots and rocks while being steep AF... context is everything my friend Wink
  • 4 4
 How you fit your 75cm handlebar inside a 30mm trail? I hate those you can t lean your bike sideways cause there is high vegetation...
  • 12 0
 @millsr4: If you can drive a truck along it, it is a road, if you cant its a trail, simple?
  • 6 1
 @aljoburr: The sections of trail I'm thing of/referring to are far too steep for any automobile... sure a big wide flat trail is lame, but a big wide steep and feature filled trail is a ton of fun. Plus, 10ft isn't even that wide. I'd wager that most trails measure wider than you think. Handlebars are pushing a meter wide these days and speeds are higher than ever so you need a bit of clearance.
  • 7 2
 Who's to day you cant take the "french" lines. I frequently square off corners by hopping 2-6ft off the 2ft wide single track. I actually prefer it that way. I dont think all the vegetation needs to be cleared to take that line. Leave the trail small, but lines open to interpretation. If the trail starts to grow, dont bitch and moan about erosion. I like to ride like its an old school DH track. I will stay within the tape. Luckily there is not much tape unless you're actually racing. Even then, it's common for someone to spot a better angle or line in the grass...and for that to become the hot line for race day. I hate when trails are wider than 2-3 ft max...it kind of ruins sneaky true racer lines...
  • 2 1
 @millsr4: that is still a roadway. Out here in bumf*ck, NSW some of our fire roads are 8-10ft wide and have more rocks and ruts than most motocross courses
  • 8 0
 @billman555555: I'd wager your fire roads out in bumf*ck NSW are more fun to ride than most of the legal trails in my region.
  • 3 0
 @kiksy you say this but, there's sections of Aston hills black track, steep rooty and tech where riders haven't been able to make the tech turns an straightened out the original line. Over the years the original line is now nearly impossible to see at speed an I find myself on the easier line while realising I'm wussing out through no fault of my own as i ride past the original difficult tech line/turns.
Modern MTB the last 5 or so years seems to be about making everything easier in both the bikes AND the trails.........
  • 3 0
 @nojzilla: this happens, it's part of life. The solution is to block off the shortcut and if required reroute an easier line around the hard line, but make sure it's slower than taking the hard line.
  • 2 1
 You guys ride fat tire ebikes down 2 lane fire roads.
  • 2 0
 @nojzilla: I owe you an apology dude. I intentionally wuss out on that section every time.
  • 1 1
 @TEAM-ROBOT: If you’re really in Bremerton than I agree 100%. IMBA’s retarded cousin got ahold of our trails and “tried their best.” It’s a sad state of affairs.
  • 1 1
 @jorgeposada: Says the guys from NY city...
  • 1 10
flag jorgeposada (Nov 9, 2019 at 9:59) (Below Threshold)
 @millsr4: Says the guy who ride real upstate trails you would need diapers to look at.
  • 2 0
 @jorgeposada: Hahaha I live in the PNW, home of some do the best and gnarliest trails around my friend. In fact I'm on my way to shuttle 2800' of vertical right now Big Grin
  • 3 0
 Maybe put 5 photos from different trails (like already in the article above) and ask which of these is your ideal trail?
  • 3 0
 Trail becomes too sanitized as soon as you start pulling rocks out or chopping roots. As said width as little to do with that but often the more things get sanitized the wider the trail gets until it reaches 1m to 1.50m and smooth as a babys arse.
  • 1 0
 @kiksy: totally and utterly agree and disagree. Thank disagree because if you have 50-100 trail with serious gnar (roots/rocks/tech jumps) in it that you have no option but to ride/minimal (1-3 lines for different sections), it’s always going to be tougher and more fun than a 5m rock and root fest where there are multiple lines. The number of different line permutations for such a track are large and really make you think about line choice and keep you on the ball for the entire run.
  • 1 0
 @Balgaroth: totally agree with you????????
  • 1 0
 @Balgaroth: totally and utterly agree with you. Rick on dude
  • 1 0
 @Balgaroth: meant to say “rock on”, not “Rick on”
  • 1 0
 what @kiksy said. plus i need to know how close the trees are to my handle bars
  • 1 0
 the real answer is money. It’s easier and cheaper to make a flow trail (that was once a creek bed) than carve, by hand, a section of pristine ONE track. I get the concern as I don’t want every trail to be a pedal and pull exercise but I’ll take a wide flow trail over a decommissioned trail any day. The question lies then, when and where (and how) do we build some new single track?
  • 1 1
 @millsr4: My friend have been jumping over your house before you were born on a skateboard. I ride everything from Posh to Platt.
  • 1 0
 Actually, @kiksy doesn’t get it. He missed the point that Cunningham was making. It’s not about which segment of trail is your favorite. Plus, that 20ft wide rock garden waterfall that kiksy is describing probably started off ass a single track that evolved over time.
  • 158 4
 Usually about 6 weeks after a local group of builders join IMBA.
  • 7 4
 Comment of the week.
  • 47 1
 just wait till they show up to dumb down this comment section
  • 6 0
 Right after it shows up on Trail Forks.
  • 35 1
 Came here exactly to post this. Every single "sustainable" trail I've seen built by IMBA looked like it was rated to be ridden by electric scooters.
  • 23 1
 So funny and timely. IMBA just took down a bunch of doubles and drops from one of our local trails in the name of good trail building (cough cough)
  • 25 1
 Many years ago IMBA came to show us how to build a trail. May as well have just shoved a bobcat through the forest. And they were completely wrong to try to build such a 'sustainable' trail in our often logged, often burnt, and often drought affected dusty tracks. IMBA - get off my lawn!
  • 2 1
 If we adhered to IMBA standards all our grade 3's would be grade 6...
  • 11 0
 I'll reply here because this comment is about as to the point as this topic can handle... Don't give the right tools to the wrong people. 99/100 people cannot build a good trail.
  • 5 1
 @iamamodel: too true, IMBA might work for the lovely areas in alpine Europe or the rockeys, but for places like California and Australia (drought affected and dry) or the PNW (moist), the majority of there advice doesn't make sense
  • 2 0
 We are done here, someone get the lights on the way out.
  • 7 0
 I found out our local group had been coached by imba to make the exits of berms wide and flat. I really hope it was either a miscommunication or a one off idiot, but we're still fucking correcting countless hours of shitty berm building practice. STOP BUILDING SWITCHBACKS FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.
  • 2 1
 @mustbike: I think that's just what imba teaches unfortunately
  • 3 0
 @RADVANBIKES: As a professional trail builder it's really not fun dealing with people that simply either can't or don't bother giving a trail any character to it
  • 8 0
 The Whistler bike park has proven statistically the flow trails and speed, regardless of difficulty, generate more injuries than tech singletrack. Singletrack is self selecting. You can either ride it or walk it. Anyone can rode a smooth flow trail, but do they have the skills for the speed or jumps? Yes, access to singletrack is an issue, but extractions are likely less.
  • 1 0
 @vtracer: It’s not easy my man! Once the “natural” terrain is removed from a segment of trail it’s never reproduced. You can’t build “natural.” It’s a quality in and of itself. It’s unique and inherently threatened by mankind.
  • 89 2
 flow trails are great and all, but nothing beats a good piece of single track!
  • 9 0
 i agree to this. Here in WV we have lots of single track especially in the remote areas. only downside is how thick/tall things grow in around em. Cutting a little more width at first helps with this and keep your face and arms from getting ripped apart by thorns. It also helps to no hide things like stumps or logs that are sawed too close to the trail.
  • 3 0
 Damn bobsled trails! They are a lot of fun though, but nothing beats natural singletrack.
  • 3 0
 Agreed. I love purpose built trails, but there is something to be said for riding trails leftover from logging/ mining that have eroded and overgrown into tight technical trails that you have to think about how to make it through the next switchback instead of just following the flow line.
  • 2 0
 @SnowshoeRider4Life: Yeah over in PA/DE I wear arm protection not just for crashes, but to protect from thorns and branches poking into the trail. Without arm sleeves and gloves it looks like I've been attacked by a cat.
  • 1 0
 @4thflowkage: Ha. I remember starting in this sport in the 80’s- early 90’s in PA and the hikers never did trail maintenance so all the trails were always overgrown with wild raspberry and blackberry bushes that would cut the hell out of you. We would ride with our Levi denim jackets for armor when it was cool enough. Denim jackets, mullets, and no helmets. Straight up DELCO.
  • 1 0
 @whambat: Delco??? Smedley is still like that on a lot of the pine ridge trails.
  • 1 0
 @4thflowkage: Delco aka Delaware County. As in: Denim jacket and mullet territory in the 80’s with girls with enough hairspray and big hair to rival Jersey. Started off riding Ridley Creek State Park before it got shut down, then mostly Wisahicken and Belmont Plateau in Philly as that was the only riding scene in the early 90s.
  • 50 0
 I love everything from skinny Utah ridgelines to bike park roller coasters to backcountry bar-buzzers.
I see no reason to declare one best and moan about there being to much of whatever you don’t like. Ride what you want, it’s all fun.
  • 81 0
 Wait, did you just say the word, backcountry? Better lawyer up...
  • 4 0
 Amen. I love a mix. All the types of riding are good. Haters gonna hate, but I'm SO sick of the hate in this sport, TBH.
  • 1 0
 Hell yeah brother!
  • 67 15
 "Flow Trail" is going to be the death of (real) Mountain Biking change my mind.
  • 94 5
 I like the flow trails. They keep a good amount of the tourists off of the trails I prefer to ride........
  • 16 7
 Don't care if you change your mind or not. That's your issue dude!
I've indoctrinated a lot of "non riders" on these flow trails, that had i taken them on some of our more challenging trails, they would of told me to f*ck of, and probably wouldn't of been excited or inspired to continue riding a bike. So yea... its all about perspective.
  • 15 0
 I enjoy attempting to perform aerial stunts on the 2 successive bumps found in between the turns with elevated edges.
  • 35 0
 i agree and disagree. As long as it's a new trail they're fine. When they go to existing trails and start to flow trail/dumb things down, then that's the issue.
  • 8 0
 @onemind123 Ha ha! I went to Whistler about twelve years ago after dreaming of it for years. Rode A-Line on my first day. While ticking off all the trails on the map found the Garbanzo stuff like In Deep and Goat's Gully. Didn't ride A-Line again. Also didn't see many riders again.
  • 7 0
 I think flow trails are majorly fun. Variety is the spice of life baby. Sure, if I was forced to choose 1 type of trail to ride the rest of my life, it wouldn't be flow trail. But it's fun to do something different now and then. I guess the caveat is that around me, we have nothing but rocky singletrack and fireroads. So flow is kinda exotic and fun to my sensibility. Maybe if I rode it every day I'd be more jaded.
  • 1 0
 @iamamodel: And if you find time for pedaling, almost all of the black and double-black valley trails in Whistler are like your favorites!
  • 41 1
 20 foot trails are a must for ebikes. On the way up I cannot he expected to wait for hikers and people riding lame acoustic bikes. On the way down, most mountain bike trails are too tight for the power of my ebike so I demand they make extra wide corners for me.

As a veteran ebiker of two months, I demand all the haters on analog bikes accommodate for trails. But don’t make them too hard. Or too long. Haters. I’m having fun plus it allows me to ride a bike, something I thought I would never be able to do after I got Ebola of the heart.
  • 4 19
flag nojzilla (Nov 8, 2019 at 22:45) (Below Threshold)
 Hope this is sarcasm Or FK off to a moto track
  • 22 0
 @nojzilla: dude.. stevie wonder could see that joke!
  • 1 4
 ¿
Your welcome
  • 5 1
 @nojzilla: wooooooooosh
  • 1 4
 @BCtrailrider: ¿
You're welcome
  • 5 0
 Acoustic and analogue bikes, Ebola of the heart. Dude the best response yet!
  • 43 0
 Why is width the question and not texture? Bring back the rocks.
  • 27 0
 I hate the term flow trail, nearly all trails flow when you know how to ride them, I get the same feeling of flow when riding my steep, loose DH trails as I do my flatter, Jumpy ' flow ' trails. It's raising a generation of riders that get thier minds blown by roots and off cambers,so many of my more natural Dh lines have all the off cambers removed by people who can't enjoy them and find the flow, some of the cambers are barely even noticable, talking 8 degrees at times getting benched and removed. ' Flow trails ' should be renamed to, ' Easy to find the flow trails '.
  • 9 0
 this, finding flow on stuff that is just natural chaos is possibly a dying art.

nothing against bike parks BTW they are cool too Smile
  • 17 0
 The problem I've found with flow trails is that trail is designed for the tool that built it rather than the riders that will use it. A particular bike park here has a brand new trail that flows really well and rides well where it is hand cut and levelled with small machinery. Further down the hill the features get larger and larger where bigger machinery has been used. Here the flow is gone, the berms are all the same, some of the gaps are questionable, and huge cuttings, drains and vicious sidings make the trail harder to ride and certainly harder if you get it wrong - no runout! In a few weeks there will be a clear line developing through these giant berms - usually near the bottom or missing out chicanes completely. You'd think there would be line choice on a wide trail but there's not. Just loads of sterile track.
  • 13 0
 Like many polls on Pinkbike, there isn't a 'depends on the purpose' option. Lines like Dirt Merchant & Aline or similar 'Park' trails, having wider purpose built is great. Old school tech DH runs can vary depending on the terrain. If we are talking true XC type trails, a more natural path trail is usually more appreciated. Right tool, right job....
  • 6 1
 Most PB polls are just a way to implant a certain point into the MTB demographics. Arguments aren't impartial. Just a way to steer the sheep.
  • 2 3
 Flow trails at bike parks need to be wide to accommodate passing due to the number of users and the huge variety of skill level. I passed over 30 moving riders on A-line once.
  • 13 0
 The ideal for every build trail should be a few hundred years old alpine trail. A proper alpine trail winds it's way down in a way that has near perfect gradient but also abrupt points of cruxes. When it hits choppy terrain it becomes techy and wider as users intuitively choose different lines based on abillity, fun-factor and so on.. When the trail follows more mellow terrain it straightens out and becomes more high- speed, and naturally narrower: The obvious line is the one that's there allready. according to your skill you can mix it up with gapping sections, hopping stones and roots etc. The things is.. There's two forms of flow: The one you are given on a flowtrail. And the one you have to work for to attain. The first one is entertainment for the masses (We all need braindead entertainment sometimes).The second is as essential as life itself. difficulty and skill combined with guts= euforia, stoke and a genuine feeling of satisfaction.
  • 13 0
 Can we have the "I don't care, I just like riding" option?
  • 12 0
 Handlebar width = Maximum trail width.
  • 12 0
 550mm it is then. Or do my barends count as well?
  • 8 0
 Its impossible to dumb down to survey. You cant expect to have 40ft+ flow jumps on a foot wide single track, and you cant expect a single track trail to have the same level of flow as purpose built flow trails.

Personally i love big flow jumps but there is a special place in my heart for single track, and tech trails too. In my opinion biking is so diverse nowadays that if you decide what you like / dislike you are going to miss out on fun that you have decided is not for you.

Ride it all!! Dh, Freeride, Enduro, Dirt jump, Bmx, Xc, etc. It's all a learning experience, and the more trail types you can ride the more skills you will have.
It's your life don't limit your self.
  • 8 1
 As a Right Of Way inspector I can personally tell you no Trail becomes a Roadway until it reaches 95 percent compaction, gets a base course and then receives a set thickness of HMA base and wear course. Sorry just got out of my week long inspector class and exam lol.
  • 11 4
 Thank you.

Flow is a four letter word.

There is no reason to build a wide trail for a bicycle. The "trail machines" are a drug for the operators who cannot let them go, they are addicted to moving dirt. The municipalities love seeing a big project and eye popping excavation for their investment. The "trail" builder loves to show how much work they did and how big their project was. The millennial knows no other style of trail, and maybe can't even ride an old-school trail.

These wide trails are ecological disasters of erosion and waste. They remove the topsoil and flatten out all of the natural textures a real trail used to offer. They are boring and require jumps, berms and whoops to make them interesting for the millennial who needs to feel slight G-forces to pretend he is mtb'ing.

The original mtb trails were "rake-n-ride" trails that were on top of the natural terrain and encountered numerous features that made it interesting and sometimes challenging to ride over. They provided an experience of being in nature. They were broken in by riding so did not have improperly radius'ed turns and uninspiring straightaways.

Sometimes moto bikes were used in place of a rake, so the moto bike naturally created a trail that a bicycle would flow through naturally (again, no bad thought-out corners).

Natural terrain used to be a high consideration for where the trail meandered. How cool can we make the trail on this spot was the question. Can we make it even more challenging was another.

Now trails must be made so a beginner 12 year old girl who will ride once on her walmark bike can ride without being scared.

The terrain is mowed over, obstacles bulldozed away, flatness and gentle slope given priority, and erosion and damage and ruts soon follow. A roadbed in the woods that needs only for the asphalt truck to dump its steamy black contents to complete the road build.

My rake-n-ride trails last. They bench-cut themselves in just weeks. They retain their topsoil. They do not erode. They are fun to ride. They are not a blight on the natural setting. The offer the feeling of escape from society. They are fun to ride.
  • 1 0
 ajriding, we rake n’ ride in NorCal too. Nice to see a blue-stater and a red-stater can have at least one thing in common
  • 6 0
 There's a correlation with width, for sure, but to me it's really about whether the trail works with the natural terrain or whether it's something that looks like it could be built with a paver and plunked down anywhere on earth with the right gradient.
  • 12 1
 Dumb poll
  • 5 0
 When Aline and Dirt merch are fresh you could ride them on a BMX they are fun trails but i'd like to see more steep off camber root/rock ridden trails being built in bike parks old world cup type stuff. Any of the bikeparks I have rode around the world are making their trails wider and smoother
  • 5 0
 TOO WIDE = Meadow of the Grizzly and the climbing trail, Stl'lhalem Sintl' in Squamish, BC. Its just a boring smooth sidewalk plowed up and down the mountain. A very disappointing use of trail funding IMO. I rode it once, fell asleep up and down and haven't ridden it since. Climbers like Happy/Nimby/Dreamweaver are world class in comparison. Sure they take longer and more effort to build but well worth it.
  • 5 0
 RC- You just wrote two of my favorite lines ever. "manufactured fantasy experiences for cyclists" and "traveling carnival rides in paradise" The poll references trail width, but the actual point is about so much more, about riding a bike in a natural environment, versus a manufactured experience. I'm old, so you probably can guess how I feel about this. Trails should use terrain; most flow trails could have been pooped out of the same machine and plopped down anywhere.

I'll stack my trail building chops up against anyone and will say that if you ride one of the (less than) two foot wide trails I've built and find that you are bored, then you should buy a quad .
  • 4 0
 I ONLY RIDE PARK!!! No, but really no one trail size trail can live without the other. I am a better single track rider after a couple days at the park. I enjoy the narrow stuff but like the idea of slightly wider "accessible" trails should I need some. Thay are also better to take my children. North Shore tec/rock is not the easiest place to start out.
  • 5 0
 As many people have pointed out, width is kind of irrelevant. That being said, my personal favorite trails have never seen a hydraulic excavator of any kind. Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, my opinion, man.
  • 5 0
 Our local trail association did a bunch of machine building awhile back. Everyone complained about the trail width and dumbing down of the trail. In just a couple of seasons clear lines wore in, vegetation grew where tires didn’t tread, erosion and wear exposed roots and rocks and man do we have some wicked fun trails to ride now!
  • 5 0
 Happens a lot round my local trails. New trails get built or old ones redone and they're 3-5ft wide with a uniform surface, everyone complains. Give it a year and that trail is now 1ft wide with a defined line that's roughing up nicely and everyone's happy. Trail then gets narrower still and really rough, cue complaints about it being too hard for the grade, deep puddles etc. Go back to the beginning!
  • 4 0
 bar width or less single track is where it’s at. Preferably in the alps, on a donkey track, with switchbacks, rock rolls and an Italian coffee / gelateria shop waiting at the bottom.

I grew up on British single track trails ...... thin technical climbs.Wet roots and rocks followed by fast, tight swooping technical trails. You are forced to learn good bike handling skills early on without it being too terrifying or dangerous. Once you have some skill under the belt, going fast on these trails is a pure joy and a real challenge at speed.

I fully support making the trails more accessible to new generations...... but there has to be a wide variety of trails to ensure the right skills are learnt by the next generation. I will be taking my kids on single track ASAP and getting them the right skills quicker...... once they have them, we can go back to the ‘berm, berm, jump, berm , berm, jump, yawn, etc” trails.
  • 4 0
 Every kind of discipline is good to ride and sometimes better when all incorporated into 1 track. But natural tech is why I ride. I have no issue with other riders preferring bike park motorway lines and they can be a good way to keep riders of less ability away from skidding down the steeper tracks. But the issue i do have is that most trail centres now seem to focus on flow type trails and neglect creating the real challenging, authentic downhill runs. I also don’t like the influence it has had on World Cup tracks. The coverage of every rider tucking through a motorway is dull viewing and you can never see where the times have been lost or gained. So I don’t even understand the argument that it’s better for filming/viewers. The bikes are made to smash through the harshest of terrain so it’s disappointing to see every rider throwing a whip over a 40’ wide tabletop
  • 7 0
 I demand all trails to be exactly the same!
  • 7 1
 Right! We really need some standards here, folks.
  • 6 1
 @endlessblockades: 23.99 inches!
  • 4 1
 @fruitsd79: If its a standard must be in metric.
  • 4 0
 @fabwizard: Just because you don't measure in fractions of freedom inches, doesn't make you right!
  • 5 0
 It’s a dumb question, each trail type for different widths. Don’t want to land Crabapple hits on a skinny 3ft landing pad
  • 1 1
 95% of people commenting can't or won't hit Crabapple so they're bitter.
  • 5 0
 Blue square flow trails are pretty much the same everywhere. Ride one, you have rode them all. It's a genre of trail I am finding less exciting the more I ride them.
  • 3 0
 think about how many people ride down A line in one day. Now think of that many people riding down a tail built that is 1 ft wide, And again with a trail thats 1ft wide in rain. How does this trail look at the end of the day? this is the main reason why trails in high traffic are so wide. sustainability. safety is another contributing factor.
  • 7 0
 Rake and Ride.
  • 2 0
 Let the tires decide and then go back and make subtle adjustments.
  • 1 0
 @JDFF: So true. Saves so much work. And can also see where water might be a problem and then sure it up.
  • 2 0
 Around here flow is earned through skills, effort and sometimes a bit of luck. We don’t even rake the trails after the leaves come down. The trail might start out a couple feet wide, but the ridden in line ends up being a foot wide or so.
  • 3 0
 To me, flow trails are like MX tracks for motorcycle riders. There's no reason we can't have flow trails and regular trails. Just as motorcyclists have MX tracks and hare scrambles trails.
  • 3 0
 What are we bitching about???? Trails in the woods are narrow and fun. But when I drop big money to ride park I want big fast trails that are wide. PB what the hell is the problem maybe you all have it too good
  • 2 0
 I'm lucky to have a huge variety of trails nearby but the ones that excite me and challenge me the most are definitely the least built option. Raw, loose, rocky, rooty. Nobody built the right line, they just built a line and you have to ride it the best you can. Speed and flow are rewards of skill that make getting onto a "flow trail" that much more fun.
Why build a 4m wide trail with only 1 good line through it? I dont have that kind of time!! But dont get me wrong, I love a good downhill pumptrack.
  • 2 0
 Recently riding in Switzerland- I thought their trail network was superb. One trail network shared by walkers, hikers, MTB and in some areas equestrian. The trails were raw singletrack, you required skill to maintain flow and momentum but were challenging for most. It seemed like a great way to get the most out of a single resource. Derby in Tasmania is a modern example of new purpose built mtb trails incorporating natural features into the design. These are two different examples of trail building, both achieving a great result.
  • 3 1
 When I read the comments I am so happy to live and ride in Europe. Natural single tracks for back country, bike parks, e-bikes friendly community... Though North America has been the pinnacle for Mtb for years, times have changed my old friend.
  • 3 0
 Most of Europe is pretty much devoid of any real wilderness, so I don’t think you understand what “backcountry” actually means.
  • 1 0
 @TypicalCanadian: I actually totally understand what backcountry means, however you're right my comment should mention "mountain trail riding" or "mountain epic day ride" or whatever "mountainbike riding" (= riding up and down in the mountains) is called these days.
  • 2 0
 There's a reason they call it SINGLE TRACK...no matter how long..how steep..its got to be planned right BUT keep it as natural as possible...I think the fun factor comes into play when its tight and gnarly...the element of surprise adds to the experience. Wide and groomed has its place in the bike park...Smile
  • 2 0
 The question doesn’t make sense unless it’s couched in terms of style and skill level.

Mountain biking and skiing can both be viewed similarly as being backcountry (natural), off piste (resort off trail), and on piste (park/groomed).

Trail width is whatever suits the needs of that trail use.

I prefer backcountry in my riding and my skiing.
  • 2 0
 Mountain biking used to be a fringe sport, now it’s mainstream. The core riders have become outnumbered by the masses and trails have changed due to more demand for trails and building environmentally friendly trails. I personally miss raw rutted out nasty singletrack. I fixed this by buying a moto.
  • 4 0
 I love a narrow ribbon of trail but I hate getting perforated or stung by the UK's wonderful flora.
  • 1 0
 Come to Tucson, AZ. No flow, all spines and sharp rocks. Everyplace else is boring by comparison.
  • 1 0
 @WAKIdesigns: Sure. That's why I keep my mouth open when I crash. Never know when you'll get lucky and land face first on a peyote button.
  • 1 1
 @boogneesh: thank you, that put me in the right mood inthe morning Big Grin
  • 1 0
 Wide or narrow, I don't care as long as a trail is built properly. I've seen many wide trails in Europe that were meant to be like Whistler's Aline but ended up being highways with no flow and poorly build tuny jumps and weird berms. However, as far as I can tell from youtube, North America is going a bit more towards the large machine built trail type. European more stricht rules about cutting trees could play a role in that.
  • 3 0
 It’s illogical, but I’m more comfortable sending a big feature on singletrack. I look at a wide-open landing and think, “So many places to crash...”
  • 1 0
 I find when trails are very wide and smooth, and especially really tall/wide berms, I don't know where I should be/ have no exact line or exit I'm looking for, whereas if the trail is just as wide but with 2-3 defined line options I can commit more as I know exactly the point I want to exit to.
  • 1 0
 I love this debate. Personally I love the old school tech. But just opening up the speed on the smooth wide stuff can be a blast too. I think narrow tech is more 'pure' but I love how mountains like Killington offer them both!
  • 5 0
 I love it all, just gotta be smart on how you build for conservation sake
  • 4 0
 Simple and refined answer. Well stated.
  • 1 0
 I think, for flow trails at least, the width of the trail is irrelevant. Take D1, for example. Not too wide but you need a ton of speed. Then you have CIU, which is definitely wider but you need only a fraction of the speed. It really comes down to a plethora of different factors like trail maintenance, conditions, steepness, and berm geometry. If you’re gonna build a loosefest, go wide, and it you’re gonna build an easy does it, go narrow. For tech, go as narrow as you want lol
  • 1 0
 Overall I'm a fan of narrower and hand built trails but in my local area we have often used machines and built "flowy" trails for a variety of reasons:

1) In some of our local parks we have built flowy trails with berms. The land manager likes this because it gets closer to their own multi-use standard of 4-5' wide and the local equestrians like that it's wide and smooth and not rocky. Also the soil is crap and a machine makes it sooo much easier to construct the large grade reversals that will hold up over time. Also I think the land managers see the relatively mild grade and smooth tread and think "This is fine. I can justify this to my boss if I have to." Basically it's a winning formula for expanding trails. I don't want to ride this kind of trail 7 days a week, but they're usually pretty fun IMO and require way less maintenance.

2) Limits to hours volunteers or land manager staff can/will work. A machine can save you thousands or tens of thousands of hours on a large trail build project. Sometimes trails are remote or hard to get volunteers to show up to build or maintain. A machine can help enormously. If a land manager wants to get something done in a timely fashion then a machine will allow them do that.

Other thoughts:

Also, some areas have very little rocks or roots in the soil, meaning that any trail you build is likely to be smooth and non-technical. In those areas machine building makes a lot of sense if you're okay with a modestly wider tread. In very rocky areas I would prefer hand building where you can really get granular in terms of keeping rock gardens and rocks in the tread.

If you build a machine built trail carefully, it doesn't have to be 4' wide. There are hand built trails in the county that are wider than some of our sections of machine built.

Finally, another reason I've heard of a machine being used is that the land manager either bough a mini-ex or borrowed one from a different department, and if they don't use it their boss will say, "Why did we buy that mini-ex if we don't use it for something?"

For many areas it probably makes sense to employ a mixture of building techniques that result in trails with a variety of widths and technical features.
  • 3 0
 I like my trails narrow, the constant stress of riding into an unseen rock hidden by tall grass outside of the trail keeps the adrenaline pumping
  • 1 0
 Select Evolution built big wide motorway trails here in Christchurch and they've been terrible. The dirt here is sediment and clay so everything erodes really badly and since the wide trails have no tree cover they erode faster than they can maintain them.
  • 1 0
 Years ago in Fruita, the locals having been somewhat discovered, posted a couple of hand painted signs.
The first one, “If you can’t stay on this trail, Don’t Ride It!”. Second one, “These are Not cow trails”.
Although not technical it was challenging to ride a 12” trail with not cow shit in the middle of it.
  • 1 0
 I live in Redding, CA, actually about 5 miles from the enticer trailhead at swasey recreational area. It's an amazing trail with a single track climbing trail running somewhat parallel. I wish they could have included more pictures. There's a huge gap jump at the end, and some comparable ones at about halfway. The sections are all very different, and it will size down in some sections. There's even two or three unavoidable rock gardens. Just some local input... Glad they included us in the article, though!! It's a very cool trail and we have a great system that deserves more attention.
  • 1 0
 Flow trails if they are creative and actually have some lippy jumps on them. Not if it’s just another blue horseshoe berm trail down a ski run. Needs to be built by actual shredders who also know how to operate machines well. You can tell when it’s just some contracter who rides an enduro bike just trying to pump out meters of trail
  • 1 0
 I hate these dumb wide flow trails but depending on trail maintenance a wide 10 feet trails might end up at 2 feet after 2 years of erosion and vegetation taking over.. Always build a bit wider than what you would anticipate to ride.
  • 4 0
 Voted for 3 feet just for the poison oak clearance.
  • 5 0
 I LOVE BRAKE BUMPS!!!!
  • 3 3
 Maybe a better question is - have trails become too fast? We've got to think about what happens when some Joey launches off the trail at 30mph because the trail was like a paved path with jumps, is that a good thing? I noticed in my area the difficulty in trails take a big jumps from "Beginner/Intermediate" (which are basically just XC trails with the occasional log or rock crossing) to "we don't know how to rate this because it goes from high speed and fast to drops that could kill you." People like to say "well I can ride so and so trail start to finish" but really it isn't a matter of skills, it's a matter of balls. Just because some kid has nothing to lose and rides in DH gear does not make a trail technical, it just makes it dangerous. I find more and more riders are drawn to "dangerous trails" (think Sedona's White Line or Hangover Trail) vs trails that are difficult from a skills standpoint.
  • 2 0
 i'm thinking of bouldering highballs or soloing big routes. it's a mental game. and when you can overcome that, coupled with technical skills, there's no better feeling! for any sport. i'm a dirt jumper and before you ride a black line you learn on easier trails and crash a lot and you gain the technical skills to ride bigger. if you were to ride only one xc trail for a year, don't you think your speed would increase? I mean as fast as possible! even straight uphill. otherwise kinda boring by the end of that year. i think some people are motivated by getting better at their sport, and better means different things for different folks. your dangerous trail may be another riders warmup. fine line between balls and confidence cheers
  • 5 1
 like my GF says: the skinnier, the better.
  • 1 1
 She's into that whole train in a tunnel sensation huh
  • 4 0
 @me2menow: Throwing a hot dog down a hallway.
  • 2 1
 @boogneesh: ah yea that's the euphemism I was looking for
  • 1 0
 At least we have trails and options and public land and money to buy bikes. People complain too much...most countries a bicycle is family transportation and a way to put food on the table...
  • 5 0
 Nice nonsense poll
  • 1 1
 #keepsingletracksingle a lot of spots in the Northeast do a good job blending the flow trails in, specifically in Vermont (Kingdom, cochren, Perry hill, green mtn). Car wide jump and flow rides are fun to ride at the resorts on a big weekend or vacation, but the gnar is always most fulfilling.
  • 4 0
 keep single track single!
  • 2 1
 This article is absolute nonsense. Trail width has never crossed my mind. Some trails I ride are 10 ft+ wide with multiple line choices down gnarly tech. Others are single track loam. I love them all.
  • 5 1
 This is the epitome of first world problem
  • 1 0
 Entirely down to the terrain. As a rule though, I like my steep/tech to be skinny - only a foot or so of line - and my jump/park stuff to be mega wide like Dirt Merchant or A-Line.
  • 2 0
 GIve me big ass jumps with big ass landings, and also tight bumpy trails with trees that brush your shoulders....it's all good man.
  • 4 0
 Pick a trail width and a be a dick about it!
  • 3 0
 Q)When Does a Trail Become a Roadway?
A)Tour de France road gap jump.

Baddum Tish!
  • 9 6
 when e-bikes are all over the damn place
  • 3 0
 wtf kind of poll/article is this... ??? what are you getting at?
  • 3 0
 Singletrack that makes use of my suspension FTW!!
  • 3 0
 Come to Ecuador! Its almost all natural technical narrow trails.
  • 1 0
 sure would be scary to hit an 8foot jump, with a 20' gap and land on a 10' high by 3' wide landing. no jumps? big enough to fit through
  • 1 0
 3 feet as optimal though? Really guys? A nice wide gnar balls tech section with many different lines is cool, but an average trail width of 3 feet? f*ckin roadway!
  • 2 1
 Dirt sidewalks need to go. Utilize the unique terrain of the location. Let ruts, braking bumps, line choice ect form. Windrock does it best.
  • 2 0
 "You could drive a trophy truck down portions of Whistler's most famous lines,"
I now need to see this Big Grin
¿
  • 3 0
 You see too wide...... I see a 4X track
  • 1 0
 If I had to pick one trail for the rest of my life it's Dirt Merchant to A-Line. I guess that means I like wide trails. Whatev.
  • 2 0
 Well I live in the northern Alps of Piedmont and here we only dream trails larger than 30/40 cm... But we have the balls Big Grin
  • 1 0
 My favorite trails in the same geographical area are 1 foot wide and 4 feet wide....
  • 2 0
 I like nature, so flow trails are trash to me.
  • 2 0
 When you pave it and paint lines on it...
  • 1 0
 I like a mix. Wide flowey trails with good jumps and jumps as well as super techy sections.
  • 3 1
 Imba has taken the mountain out of mtb trails
  • 1 0
 Who cares? Opinion based article. No one makes you ride any trail. If you don't like it, go build your own.
  • 2 0
 Wider than a Mcleod and it is double track...
  • 1 0
 The big question is; does the trail builder actually ride what they build??
  • 2 1
 Narrow trails are alright but I love a nice big berm to hit.
  • 1 0
 Verity is spice of life.. No?
  • 1 0
 Ha ha. Truth.
  • 2 0
 Who is she?
  • 2 0
 @GeorgeFry: I'm from the US. We're having a hard time figuring that out right now.
  • 1 0
 @GeorgeFry: Whoever she is, she can't tell a lie.
  • 3 3
 I like a wider trail as it opens up the opportunity for different line choices!
  • 2 1
 When a Gravel Bike can ride on it!! Easy answer!!
  • 1 0
 If the trail is wide enough, you can race it in 4 and call it fun!
  • 2 0
 I only ride ski runs.
  • 1 0
 Freeride or don’t
  • 1 0
 This poll is biased nonsense. Where's the 30 cm option??
  • 1 0
 Apparently Pinkbike truncates symbols, including the 'less than' symbol...
  • 1 0
 Too early and too often is the answer.
  • 1 0
 Sheep tracks are by far the best trails!
  • 1 0
 When an excavator is involved with its creation
  • 1 0
 I like my trails, narrow, steep and natural.
  • 1 0
 When it has easy pass
  • 1 1
 I like off road trucks
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