The height of a skinny: managing the danger is part of the fun

Leb skinny intermediate outIn a MORC forum discussion thread this week, I commented to Lebanon Hills Dirt Boss Dave Tait about the height of the big log skinny in the intermediate out section of Leb. He had told me that when the tree originally fell, they had to lower it a bit to comply with Dakota County’s height limit of 30 inches. I used the phrase "dumbed down."

Battle Creek Dirt Boss Tom Gehring wrote:

This touched a bit of a sore point with me. I may be in the minority, but I fail to see how "lowering it" is dumbing it down. It still takes just as much skill to ride without dabing it just reduces the consequences of a fall.

Dave Tait wrote:

I agree. There was never an issue of feeling like we were dumbing down that tree ride. We peeled the bark off, prepared the ride surface to a minimum and then measured up the height. It was a little high so we put a saddle beneath it and dropped the height to our allowed limit. The end result is actually tougher than the original with bark because you slip off easier. The only resistance to lowering it was that we needed to figure out a few details and do a little extra work.

Chance Glasford, chief designer of the Eagan and Cottage Grove bike parks, wrote:

I see no issue with keeping skinnies low, the skill is in the balancing act…

A big part of any sport is managing performance anxiety. That can be danger-related or it can be stage-related.

Learning the balance beam in gymnastics can start with a harness and the beam on the ground. And then it’s doing it without the harness. And then with the beam higher. And then in front of parents or at a competition.

We all know the experience of choking, knowing that we can perform a skill when it’s practice but screw it up when it’s performance time.

I see skinnies this way. The variety of skinnies in Leb’s skills park is perfect, IMHO: some are smooth, straight and low. Others are crooked and bumpy and a bit higher off the ground. Likewise,  the skinnies at Ray’s Indoor Bike Park. Both parks offer lots of progression options.

Carver raised bridge skinnyOut on the trails in the Twin Cities area, there are man-made skinnies with some height if you want to try them: some wide but higher up; others narrower and higher up. They freak some people out and others love the challenge and see them as a way to try to put those skills learned in the skills park into use on the trail "For Real." The man-made skinny at Carver Lake Park is a great example of a high skinny with options: variable widths and an exit before the most difficult narrow part.

61 skinny Murphy-HanrehanLikewise, the man-made ’61 skinny’ at Murphy-Hanrehan: wide, then very narrow, back to wide, then a dirt ramp out-option before it starts curving and gets higher.

Most intermediate riders could clean it if it was flat on the ground but its height adds the element of danger. The athletic challenge is managing one’s anxiety.

As you can see in this 30-second video, I can easily clean it but if I made a $10,000 bet on it and had to do it in front of a crowd, I’d probably choke.

Stockade skinny HillsideThe stockade skinny at Hillside (the ‘Browner’, named after the first—and thus far, only person to have cleaned, Ray Brown; video here) is the most challenging skinny in the metro area and possibly the entire state.  It’s all or nothing. As designer/dirt boss Rich Omdahl wrote:

The Browner is in its own class of evil. I’ve never even made it half way across it. I designed that thing to have 8 layers of difficulty. The first one you contend with is that I built it at the top of a climb on an uphill slope with an off camber entry. Then it gets harder.

Most local expert riders could probably clean the Browner if was a foot off the ground but the danger of not making it at its current height is a big psychological barrier for most of us. Danny MacAskill and Ryan Leech would be bored with it, but they have their psychological barriers, too.

Somewhat related: A friend of mine remarked recently that he thought the arguments to legalize exploding fireworks (eg, firecrackers, cherry bombs, etc) were off-base. "Why not just enjoy the explosions that are set off by the professionals?" he asked. I said to him: "Because a big part of the fun is in managing the danger."

See all my blog posts tagged with the word ‘skinnies.’


  1. Good article. I agree that the danger changes things dramatically. I ride trials and can leap a lot farther pallet to pallet 6″ off the ground than even a foot and a half off the ground. The consequences indeed make it more exciting and an even bigger challenge.

    Good write up. Makes me want to take the Inspired to Hillside to try to be the 2nd person to clean the Brownere lol

    November 2, 2013
  2. Griff Wigley said:

    Thanks, Jon. I’m practicing ‘slow drops to flat’ so that if (when?) I do lose my balance on the stockade skinny at Hillside, I’ll have a reasonable chance of landing on my rear wheel. I’m working on a blog post about my practice regimen, coming soon. My skills have a long ways to go. So go for it! I guess I don’t have to tell you to capture your attempts with video.

    November 2, 2013
  3. Griff Wigley said:

    I’ve now changed my thinking. Doing a pedal wheelie to then land on one’s rear wheel would be the way to go but when I practice it on a low skinny, there’s not enough time. So now I’m practicing just trying to jump off the bike with both feet on one side. Like this:

    November 4, 2013
  4. Ride the stripe down the middle of the road for 2 blocks. Then ride a 2×4 1′ off the ground. Then tell me they’re the same.

    I have been on the receiving end of hostility from trailbuilders for suggesting they’ve made unnecessary sanitizations. But I do have sympathy for what it must be like to be them; in no-man’s-land between riders and land managers.

    Since I hate conflict, I now stick to giving money, and (mostly) keep my opinions to myself.

    November 7, 2013
  5. Griff Wigley said:

    Charlie, there’s a big discussion in the MORC forum about sanitization, the need for ‘progression,’ and what’s dangerous or not. See it at:

    Conflict, yes, but I think it’s pretty constructive thus far. It’s not all about skinnies, either.

    November 7, 2013

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