2008 IMBA Trail Solutions Guide Book
“Dude, I don’t think I will make it!” Our friend Kip told us as we struggled to finish an epic day on the 401 trail outside Crested Butte, CO. We were out of snacks and very nearly out of water. Only the allure of beer and pizza awaiting us down on Elk Avenue was enough to inspire enough motivation to continue. We had pushed ourselves to the limit the day before on the South Boundary Trail, which we rode from Angel Fire to Taos. Now those residual miles had caught up with us and the burning in our legs could not dissipate as we climbed to Schofield Pass at 10,707 feet. Luckily, we only had to shoulder our bikes and posthole through thigh deep snow for another hour to reach the southerly exposed portion of the trail – and the gem for which we had come. The 401 is well known as a beautiful and inspiring trail. It did not disappoint, and our efforts on the climb were rewarded tenfold with stunning views, beautiful late June wildflowers, and sweet, sweet singletrack. To this day, we relish fond memories of two awesome days riding those two great trails.
It is doubtful that most sweet trails come about by way of sheer accident. Most are carefully planned and constructed in a way that the users are both challenged and then rewarded by the trail itself. IMBA, or the International Mountain Bike Association, is a non-profit advocacy group that devotes its resources to build and maintain trails, solve land access issues, and improve relations among user groups. They also provide information for trail users and trail builders to help understand how to build and maintain sustainable bike trails. Their finest offering to date is titled “Trail Solutions – IMBA’s Guide to Building Sweet Singletrack.” It is a softbound volume numbering 272 pages that informs from start to finish. One has only to look at the cover to see what a sweet trail looks like. The picture is of the Flume Trail near Lake Tahoe, CA and it is stunning.
The IMBA Trail Solutions guide book is composed of eight sections -- more like units -- then further divided into chapters. For example, Part Four: The Trail Design Process, is divided into chapters covering how to get permission, configure loops, determine trail flow, etc. We were excited to see that Trail Solutions was not simply a topographical excursion onto the very broad subject of trail construction, but rather a thorough mining of information. IMBA’s experiences throughout the U.S. and worldwide have provided enough insight that we feel it is safe to say that this is the definitive volume on sustainable trail construction.
IMBA takes a stance for narrow trails. Singletrack provides a greater experience for most trail users -- ourselves, as mountain bikers, included. On this kind of trail we can enjoy a closer connection with nature and perhaps a higher degree of challenge than a jeep road might offer. The book states, “Mountain biking on singletrack is like skiing on fresh powder, matching the hatch while fly fishing, or playing golf at Pebble Beach.” We couldn’t agree more. Our roadie brethren might say the same for a fresh strip of winding asphalt and a nice tailwind.
Sustainable trails, as defined by IMBA, are trails that protect the environment, meet the needs of the user groups, require little maintenance, and minimize conflict between the user groups. Wow, that’s quite a list. However, upon reading the book, it is easy to see how these characteristics can all be easily met with the right planning and desire. Let’s face it, trailbuilding is very hard work. The IMBA Trail Solutions guide bookshows how to do it right, so there will be minimal upkeep. After the onerous task of construction is over, the pleasure of the riding can begin. Unfortunately, in many cases around the country, the process of gaining permission to build a trail on public land can be just as taxing as the digging. Often, good trail ideas have been defeated by underprepared trail users at the planning stages with land managers. The IMBA guide book has loads of information to help get through this crucial stage in the evolutionary process for new trails.
IMBA has done a great job assembling all the information necessary to assist both aspiring new trail builders and seasoned veterans. One can never know everything. We consider Trail Solutions to be a textbook of sorts, although it is much easier to read than old college physics book gathering dust on the shelf at home. The glossary is very easy to use, and the breakdown of information is simple and intuitive. By reading the IMBA Trail Solutions guide book, we became more aware of proper trail design and by proxy, extremely aware of improper trail design. As we ride, we catch ourselves making mental notes of compliments we’d like to pay to local trailbuilders when we swoop through a particularly sweet section of trail. We’ve also made a healthy list of problem areas that we’ve seen and would like to get back there with a few hand tools rather than our bikes.
The IMBA Trail Solutions guide book is a resource that we didn’t know we needed to read, until we read it. Now that we’ve gone through it from cover to cover, then back in again for bits and pieces as needed, we realize that as frequent trail users we need to understand what is under our tires when we ride. Most everyone here at Competitive Cyclist has had their hands dirty while working on a trail, so we know what it’s like to build and maintain. We also know that no matter how much experience any one of us had, there was useful information to be gleaned from the IMBA book. Another thing we know for sure is that people who work on trails respect them that much more. Pride comes with ownership, and while we cannot own trails on public land we can help build and maintain them. What comes with the blisters, sore back, and sweet trails is a sense of pride for a job well done and a sense of adoption, at least for that particular section that we spent all day working on.
Trail advocacy, we’ve found, is something that never goes away. Once we understand it, we continue to strive towards stewardship of those great trails –the South Boundary, the 401, or our local favorite. Trail Solutions: IMBA’s Guide to Sweet Singletrack is important because it gives the reader everything they need to know about trails from planning, assessing impact, construction, and maintenance. We’ve read it. If you like to ride singletrack, so should you. It's a good idea to join IMBA too.