I’m alone in the woods with a shovel, and I don’t know what to do. I’ve been putting in work to clean up the first rideable trail of the season. I’ve removed the fallen trees and branches, I’ve repaired the drainage, and I’ve raked away the layer of wet leaves glued to the trail. I even shoveled snow from one fifty foot shaded stretch (after such a long U.P. winter I need to ride!). I’ve worked my way down the trail to one of my favorite corners, and I’m frozen with indecision. The harsh weather has eroded (some might say evolved) it into a completely new animal. Near vertical roots now line the inside of this berm like the jaw of some wheel-eating, fork-exploding, iron-toothed monster. I can tell that to ride this turn properly (fast
) I need a new bike with more suspension, or I need to smooth out the berm.
This little trail isn’t anything crazy, but as I play last year’s laps in my head, I know that it can be so
exhilarating. If I managed to string together all the earlier corners just right I’d arrive at this corner in a rush of wind and speed. Just as the trail drops down this tiny foot-tall catch berm carves to the right. Leaning into it my bike goes light. The little knobules of my front Assegai tire do their best to claw for some grip, but there’s just no gravity left to give them the downforce they need.
The resulting two-wheel drift across the trail is one of my favorite out-of-control yet in-control feelings. If I float over this berm, it is a guaranteed catastrophic Moto GP ragdoll crash but thankfully… WHAM! The catch berm does its catching, the g-forces stack up, and I’m slingshotted out the other side. I’m flooded with enough adrenaline that the climb back up is completed with a grin. This little berm can take all the speed you bring it. Or at least it used to be that way.
If I want this toothy and blown out berm to be as fun as last year I can only see two options: More suspension or a smoother trail. This is the conundrum I don’t fully understand about mountain biking. We search out more and more challenging terrain and then buy bikes with more suspension and technology to make that same terrain easier to ride. I don’t know what the rules are for balancing this puzzle. Do I leave this trail to erode and deteriorate until I need a DH rig to ride it? Or do I make it BMX track smooth? Or is there an accepted middle ground? And if I do make it smoother where do I stop? Should I smooth out the corner before it? The whole trail? And maybe the next trail? Should I just pave the whole place?
I asked master trail builder Ted Tempany for some words of wisdom and he returned, “My favorite trails have been built and maintained by a small group of like-minded people; the trail has a consistent feel, sheds water, and feels alive.” That makes sense to me, but then he also off-handedly said, “It is hard to please everyone, don’t bother! Build something for yourself. It’s your free time after all.”
Is there a right answer to the question “more shocks or more shovels?
” I drew up some t-shirt designs that I hope can solve the problem. They’ll act as a kind of mountain biker’s psychological test. I’ll run the votes through Outside’s AI supercomputer and see what I should do with my corner.