Alternative to a double track flow trail: A White trail with multiple Green B-lines

Last weekend while on a walk with my wife Robbie in the Carelton College Lower Arb, I explained to her the mostly negative reaction thus far (see the great discussion thus far in the MORC forum here) to my suggestion that we need more recreational double-track flow trails to more effectively introduce mountain biking to more beginners (item #2 in my blog post, 5 ways to make mountain biking more attractive to beginners).

I also told her about IMBA’s Trail Level Difficulty Rating Sysem (White, Green, Blue, Black) and how B-lines are often added to a singletrack trail to offer additional optional challenges to riders. We happened to be walking on a wide XC ski trail trail and she asked, “Wouldn’t it work to add some Green level B-lines to a White trail like this one we’re on?”   Um, gee Honey, that might be a good idea. 

 

So Sunday morning I spent two hours clipping branches and raking out a bunch of multiple Green B-lines adjacent to a White trail that goes through the river bottoms of Sechler Park in Northfield near where volunteers from CROCT marked out an intermediate demo trail two weeks ago.

 

 

But rather than creating just one B-line through this section, I created multiple lines with varying levels of ‘easy’ to allow riders to pick which lines are most suited to their ability level.  These lines don’t provide any flow (we’re not yet authorized to dig here) but they do provide (all optional) right and left off-cambers, tight turns, small ups and downs, proximity to trees, and a small logover, all on a surface (packed silt) that is fairly forgiving.

The multiple lines packed into a small area like this would likely be confusing to a beginner who encounters them for the first time on their own.  So at some point I’ll need to experiment with how to make the options more obvious with creating a forest of ugly signs.

I plan to have a few people who are new to mountain biking ride the Green B-lines next week when it dries out and maybe create a video of them riding it. In the meantime, the crudely marked-up photos above will hopefully give an indication of what the experiment is about.

This approach would seem to be far cheaper than constructing a new double-track flow trail. And if successful, it might be worth experimenting with it along a paved bike trail.

6 thoughts on “Alternative to a double track flow trail: A White trail with multiple Green B-lines”

  1. Not personally a huge fan of double track for beginning riders. Thinking about my own personal experiences: I remember riding everything from ridiculous goat paths to wide gravel foot paths to deeply rutted logging roads and none of it was good like purpose-built single track.

    “Double track” leaves one with the impression of two tire tracks from A to B; not very appealing, though I imagine one could make it much better than that. Multiple “B” lines might sound like “braided trail” to land managers.

    For my part, slow and easy on a trail purpose-built to inspire confidence is the answer. A little extra width, a little better visibility, no difficult climbs or descents, nothing that “looks scary”, but flow remains important.

    I think every trail system that could improve an existing segment to that standard should give it serious consideration. Improving that segment could be the work of those committed to the endeavor (I choose to use the term endeavor because I’m not built for sport, LOL), inviting newbies to assist. Some undoubdtedly will, creating buy-in and ownership, and of those, a few will move up to leadership roles.

    It becomes about the endeavor, not just the ride. At least that’s how it has been, thus far, for me.

    You’re taking on a daunting task, Griff, and I wish to sound encouraging, not negative. I wish that when I was young, sports like mountain biking had been around; I wrestled in high school, while others played basketball. None of us get together and wrestle or play ball much, LOL, and I believe if we had biked recreationally, we’d have stayed more fit, flexible, and more willing to incorporate fitness into our daily lives…even if one was built like one of Tolkein’s dwarves, as I am. The amazing leaders that pull kids in are going to make a bigger difference for the effort, I think. Folks our age are going to have to work harder for it.

    But as leaders like yourself synthesize a plan of attack, count on a few kool-aid drinkers like myself to listen.

    Thank you for listening.

  2. Bruce, I’m glad you’re stopping by here to regularly drink my Kool-aid and offer a bit of your own. Slurp! You wrote:

    For my part, slow and easy on a trail purpose-built to inspire confidence is the answer. A little extra width, a little better visibility, no difficult climbs or descents, nothing that “looks scary”, but flow remains important.

    Here’s my current thinking on the problem with that type of Green singletrack. Critique appreciated!

    You can’t know which skills/type of terrain that pure beginners are going to learn quickly and which they’re going to struggle with or freak out over. So you have to guess, aim for whatever you think the middle is. Goldilocks design, ie, not too hard, not too easy. And you hope that a large majority enjoy it. But then a pure beginner rides it and gets 100 yards in and they freak out over a slight downhill turn and end up being miserable the rest of the way because your trail has a lot of those. Or they freak out because you’ve routed your trail too close to a some trees and they’ve never experienced that. Or they freak out because they’re worried they won’t make it up a slight incline and fall backwards. And on and on.

    “Fine, I’ll design a trail that eliminates all those challenges,” you might say. Well, then you have the near-equivalent of a flat crushed limestone bike trail, not a Green singletrack.

    Or you might say, “If people find my super easy Green trail too tough then mountain biking is just not for them. We can’t design for everyone.” That’s what many people are saying to me now, that we have plenty of Green trail and we can’t spend money or volunteer time building anything easer.

    So I’m aiming at something completely different. It’s not at all a braided trail. I’m not sure what to call it but it would essentially be a series of optional short skills sections along an existing flat double track (WHITE) or paved/crushed limestone bike trail. Each section would emphasize a different terrain challenge or a higher level of difficulty. For example:

    Section 1. Tiny dips and wide turns on a flat loop of 50 yards or less that leads back to the main trail

    If I was there as an instructor, I might be asking questions like: “How many seconds did it take you? Is it more fun if you go slower or faster? How fast can you go if you try it 5 times? Is riding it backwards more fun? Can you do it standing up? Can you do it super slow? Which are the most fun, dips or turns?”

    If I was not there as an instructor, there could be a sign or a printed map/smartphone app that says something like: “If your goal is to eventually ride a Green singletrack, practice Section 1 until you can confidently ride it in 20 seconds or less and still have fun.”

    And then maybe 100 or 300 yards further down the White trail, beginners would come to:

    Section 2: Small inclines separated from small declines (no hills) on an otherwise flat loop of 50 yards or less that leads back to the main trail.

    If I was there as an instructor, I might be asking questions like: “When were you pedaling and when were you coasting? Were the inclines or declines fun or scary? How many seconds did it take you? Can you stand up part of the way? Is it easier or harder when you stand up? Can you pedal fast enough to coast up some of the inclines?

    The printed map/smartphone app might say something like: “If your goal is to eventually ride a Green singletrack, practice Section 2 until you can confidently ride it fast enough to coast up the inclines and still have fun.”

    And then maybe 50 or 100 or 300 yards further down the White trail, beginners would come to:

    Section 3: a meandering loop of flat singletrack with a width of about 36 inches for 50 yards or less that leads back to the main trail.

    If I was there as an instructor, I might be asking questions like: “How hard was it to stay on the trail? Did you wobble off more to the right or to the left? Were your eyes focused on the trail in front of your wheel or further down the trail? Do you wobble more or less depending on where your eyes are focused? Can you ride it standing up? Do you wobble more or less when you’re standing?”

    The printed map/smartphone app might say something like: “If your goal is to eventually ride a Green singletrack, practice Section 3 until you can confidently ride it in 20 seconds or less without wandering off the trail and still have fun.”

    And then maybe 50 or 100 or 300 yards further down the White trail, beginners would come to:

    Section 4: etc

    Maybe there’d be 10 or so of these sections that covered all the beginner basic skills typcially needed to ride area Green trails. And maybe there’d be a second set of 10 that were slightly more advanced versions.

    What might be the pros and cons of something like this?

  3. intriguing ideas, Griff. I can see your personal delight in “sessioning” at play here. I think “sessioning” can be a goal in and of itself; I enjoy it too.

    But my experience is that most riders do not; most prefer to keep moving, I think your idea of small “sections” is appealing but perhaps in a teaching/mentoring situation having the ability to loop back to the beginning of a “section” (as a trials rider I know you’ll like that word) would be an extremely valuable feature.

    Past that, the “goldilocks” approach probably wont work because it would represent an attempt to make mountain biking palatable to people that might never like it anyway. Everyone would either hate it from the start or outgrow it immediately, so nobody would get excited about maintaining it.

    Your photos show what I would consider “pretty good” conditions; no “flow, but a nice clear understory and space between the trees. Trail routing becomes mostly a matter of trying to include various radius turns or giving beginners the opportunity to prepare well for a feature.

  4. Bruce, I’m a little confused. I used the term ‘goldilocks’ to refer to the typical Green trail, which you earlier described as your preference, ie, “… slow and easy on a trail purpose-built to inspire confidence is the answer. A little extra width, a little better visibility, no difficult climbs or descents, nothing that “looks scary”, but flow remains important.”

    But now you wrote:

    “Past that, the “goldilocks” approach probably wont work because it would represent an attempt to make mountain biking palatable to people that might never like it anyway. Everyone would either hate it from the start or outgrow it immediately, so nobody would get excited about maintaining it.”

    Can you clarify?

    I agree with you that most riders don’t like to or take the time to ‘session’ a particular portion of a XC trail that’s challenging to their current skill level.

    But in skills parks and in pump/jump bike parks, that’s exactly what they do. The structure of the bike park setting encourages it, rather than the “get from Point A to Point B” structure of a linear XC mtb trail. I’m essentially proposing a hybrid of the two, Green practice stations/sections along a flat White trail or paved bike trail.

    Whether or not beginners would ‘session’ these sections on their own remains to be seen. You may be right, that it might only work in a “teaching/mentoring situation” but that’s what I’d like to test.

  5. In some of the photos I don’t understand what makes some of the lines harder or easier than others. As a trail builder it looks like mess to me. I see collision points and too much trail in a small area which can cause confusion and washouts. When people actually start riding those areas the lines will become twice as wide and and the green stuff in the middle will be gone. In a larger area like that where there are many trees in the middle it causes collision points if you don’t properly reintroduce people to the trail which requires removal of trees and vegetation to provide sight lines for both the b-line exit and main trail riders. In a case where you have several b-lines converging this creates a problem called deforestation of a what would normally be a sweet riding area.. It’s bad design.

    They look like old rouge trails we closed down in favor of a trails that were safer, more environmentally friendly and less confusing to riders. I do not believe it is a good idea to provide options on a beginner trail. If you are just learning to ride you should not be presented with a list of options that take focus off riding. A beginner trail should be just that and not a bunch of other stuff.

    Having expert level b-lines on intermediate trails is ok. They are either seen as -- and/or it is known that they are expert level riding features. There are always signs.

    In one photo there is a 6 -- 8″ log and a b-line to avoid it. If this is on a beginner trail and the rider cannot go over they need to dismount and walk over the log. Logs are not just in the trail for features. They are also there pin and slow riders down for crossings and to avoid braking bumps that have been happening ahead or skidding on a corner after the log. They are used for various reasons. Generally when you see a log like that it’s for a reason other than making it harder. It almost always is for that. It’s to minimize trail conflicts or trail damage. We don’t put them there for no reason at all.

    I don’t like this idea at all. As a builder I see maintenance issues, crash points and a serious waste of space. There is a lot of extra trail yet it doesn’t make it a longer trail.

    I think you are underestimating the ability of the average person to keep a bicycle upright or know when they should get off their bike. I’m a very good rider. I have skills but I still dismount from my bike at times. I don’t ride everything I see. Maybe I can’t ride something and maybe I just don’t want to ride it. That’s just how mountain biking is. A confusing trail confuses that fact which should always be very clear.

    Beginner trails should not have spurs, cross themselves or have b-lines.

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