The Subaru/IMBA Trail Care Crews are IMBA’s education and outreach ambassadors – we train land managers and volunteers, advocate for sustainable trails and promote the sport of mountain biking. As part of that, sometimes we provide educational trail assessments to help clubs and land managers identify and solve unsustainable sections of their trail. One of the hardest parts of our job, though, is explaining why a trail is no good. We certainly don’t lack the knowledge, but it takes finesse to tell someone that they’re doing something wrong in a way that encourages and empowers them to do it right the next time. Constructive criticism is an art.
We’re happy to report that we didn’t have to do that dance this past weekend in St. Louis. It’s clear that the Gateway Off-Road Cyclists (GORC) picked up Trail Solutions, taped it to the back of their hands, and built some of the best singletrack we’ve seen across the country. Every trail we rode was textbook sustainable singletrack.
Over the past 13 years, GORC is responsible for building over 60 miles of new singletrack and maintaining over 85 miles in the St. Louis area. Those accomplishments demonstrate that GORC is a sustainable club that embraces all three aspects of the triangle of advocacy: balancing the physical, social and political aspects of advocacy in order to get more trails on the ground and people riding them.
What we’re trying to say here is GORC talks the talk and walks the walk, but some of the clubs with whom we work unfortunately do a lot of talking but not as much walking. We’ve rarely encountered a club that does so many things right.
Below are some of the critical components of a sustainable mountain bike club that we consider GORC to master. Despite their simplicity, it’s a good reminder to all clubs out there!
- Cut enough bench. Cut deep enough down to achieve 5% outslope and still maintain a buttery smooth 24” riding surface (tread). No excuses.
- Build grade reversals. Build a lot of them. No excuses.
- Construct rolling crown switchbacks. This means that on sideslopes steeper than 25% (depending on your conditions), build an elevated riding platform as part of your turn, otherwise it is unsustainable. No excuses.
- Steeper isn’t always faster. You can get cruisin’ down an 8% grade trail, and pushing grades causes user-based erosion. No excuses.
- Buy an inclinometer and use it.
- Post all your trails on the website. GORC lists St. Louis area trails on their website in great detail. This makes the trails inviting to tourists and new riders, and shows that GORC stewards their trails with care.
- Don’t drop people on group rides. Wait at consistent intervals. Group rides are meant for people to ride together and socialize and it’s everyone’s responsibility to wait and ride at a more relaxed pace.
- Be patient. Engage in relationships with land managers and nurture them. Nothing happens overnight.
- Start relationships with each park’s communications staff. They’ll advertise your club’s successes in the park news and spread the word about your volunteer opportunities.
- Don’t over commit your club. A lot of opportunities come GORC’s way, but they pace their efforts and focus on a few projects at a time in order to engage fully in key projects.