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Where to start w/ trail building?

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Let's say that, hypothetically, one has access to ~350 acres of Texas Hill Country rolling hills w/permission from landowner to build trail as one wishes. In this scenario, where does one start laying out plans? Anyone have good resources? I assume a healthy dose of mapping tools and test riding sections is called for. Figured there would be so tricks of the trade to do initial planning using topo maps.

 

Is IMBAs guide the go-to? Any other tips? This would be long term vision and execution. In this hypothetical scenario, let's assume there is not current permission for outside groups to assist.

 

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Use the IMBA guide to sweet single track. You can find other people (National Park Service, US Forestry Service, etc) have books based on the IMBA book available for free online. Here some links -

https://www.nps.gov/noco/learn/management/upload/NCT_CH4.pdf

https://www.nps.gov/noco/learn/management/ncttrailconstructionmanual1.htm

https://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/pdfpubs/pdf07232806/pdf07232806dpi72.pdf

Nothing beats experience because all the reading gets you started but seeing what works and what fails makes a bigger impression.

 

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complicated conversation a little bit.

 

here are my 2 cents and methods 

scout the area on foot, and hopefully you can create a vision... 

using topographical mapping is optional, but I prefer it. Either before or after you do actual on the ground scouting. 

 

Once you have a vision, walk your path with neon flagging tape and mark where you see the trail going. Flagging tape is a great non intrusive way to mark the trail  

 

Once you are confident in the path you have chosen, cut away Vegetation and create a complete, featureless, bermless, functional path.

once the path has been cut, work the ground with the various methods until the trail is ready for tires.

Ride the functional path and see how it flows and start placing the berms and features accordingly 

And take the rest from there 😉 

its a layered process for me, 

scout, functional path, pimp it out with berms and features last. 

When you try to build a trail feature by feature a lot of times it takes forever and features get put  in the wrong places and shit doesn’t flow right 

Good luck. And hit me up I’m always down to put a trail in if the terrain is good 

Edited by Seths Pool
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Talk to the local folk who have done this many times before (Austin Ridge Riders would be a good start)... It's a community, let them be a part of what's being done.

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And once you get it squared away, you can probably elicit free labor on boards like this. As long as we get to ride it we'll be happy to help with building it.

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Appreciate the comments and advice so far!

I have been watching Seth. As to the community involvement, that was my first thought as well...unfortunately I don't have permission at this point to allow anyone else on the land. I have been trying to get more involved in the Austin scene. I assume that restriction will soften a bit.

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1 hour ago, AustinBike said:

And once you get it squared away, you can probably elicit free labor on boards like this. As long as we get to ride it we'll be happy to help with building it.

Very much ^ this ^. 

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I estimate that planning, flagging, and walking the potential trail takes about 60% of the total time of building a trail. 

Don't cut anything until the entire system is planned out. Newbies are always so eager to start cutting. Wait until it's all done and been walked multiple times and reviewed on your GPS (Strava etc) to start actually construction.

Have fun. Jealous of course.

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2 hours ago, The Tip said:

I estimate that planning, flagging, and walking the potential trail takes about 60% of the total time of building a trail. 

Don't cut anything until the entire system is planned out. Newbies are always so eager to start cutting. Wait until it's all done and been walked multiple times and reviewed on your GPS (Strava etc) to start actually construction.

Have fun. Jealous of course.

Patience is a precious commodity. It pays great dividends though.

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Go over rocks or ledges and around trees....not the other way around!

Nothing with to much fall line, it will erode.

"Broadcast" your dirt and debris well away from the tread so it doesn't trap water.

Tree gates are fun.

Think about if you want fast or technical beforehand.

Follow natural contours as much as possible and avoid total flat spots, water needs to be able to sheet runoff down a hill.

Use google earth then flag tape then weed wacker THEN chainsaw. Don't get chainsaw happy, pick natural easy to clear lines for quicker initial route clearing.

Stacked Loop is the way to go.

Bring a keg and invite us to ride it in once done.

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My humble (but strongly held) opinions: 

Yes to IMBA guide! Before all else, understand sustainable trail building; apply the IMBA solutions always.  If you do that, that trail will still be there to enjoy in 5, 10, 15 years and onward. 

a) Decide what kind of trail (or loop) you are building and stick to that -- internal consistency.  If you are building a beginner loop, stick to that -- consistent beginner characteristics throughout, ditto intermediate, advanced.  Don't build crappy, half assed switchbacks.  

b) Alternately, (my preference) you can create a flow-ish trail and include alternate challenge lines.  Or you can build a more challenging loop with mellow by passes.  This will allow more people to use the trail and decide when they are ready for more of a challenge (or not) and takes care of endless whingeing* about cheater lines.  

Anyway, look at the terrain and set your vision first.  You're not wrong to go about it either way.

Also, this: As we've traveled around mountain biking, and as recently as this week, we run into families with younger kids looking for a safe-ish place to ride.  Everybody has a mountain bike of some description, maybe Dad is the instigator with a high-end bike and mom and kids have low-end but functional bikes and and  they need maybe a two- or three or even five-mile loop that is easy for the little guys but still moderately interesting and enjoyable.  When people go out and have a great experience on a trail, especially with their kids, then they are more likely to want to expand that experience and at some point, maybe want to grow more into the sport.  Sometimes mom and dad are both hammerheads but the grommits are little -- like five or six years old. Same dealio. 

This comes strongly to mind because awhile back when ARR had the TMBRA race at Reimers, we set up a little loop for kids - 100 yards or so long,  it wound around with little dips here and there, went thither and yon through clumps of trees, and there were little kids riding it over and over because it was "just right" for their skills in terms of challenge, length and their bikes. It was so fun to watch. 

*whinge (informal, British): complain persistently and in a peevish or irritating way

 

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Side note: If you’re the only one that has permission to build and ride it, lay out a trail that you want to ride. It takes a lot of wheels to bed in a trail and if your two wheels are the only ones on it, you’ll be doing some serious laps!


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OP, have you done any trail building, or working to maintain existing trails?

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OP, have you done any trail building, or working to maintain existing trails?

Some but minimal and as the low skilled labor. Part of the plan will certainly be to get more involved in local maintenance - will likely be Walnut due to proximity and availability.

 

Scoping out a bit today, quite a bit more sand than I remembered in the part of the land I was intending to start with. Making me rethink whether worthwhile for singletrack. Researching whether starting with pump track in an area with better soil would be a better payoff...then build out from there.

 

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I'm not a fan of sandy trails. The sandy part of the Lockhart Breaker was brutal.

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There is a build day on Peddlers Pass @ Brushy Creek at 9:00am on Saturday December 14th.  If you come, I can explain some of the design features of the trail that most people never notice and I wish Knew when i started building, it would have saved a lot of time redoing stuff. Here's the order i would do trail building.

1. Decide what kind of trail your going to build, XC, flow, enduro lines etc.

2. What level of rider will be using it. 

3. Walk the land on foot marking interesting areas that could become features of the trail such as natural dips in ground, ledges, good views, boulders, downed trees, a nice clump of Oaks, the list can be endless, think about things you like on other trails.

4. Mark a trail between these features.

5. Walk the trail several times in both directions to decide if you like the alignment.

6. Use a stick as pretend handlebars and jog along different parts of the trail and the where the features will be. 

7. Once happy with the alignment, clear just enough branches and ground cover to be able to ride the trail. Ride it several times. Make sure when you cut a branch it's all the way to the trunk of the tree, don't leave half cut branches for people to impale themselves on. Move all the cleared branches several feet off the trail, especially on the outside of a turn where people are most likely to go off the trail. 

8. If happy with the alignment, clear a bigger path along the trail linking the features.

9. Ride it several times, do you still like the alignment? Adjust if necessary.

10. Start working on the features. 

 

Things to always keep in mind while building.

1. Always be thinking about drainage. How are you going to shed water off the trail? Building trail too fast and not taking the time to do this correctly the first time has caused me many hours of headaches and redoing sections of trail.

2. Don't forget drainage, seriously, drainage is the number one thing about making a trail "sustainable" and rideable sooner after it rains. 

3. Don't be afraid to adjust the trail.

4. Avoid the temptation to rush and build lots of distance vs quality trail.

5. Ask other builders and riders their opinion on the trail. 

6. Building and maintaining a trail takes a lot longer than people realize, it's a slow process that can take years.

 

I would also put in several hours with other builders to see how they build trail. Every trail builder has a different style, so find the trail you like and I'm sure we can put you in contact with the person that built that trail.

 

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3 minutes ago, HoneyBadger said:

1. Always be thinking about drainage. How are you going to shed water off the trail? Building trail too fast and not taking the time to do this correctly the first time has caused me many hours of headaches and redoing sections of trail.

2. Don't forget drainage, seriously, drainage is the number one thing about making a trail "sustainable" and rideable sooner after it rains. 

Worked a bit with CharDog when he was laying out new trail at Pedernales Falls a few years back.  The park folks designated a specific contour line (1100') for the trail to follow, basically a limestone outcrop.  It's a rocky trail for a reason.  If you moved in from the rocky edge of the outcrop (IIRC from about 15' to 30' or so), often there was nice flat dirt, typically without much vegetation.  You'd put your trail there, right?  But CharDog knew that's where water settles and stays after a rain, and takes a long time to dry.  Any trail there would become a muddy mess after a rain.  The rockier area close to the rim of the outcrop drains quickly and is good to go soon after a rain.  

Also, I really like Fiskars tools.  They have a good page + video on trimming and pruning practices here.

Most any ranch in the Hill Country will have oak trees.  If you're not up to date, get informed about oak wilt, the safe time of year to work on oak trees and how to avoid spreading it via your trimming and pruning tools.   No landowner will love you for introducing or spreading the scourge of oak wilt on their property.  

A & M oak wilt FAQ page 

<snip>  

Quote

Oak wilt is one of the most destructive tree diseases in the United States, and it is killing oak trees in Central Texas at epidemic proportions.  Oak wilt is an infectious disease caused by the fungus Bretziella  fagacearum, which invades and disables the water-conducting system in susceptible trees. 

 
 
 
 
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56 minutes ago, HoneyBadger said:

6. Use a stick as pretend handlebars and jog along different parts of the trail and the where the features will be. 

Make sure to make motorboat sounds with your mouth while doing this.

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1 hour ago, notyal said:

Make sure to make motorboat sounds with your mouth while doing this.

I think the proper trailbuilder sound is "braaap". 

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Lots of good advice in this thread. Especially the "braaap" part ;-).

Planning is key. Just like Honey Badger, rushing to build keeps getting me more work to redo what has been done. That should be pretty clear in any of the links I posted.

Since you mentioned 'sandy soil' - there some issues. First, sandy soil in central Texas is unusual. Either that is currently a 'low spot' (water drains to it) or it was in the past. If it is currently a low spot - run away now. It would take many truck loads of clay soil to mix with the sand to raise and harden the tread to make it a rideable trail. 

If the earth has moved so that is no longer a low spot, it might still be workable. Look for nearby clay rich soils that could be mixed into the sand. You are trying to move toward the upper middle of the soils pyramid (google it). Silt and loam will 'add themselves' with time and nature. You will have to add the clay. If you can't make a 'mud pie' that holds together while you roll it between your hands - the trail tread won't hold together either.

If it is really sandy soil - I have walked away from several potential trails. LCRA offered a great location inside of Muleshoe that I started laying out a trail. One day when it was too wet to ride I was flagging the first cut at a trail. When I tried to put my shovel into the dirt so I didn't have to hold it while I tied a flag - the sand would not hold it. I buried the entire head of the shovel into the 'dirt' but the shovel just fell over when I let go of the handle. I started poking around and found the entire hill top was nothing but loose sand. Even LCRA said they didn't think they could afford that many truckloads of clay to make that location into a trail.

And did anybody mention that keeping water off the trail is key???? That is the reason for many of the IMBA rules for trail building. For example, the half rule is to make water run across the trail instead of down the trail. Yes downhillers want fall line trails but it takes tons of work to keep a fall line trail from eroding away. Take a look at the Hill of Life if you want a good example. There are between 25 and 30 concrete water bars across the Hill of Life where the City of Austin has tried (unsuccessfully) to control the erosion of a fall line trail.

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You need to spend a lot of time on that plot of land hiking around to get a feel for it, looking for cool features, etc...

Would you be able to share the coordinates to the land?  I'd be interested in peeking at the google earth view.  

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