The Death of the Technical Trail

Q: Are technical trails just a maintenance nightmare? Does “technical” have to mean “steep”?

Noah: Tech doesn’t necessarily have to be steep, but legitimately steep trails are a special breed of tech that are also (and unfortunately) increasingly rare.

If a trail is naturally rocky and rooty, maintenance gets a bit easier; the trail isn’t intended to be easy or super smooth, so if holes develop, that’s usually ok in terms of the trail itself.

In terms of managing erosion issues, rock armoring or various other improvements can help a lot. In the end, it always seems like the biggest hurdle is convincing land managers that the world will not stop turning if a bit of dirt gets dragged down the hill.

Steep trails can be fairly sustainable if they’re intelligently built, although admittedly this is easier in some areas than others, just because of soils and climate.

Tom: A subset of technical trails—those that plummet down fall lines—are definitely harder to maintain. Frequently, technical trails do not start out as purpose-built bike trails. This makes them more fragile and gives the perception that technical trails are maintenance nightmares.

To me, “technical” means roots and rocks. Those are hard, durable surfaces, and should increase trail durability, not decrease it.

As long as a trail was built in a thoughtful manner by builders that knew what they were doing, those materials can be used to advantage and yield a very durable trail even if it is steep.

Marshal: I just want to ride natural trails, so feel free to factor in a level of personal bias here. But my preference is to simply rake the trail clean of sticks and leafs and ride.

Noah Bodman, The Death of the Technical Trail, Blister Gear Review
Noah Bodman

Build some jumps to incorporate and / or air over obstacles, route the trail through cool rock or gully features, leave the roots, be sure there are off-camber turns, keep the trees trimmed back just enough to ride through, and keep the trail double fall line as much as possible to minimize rain erosion.

You don’t need a mega dollar 3 foot wide machine built trail, nor have to fell 3 trees for every yard of trail length, nor use a mini-x and dynamite to blow apart bedrock.

A nice natural trail through the woods scars the mountainside much less in both the short and long term, and if it’s properly routed, needs next to no long term maintenance, other than reshaping the lips of jumps and clearing debris in the spring.

Noah: Ultimately, I think a lot of this comes down to the local terrain and climate. There are some places where it’s just easier to build good, technical trail. There’s a reason certain areas are known for having good tech trails, and a lot of it is simply because they have great terrain for it that accommodates techy trails without creating a maintenance nightmare.



1 comment on “The Death of the Technical Trail”

  1. I see what you are saying about the actual soil/terrain type. For us here in Duluth, MN we are fortunate to have a range of different soil types across town. Much of our land is clay soil, and any steep and rocky or rooty features tends to create erosion or are the result of previous erosion, especially as riders go around them and widen the trail.
    Most of our new trail construction has been easy flow trail. The main reason for that is that we have a city-wide master plan, calling for the construction of a continuous, ~45 mile long singletrack from one end of town to the other, linking all the trail networks. This trail is supposed to be an easy trail, so it is being constructed to that level.
    It does mean that there is little advanced and technical trail being built, and in one 1.5 mile section the new, smooth flow trail, replaced an old handbuilt, rooty trail.
    We have responded by rebuilding a parallel trail in the same area as the new machine built trail, and that trail can now be much more technical since there is an easy through-trail for beginners to travel through the park.
    We have also created a steep, handbuilt technical trail in an area with lots of bedrock.

    So in short, my answer is:
    Make sure there are easy options to get connect the different areas, then add technical trails as terrain allows.

Leave a Comment