Big Fat Tire: Why shuttling for a mountain bike downhill grinds my gears
July 28, 2016
Last week, I spent a bit of time waiting to meet some folks for a work-related excursion onto Baldy Mountain. I was there at the trailhead for probably 20 minutes. In that time, I saw probably a half-dozen vehicles drive up to unload people and bikes for the purpose of riding Barney Ford trail downhill. They were all male and young (These days, I think anyone under 35 years old is young) but otherwise seemed like fairly normal mountain-biker types. There weren't any full-on downhill sleds, and, although a few guys wore full-face helmets, no one had the full stormtrooper garb on.
I have to say: I wasn't comfortable watching this, knowing that this traffic was heading most likely for the Barney Ford trail. It is a multi-use, multi-directional trail. People walk it regularly, sometimes with their dogs and sometimes with their kids. People ride the trail uphill often. The trail was built to be a multi-use, multi-directional, non-motorized trail.
Now, I understand fully that mountain bikers who haven't shuttled the trail regularly ride Barney Ford downhill. I do it all the time because BF is an important connector for the extensive trail system on Baldy and back to town. I understand that someone who rode their bike uphill and then downhill can be discourteous to other trail users (aka ride like an idiot), and I understand that people who shuttle a trail can be perfect models of responsible, respectful trail users. I know this to be true. I also understand there are not rules or laws — spoken or unspoken — that prohibit shuttling trails.
However, that said …
I think it's safe to assume someone shuttling to the top of a trail exclusively to ride it downhill is looking for an experience that is all about going downhill — and only downhill. It's always been fun to go downhill on a mountain bike, and modern bikes with more suspension, disk brakes, burly tires and a plethora of other design features make it easier to go faster than ever. And, yep, it's a lot of fun.
The problem is it's easy to get wrapped up in the fun and challenge of riding a mountain bike downhill, and that makes it easy to forget there are other people around. When you're ripping down a trail with all your senses and skills, focused on riding your bike and riding it well, it's not difficult to let a sense of respect and restraint for a public trail slip.
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We've had relatively few conflicts here in Summit County, but I've noticed an increase in the number of close calls between uphill riders or hikers and people riding bikes without respect for others. We mountain bikers need to remember that, as fun as it is to ride downhill, the rest of the trail-using public is not subservient to our fun.
Yield on singletrack means a full stop and not a last-second, locked-up, rocks-and-dirt-spraying stop. It means riding with enough restraint on a multi-use, multi-directional trail that you can stop without causing the other person to fear for their safety. Other people don't know that you have mad skillz. Stop as far off the edge of the tread as possible (without riding off it), and allow the person to pass. If you have to go slightly off the trail, then so be it, but the idea is to keep singletrack single. If the uphill traveler waves you along then that's fine, but still slow to a walking pace and pass courteously.
Directional or no?
Some folks in the MTB community call for single-use, directional trails. The town of Breck has this with the B-Line and Barney Flow trails. It makes sense that DH bike trails, with their special safety and maintenance needs, should be in a controlled and fee-based setting, like the Keystone Bike Park.
However, I still think there is a place for specially built, directional trails outside of the resorts. These don't necessarily have to be Red Bull Rampage-worthy trails for elite riders only. Directional trails can be designed and built with a variety of skillsets in mind. They may or may not have easy shuttle access — not all riders who want a place to let it loose are afraid of climbing.
The Summit Fat Tire Society is trying to make at least one or two trails like this a reality with folks from the Dillon Ranger District and International Mountain Biking Association trail specialists. But, these things don't happen at a snap of the fingers. It's important to do these things right, so that they not only provide a great, challenging, fun experience, but also don't require constant maintenance. They take a lot of time and volunteer effort.
While I believe that the majority of trails must serve a wide range of trail users and that we all have to share those trails respectfully, I also believe that trails can be built to serve a segment of the MTB community that wants an advanced, technical trail where they can enjoy ripping along without encountering an uphill biker or foot traffic.
The joys of slowing down
OK, enough polemics. I've mentioned a couple times that I've had some health issues this summer and how it's slowed me down. I've had to reduce the volume and intensity of my mountain-bike adventures. I've written about the negative side of that, and, believe me, I'd rather be 100-percent, full-throttle healthy.
But, I've come to appreciate an upside to it all. I have to stop more. I've always been one to stop and enjoy a beautiful view or take in a flower-filled meadow. Right now, though, I have to stop more often to let my lungs catch up to my legs, and I have noticed a lot of interesting and beautiful things I would blow by without noticing if I were feeling better.
Last week, I noticed a dog shrine in a spot that I've ridden by many times without stopping. It made me fondly remember all my past four-legged buddies. Without my current sad state of fitness, I'd probably continue to pass that spot without a glance.
The town of Breck open space department has re-allocated its Mineral Hill trail volunteer day on Aug. 6 to completing the lass 400 feet of the Galina Ditch trail. When linked with the ZL trail, this makes an all-singletrack route from town to the South Fork of the Swan.
Speaking of technical trails and Mineral Hill, the town of Breck continues to make progress on the trail. The next work day is Aug. 27. This is a good one for folks who want experience building a more technical trail.
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