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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
A volunteer group I work with has received a trail grant and plans to hire a mini-excavator and operator to build some new trails. The volunteer group received a very attractive bid from one construction company who uses a lot of small equipment, so they are very familiar with using a mini-ex but they have never built trail. The trail is going to be built in some pretty rugged, rocky terrain with very steep cross slopes at times. Does anybody have some suggestions about how to build trails with a mini-ex, how to build trails in rough terrain with a mini-ex and how to do it all without the mini-ex tumbling down a hillside. Anything to help shorten the operator learning curve would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks
 

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If budget allow, hire a professional to train your crew. We got Ben Blitch of B4 Consulting come over to spend a few days teach us how to build a trail with a mini-x. We had experience with a mini-skid steer and were having trouble getting a decent output. After the training, we had a better, narrower, more fun trail and were able to output nearly 3 times more finished trail per day.

Experienced machine operators have a strong understanding of the capacity of the machine but teaching them how to build trails is actually harder than teaching a trailbuilder to run a machine.

You NEED to have a thumb on that excavator!

You should have rubber track. Metal track will cause a lot of damage to the trail thread and require more finishing work.

Make sure you plan a downtime for transport, maintenance and repair. The machine WILL break. You can expect to replace a least an hydrolic line. We usually plan around 20% of the operator time for all-machine related downtime.

I don't know where you are and what kind of terrain you actually have, but in Eastern Canada, we maintain an average of 250m/day with a 3 men crew. With a 4men/2 machine crew, we average 450m/day.

Finally, if you have an closed cab mini-x, remove all lights, glasses and mirrors or they will eventually end up smashed against a tree.
 

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Machine Trail Builder
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I will put my .02 cents into this one. HopefuIly it isn't become something I regret. I've built miles of trail on a variety of different excavators. First off let me clarify a few things. You don't NEED to have a thumb, they help a ton and once you get used to them its hard to see how to build without one, but when you know what your doing they are not a necessity. Metal tracks don't damage the trail tread either. They damage roads and sidewalks, but the dirt could care less, assuming were still talking about mini excavators. "Experienced machine operators have a strong understanding of the capacity of the machine but teaching them how to build trails is actually harder than teaching a trailbuilder to run a machine." I am assuming this info was pulled directly off of IMBA's homepage, which is fine, and I tend to agree with this last statement. But a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing and you need to have the machine skills dialed before you jump onto a sidehill and start digging away. When starting your dig make sure you remove the organic layer completely. There are a variety of different ways to do this and it changes depending on the terrain. Sometimes I push the organics forward, sometimes I bring them in. This requires a very light touch with a machine as you don't want to be mixing up your organic layer with your mineral soil. When you have your organics sorted, don't just side cast the debris over the outside edge, sure its the easiest way to do it, but it looks ugly and gives machine built trail a bad reputation. Try and take some time to lay it out green side up and when possible re- veg any plants you dig up. You work a boom length at a time clearing the organic material, this includes your backslope and your outside edge. I always clear a little higher on the backslope and a little lower on my outside edge because inevitably organics will start rolling down the hill into your mineral soil and sometimes what you thought was your outside edge can become your center of trail as you start to re-grade your tread. When you have a section cleared you cut your bench. Make sure its a machine width and I often pack the outside edge with the bottom of the bucket just to make sure its solid enough to drive on. Often times on a side hill when the organics are cleared you end up with to much dirt in front of you... don't side cast this dirt! At this point I either back up and pull the dirt back down the trail or I just scoop and spin and throw out the dirt uniformly behind me. You have to do this uniformly or your going to box yourself in. This material is then graded out with the blade. I also use the backside of the bucket to knock down the backslope to an appropriate angle. Why do it by hand when the machine is right there. Hope this info helps with your build. If you need me to elaborate a bit more or have other questions feel free to P.M me... or heck just fly me out there and I can show you in person. Didn't even know people were doing that.... but I'm down.
 

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Zach Attack
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We use a combo approach. Great advice from Fletcher above. I will add that I have a 12v wench that I use to chain my roll cage to uphill trees etc.. during extreme sketch spots. I also counter slope or inslope my rough cut with the excavator and then outslope with skid steer during finish. The inslope stablizes the machine alot when faced with steep side slope and you are dealing with pulling out rocks or roots. We use the **** out of the thumb and now remove most brush and trees with thumb rather than chainsaw depending on conditions. I have seen people topple excavators on flat ground with the wrong move, working on side slopes is one way to loose $30k without proper training and experience.
 

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Builder of Trails
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There are several companies that do education consultation, mine included (Talon Trails,) that can be found on www.trailbuilders.org. I agree that you should hire atrail builder, and not someone who knows how to run an excavator. A builder, particularly one who rides, can see the lines and tweak the flow as he goes along.

I'm currently working in Puerto Rico building mountain biking trail for a new adventure park. The terrain is super steep in many places....up to 120+ percent, and the vegetation is thick. Fortunately, the soil is fantastic and very workable. I haven't built on slope like this since working on the Paradise Royale Trail System in the Lost Coast of CA.

I agree with Fletch about trying to place the spoils so that the green side is up, etc., but if you're in production mode, you broadcast the spoils downhill and more on. If you have a mini skid steer following behind, you can use the spoils to create grade reversal...rollers.

A thumb is damn handy but not a necessity. None of the rented machines we're using has a thumb.

Here are some pictures of the stuff in PR. As usual, you flat panel display makes the slopes seem more shallow. :D



Before


After


D

[Edit: No, the finish work has not been done yet.]
 

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featherweight clydesdale
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D-

How is the overall mt bike experience in Puerto Rico? Obviously improving, but would you hit it for sun and some riding or is it not worth the trip?

Sorry for the threadjack....
 

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Builder of Trails
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Fattirewilly said:
D-

How is the overall mt bike experience in Puerto Rico? Obviously improving, but would you hit it for sun and some riding or is it not worth the trip?

Sorry for the threadjack....
You'd have to hook up with a local to get the best 411. I've ridden only one other trail; it was fun but short...maybe four miles. I've been told that the north side of the island has limestone technical trails. The southwest side is like the SW US, arid (ish) with cacti. To me it's a weird juxtaposition seeing cacti and the sea.

If you're focus on the trip is NOT mountain biking, you could make a go of it. I'm not sure how the rental bike situation is if you didn't bring your own. The sun part is a no brainer!

D
 

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Terrain Sculptor
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Seriously dburatti, you need to hire me. I'll move to Texas. That's pretty looking dirt in PR.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Desert terrain

The guy in charge of this volunteer trail project has a bit of tunnel vision and a tight deadline, so outside training is out.

The terrain is rugged southwestern desert so their is no organic soil to speak of. I am actually more worried about bedrock being so close to the surface that there is insufficient soil in which to build bench. When you encounter solid rock using a mini-ex how to you proceed?
 

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BM and PQ Trail Rep
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bweide said:
The terrain is rugged southwestern desert so their is no organic soil to speak of. I am actually more worried about bedrock being so close to the surface that there is insufficient soil in which to build bench. When you encounter solid rock using a mini-ex how to you proceed?
Just my .02 cents.

Instead of trying to remove or rework the bedrock, use it as part of the trail. It becomes an instant "feature". Look at other trials in the desert for your inspiration. Why needlessly remove obstacles if you can incorporate them?
 

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bankerboy said:
Just my .02 cents.

Instead of trying to remove or rework the bedrock, use it as part of the trail. It becomes an instant "feature". Look at other trials in the desert for your inspiration. Why needlessly remove obstacles if you can incorporate them?

No experience to back my guess, but I'd say that incorporating rocks as features might require building ramps, while breaking out rock might fix riding flow problems. Built up features = possible maintenance issues.

Walt
 

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Builder of Trails
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bankerboy said:
Just my .02 cents.

Instead of trying to remove or rework the bedrock, use it as part of the trail. It becomes an instant "feature". Look at other trials in the desert for your inspiration. Why needlessly remove obstacles if you can incorporate them?
Tracks, both rubber & steel, tend to slide off rock, so incorporating them when building with an ex can be difficult.

D
 

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On a related topic, how many of you build trails with a mini-x doing the rough and a walk-behind doing the finishing work? We tested that combo this year and were pretty impressed. Still need to check out the numbers and see if it's cheaper running 2 machines or just one and spending a little extra time closing the trail with the mini-x.
 

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HypNoTic said:
On a related topic, how many of you build trails with a mini-x doing the rough and a walk-behind doing the finishing work? We tested that combo this year and were pretty impressed. Still need to check out the numbers and see if it's cheaper running 2 machines or just one and spending a little extra time closing the trail with the mini-x.
Our approach this year was to fire up the chainsaw and run through the forest. Well, not quite, but one of the guys was lightning fast. The rest of the crew had a tough time keeping up to him whilst clearing the chunks. After the saw work, the mini-ex came in and started cutting the trail but not cutting the backslope. The crew using hand tools would come behind and try to scatter the spoils downhill. Unfortunately, the soil here is very dusty when dry, and it was like trying to move big piles of heavy flour. The backslope was cut by hand long after the machine had passed, but in the really steep spots the crew had trouble. Do you just knock off the upslope edge and create a somewhat sharp transition, or do you go 8-10' upslope and try and make it gradual? Some compromises were made, but I think things turned out well. We'll know for sure in the spring when the snow melts.

If we had to do it again, I think it might be nice to have the mini-ex cut the trail AND cut the backslope, then get a skid steer to plane off the tread a bit with the blade. Fine finishing and polishing of the backslope, tread and downslope could be done by hand - ideally by volunteers.
 

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Machine Trail Builder
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We use the excavator to do as much as possible. We have a few to choose from and their use depends on tread width. The ideal is using two excavators, one running ahead and clearing the organics and our smaller machine coming through and finishing the trail behind. Doesn't always work out that way though. Normally I grub out a days worth of trail leaving a couple hours at the end of the day to go back through and re-grade with the blade, pull in the inevitable berm that forms along the outside edge and use the backside of the bucket to fine tune the backslope. Regarding the backslope, If the terrain is steep i go higher up the backslope to find that "angle of repose" to keep the debris from rolling onto the tread, you have to be careful not to create a huge scar though and often times we spend some time re-vegging the backslope to return it to a natural looking state. The three of us are tired of doing handwork, and with all our hours of seat time on the mini ex's we find it much easier to do a lot of our finish work with the machine. This is not to say we don't still buff out the trail at the end of the day by hand, but this often only involves a screed and a pair of loppers to get out some of the roots. A chainsaw with a dirt chain is sometimes used to low stump any trees and any larger roots that we didn't want to tear out with the machine. We have a walk behind loader and depending on the tread width we have a tracked skidsteer as well. Both these machines have compacting attachments. These tools are mainly use for compacting at the end of the day, but sometimes we put the bucket on and use them to move larger amounts of material to even out grade, or when hand finishing at the end of the day we sometimes scoop up left over organics and shuttle them somewhere off the trail corridor. A lot of our work is in areas with very large organic layers, but when we do get ourselves into a rocky situation our walk behind loader does have a rock breaking attachment. This is slow going, but we still get our trail bench. If the whole project was going to be built on rock I would be looking into seeing if you can use explosives. A good explosive's guy (or gal) can make short work of a rocky situation, often times cutting your bench and shaping the backslope in one explosion... then your left with a loader just coming through and cleaning up the mess. If this is not allowed a rock breaker attachment is the way to go. If this can't be done you might have to start looking into building retaining structures and using fill to cover the top of the bedrock to create your bench. Out of all these methods explosives are the least amount of work and time.... and it creates a little more excitement to an otherwise normal workday.
 
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