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Masters of their Craft, Little Fish, and Great Trails

--It’s no wonder that pro road bike racers do things that amaze. They spend huge amounts of time training for a singular purpose, perhaps one event, or day even. Careers are often built on a solitary Tour stage win. The magnitude of their efforts is witnessed live on tv sets across Europe. They’re paid well because of it.

The question then today is…is it any less impressive when someone like Danny Macaskill swoops through an urban street, linking bunnyhop tail whips, 360s over enormous stair gaps, and rides 10 feet up a tree only to fakie back down and half cab his way out or better yet, flair off the tree. To some, all of this might be useless jargon. To others, it’s no more foreign than peleton, feed zone, or breakaway. It’s strange how the bicycle and bicycle riding is so remarkably similar and unchanged from the original incarnation, yet has diverged into so many unique forms -- far removed enough that ardent fans of road cycling or street trials may not be captivated by the other, or even understand it.

I’d venture to say that no matter what your passion, if you want to be an excellent bike rider, you’d better eat, sleep, and breathe the bike. It’s interesting to note that MacAskill’s Inspired Bicycles video received over 14 million views on You Tube. Fabian Cancellara’s equally astonishing pounding of the group at the ’08 Milan San Remo had a comparatively paltry 11 thousand views. Both are five star videos, both show these men at their best. What’s the difference? And why the great disparity in total number of views? I think it’s that the mountain bike videos are easier to watch. It’s in your face. The MacAskill video is such a blatant expose of his unquestionable skill and control, anyone can understand and as a result, enjoy it. Cancellara’s victory is impressive, yes. But perhaps it’s that road racing falls prey to the same cloak of mystery as Nascar or high stakes poker. Watching is only truly enjoyable for those in the know.

--Another interesting development -- the ‘There’s a perfectly good path right next to the road you stupid cyclist!’ group on Facebook. Wow! I love riding bikes, but it would surely suck to get creamed by some road raging a-hole. Pardon the intended expletive, but that’s the passion talking. What’s evident is that road rights polarize the community. And sure, as cyclists, we want to ride in safety without being fearful.

This is a tough issue. More difficult probably than mt. bikers vs. hikers or equestrians for the simple fact that cars can be killers. A road is a multi user trail. Here in our state, it is unlawful for cyclists to use sidewalks and we must use a regular lane, riding with the flow of traffic. We’re subject to the same laws as cars. Are there times when we should break the law? I think when safety and respect considerations outweigh the ethical value of the law, it’s ok. For instance, would it be better to ride on an open sidewalk along a clogged roadway in rush hour, when a green light is a mad dash through an intersection where a cyclist would hamper the acceleration of countless desperate and frustrated drivers? Perhaps, as long as the detour is safe. I would take the sidewalk and doubt seriously that a police officer would ticket me for riding there. Common sense. Common sense. Common sense.

We’re often liberal in our disregard for traffic controls, riding as we see fit. We’re under our own power and have a greater sense of perception of what’s around us, so we take those right turns without stopping just because we can. What’s the harm, especially on a country road? What I hate though, is seeing a group ride blow through a gap in traffic, the front runners seeing an opportunity and taking it. As we’ve all seen, the straggling sheep at the rear follow mindlessly, often at the expense of drivers who have to slow and wait. Is it killing them to allow the riders out? No, but it’s illegal. Some call it failure to yield. It’s also disrespectful. There’s a fine balance between laying claim to what is rightfully ours, taking liberties, and abusing the freedoms of the law. In my opinion, we’re better off taking the conservative line in the presence of heavy car traffic. As a cyclist who’s paid tickets for both speeding and disregarding a traffic control device, I can attest to my experience and respect for the law. I also respect the folks in the cars who are trying to get home after a long day. Little fish in big ponds stay alive by getting out of the way when the big fish are schooling.

--We’ve recently done some research trying to find proper trailbuilding tools. That stuff is out there, but individual items are scattered across the web like plastic sacks on a country road. Would anyone out there appreciate a one-stop shop for high-quality tools? Let us know what you think. Building and maintaining trail should be easier.

--Over the holidays, I rode all of the trails at a couple areas in Northwest Arkansas -- Hobbs State Park and Slaughter Pen Hollow. Both are prime examples of our state’s modern era of new trails. Similarly, they feature rolling benchcuts, properly outsloped treads, and sustainable grades. These are both trail systems built to last the ages. They differ in the way that they originated, how they were designed and who built them.

The Hobbs trails were a long time coming. For years, NWA riders lusted for access to the 10,000 acres just outside of town. The stars aligned and land managers realized that new trails would be great to showcase the area and mountain bikers would be a great workforce and potentially beneficial user group. The miraculous part is how the trails feel. It’s a story of hikers, learning about sustainable trails, and being open to the experience that bikers are looking for. The trails were laid out by guys who aren’t mountain bikers, yet they are awesome. I think open communication and open minds won the battle at Hobbs, and the trails are fantastic.

The Slaughter Pen trails blossomed from one of the Walton grandchildren’s passion for mountain biking. The family donated some land near downtown Bentonville and they hired some local trailbuilders to design and construct a turn-key recreational riding spot. It had cross-country trails and a terrain park. Two more successive phases have upped the trail mileage. Most is machine built, but the trail layout is the same at Hobbs -- modern, sustainable rolling trail. Gone are the PUDS (pointless ups and downs) of yesteryear. These new trails showcase our understanding of what it takes to make a great trail and a great experience whether you’re on the bike, trailrunning, or simple hiking with your family.