Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent the opinions of Mtbr.com.
That rock that you would always pedal-strike, I made it smoother. That ditch you could almost wheelie across, I filled it in so now you can roll it. That tight switchback that you could hop around like Ryan Leach and all your friends were impressed, I made it so you can pedal around it.
I have a confession: I am the guy who dumbs down your trails.
Over many years and miles of trail work, I have smoothed, buffed, filled in gap jumps, opened up corners, bench-cut narrow trails, dismantled wooden features, made mandatory drops rollable, armored stutter bumpy corners, cut out roots, rerouted trail, and I apologize for none of it.
Let's back up a bit and get some perspective on this issue. I grew up in a northern California town with a burgeoning mountain bike community; above town there is a university with a campus with expansive meadows and acres of dark redwood forest, and a budding renegade trail system. I began mountain biking in high school with two buddies. As our skills progressed and we searched farther and farther for cool trails, we added to the growing underground build scene, and built a steep downhill trail close to town on the university property. Though completely illegal and equipped with little more than our bikes and a rake between us, we "built" our first trail. The result was steep, rocky, surfy and unsustainable. Don't worry, no campers died during the process (If you have ridden this campus you know what trail I'm talking about.)
I continued building trails without permission over the years in California and in Central Oregon, when I moved here.
The theme was always steep and technical, usually as much fall line as possible. Eventually, I joined my local trail association because I decided I could put my efforts to better use by cooperating with the authorities to develop legal, land owner approved trails. Now, I am a trail crew leader, designer and head builder with Central Oregon Trail Alliance in Bend. My main focus is the more technical trails we build and maintain. I have also adopted two trails and have added a lot of my personal flair to both. Ever ridden South Fork or Whoops? Those are my babies.
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Who else is a trail dumb downer? Folks who have been working on trails for a long, long time.
Guys like me who do trail work all the time don't want to come back to the same problem on a trail over and over. We have learned to approach trail sections with a five or even ten-year plan to make our efforts sustainable. A trail dumb downer may be working with local land management to develop better trail systems in your area, and the scratched in track out your back door is becoming the "Blue Square" route. Trails close to town should be the easier trails, with the more technical advanced trail further out and harder to find.
I am calling out anyone who whines publicly about losing the one technical feature on their favorite local loop for being shortsighted. Before getting all indignant, consider the history of the trail, why it's there, who built it, was it built to be mountain bike specific or is it an old hiking trail that we now ride? However the trail started, degradation happens over time; and needs upkeep. Often times the big rut or erosion problem ends up being the most technical part of the trail.
Case in point: There is an MTBR forum discussion thread questioning some work I did on a trail that is many locals favorite downhill. It has fast rooty sections, hard loose corners and rough straights that require advanced mountain bike skill to ride well.
However, this trail did not start out rowdy or chundery. When built in the 1980s it started out as smooth, loamy hiking trail. After being rolled over by thousands of knobby tires and 30 years of rainstorms and snow melt, the roots became more and more exposed and yes, more technical and more fun. To make it more sustainable, the most eroded sections need fixing and armoring. Yes, adding flat rock and covering the roots dumbed down the trail, but what it accomplished is a piece of trail that will hopefully last 10 more years. Here is the Forum post: https://forums.mtbr.com/oregon/more-dumbing-down-bend-trails-938030.html.
I still want to ride steep, techy trails like the ones that scared me on that unnamed campus as a kid, and I know where to find them. They are not the after-work ripper loop that you bust out of from your house or the two-mile loop out of your local trail center. You must make an effort to ride these trails, go beyond guidebook or online reviews to find these trails. The trails that are on the maps and in guidebooks, have an established trail head and have a trail rating, and need a bit of homogenizing to serve the masses.
There is no preserving a trail. What you experience today, this week or even this year is just a snapshot in time. The trail will change; plants encroach on it, rocks and trees fall and the trail shifts in response, heavy rains erode the surface exposing roots, rocks and forming ruts. The maintenance done usually makes the trail easier, by default. But don't worry; soon enough, the trail will change again.
Is this an issue in your area? What do you think of the work done to your local trails? Are you a trail dumb downer, too? What are your reasons to make a difficult section more rideable? Have your trails been dumbed? What do you think of the changes?