Seb Moves to the Shore…

The history and legacy of trail building on the North Shore is remarkable. Arguably the North Shore trails have inspired and influenced more aspects of mountain biking than any other area in the world. The progressive nature of trails that were being built on the North Shore ten or twenty years ago had a considerable and lasting impact mountain biking trends.

  Back in school and back of the class

The extreme requirements of North Shore riding influenced how bikes were designed, built and marketed. The Shore also helped redefine what it is to be a professional athlete. Racing wasn’t the focus and the heroes that rose from the area were paid to portray their craft on film rather than between the tape. More so, the Shore was responsible for bringing a new style, aesthetic and attitude to mountain biking, which at the time was running away in a blur of neon Lycra on what amounted to unsealed roads, grassy hills or sandy desert highways.

  Paradise on a shoe string
Although known by many for the wood stunts that define it, the Shore has always been more than just quirky, stilted balance beams. The trails of the North Shore are defined by steep descents, rocky brutality, air time and cruxes that to triumph require finesse and muscle in equal doses.
To this day the significance of these trails reverberates around the world. Products are still real-world tested on the trails and many of the professional superstars of the area continue to hold sway. Riders dream of making a pilgrimage to the North Shore to test their mettle and, trail builders around the world try to recreate something of the Shore on their home trails.

  Flagging is essential so land managers can assess the area beforehand and then for workers to be able to see a physical line were the trail needs to go.
But the Shore isn’t perfect. There are continuing challenges to the sustainability of the trails here, opposition from interest groups in the local area, changing demands from land managers, and indeed, a shift in the desires of riders. With recent trail upgrades on the Shore as well as the TAP (Trail Adoption Program), Watchmen program and the Trail Building Academy, there is a positive and progressive approach to keeping the trails on the Shore alive and just as influential as at any time in their history.
Which is why the IMBA Canada Trail Care Crew were asked to visit and offer their expert advice on how to prolong the life of the trails here.

  Pete Potato and Mark West making sure this rolling stone gathers no moss.
IMBA Canada was established in 2004 to help extend the work of IMBA to the vast number of trails and trail users in Canada. IMBA is a non-profit trail advocacy organization whose mission is to create, enhance, and preserve great trail experiences for mountain bikers. They do this through political lobbying, developing partnerships with land managers, assisting grassroots leadership and stewardship with local clubs, and sharing a wealth of first hand trail building knowledge.
The role of the Subaru/Trek Trail Care Crew is to drive endlessly across the country visiting clubs, Parks Canada sites, and Trans Canada Trail local, provincial and territorial groups. The main part of their role is to hold trail building courses which help educate and train people to build and maintain sustainable trails. These introductory courses typically last for one day and are split between the classroom and half day hands-on trail work. Chad and Deanne Lazaruk are the road hardened and worldly Trail Care Crew who rolled into the North Shore last weekend to help educate and guide the NSMBA and some of its members or supporters. These two have driven 88,000 KMs over the past 18 months visiting and riding more trails across Canada than most of us are even aware exist. They have seen countless miles of trail and helped scores of clubs and groups work towards trail sustainability. I doubt there are many people with half as much knowledge of trail building techniques across such a wide variety of conditions as these two.

  Daniel Scott in a hole. That isn’t his boot in the pile of rocks.
They were well aware of the heritage of trail building on the North Shore and they approached with a degree of apprehension. They weren’t sure about the reception hard core builders and riders would give them. Chad remarked, “you can’t believe the pressure we were under coming to the Shore.” The subtext of this was that he felt there was not much that a trail builder on Shore needs to be taught about building progressive and demanding trails. However, the Shore warmly received them because most builders and riders on the Shore would admit there needs to be a greater acceptance of sustainable building practices.

  Steve Sheldon in the fading light.
24 people showed up to the IMBA Trail Building School, including such trail building luminaries as Digger and Jerry Willows. This was a good turn out considering many people were calling for it to be the last sunny Saturday till next spring. On the agenda was how to go about building sustainability into trails. There was discussion about how economic, social and environmental sustainability all have equal importance, and how planning and designing sustainability into trails starts way before a tool is even lifted. This boils down to working with land managers, obtaining permission to build trails, creating conceptual layouts or maps and flagging a line before the building commences. All this provides more opportunity for building trails that will be legitimate, accepted and environmentally sound. There must be analysis of the impact of building trails on the environment, but also on the various user groups that may be affected, and how to go about seeking a legal basis for trails rather than renegade building practices which often ignore any consideration of sustainability.
The number one rule of trail building is to keep the water off the trail and the riders on. A big part of that is knowing how to work with the terrain you have and knowing how to manipulate the trail through use of gradient. This is where terms such as the half rule (where trail grade is never more than half of the side slope), maximum grade, the average grade, grade reversals and out slope were introduced.

   Rock roller before filling with gold dirt.

Within the classroom there was discussion of flow in trail design and construction. Part of which was a consideration that flow doesn’t just have to mean open, wide, smooth trails but can mean something at the other end of the spectrum. Tight, technical trails can have their own style of flow. Take Ladies Only as an example of how a trail can maintain a flow as well as being challenging. Diane offered her analogy of flow as, “The fine line between anxiety and excitement.” Mark Wood described it as, “The funny feeling I used to get on the school bus when I would have to put my text books on my lap.”
The latter half of the classroom portion was spent considering various building techniques such as benching, armoring, building technical features, creating filters, optional lines, signage and routine maintenance.
Once this knowledge had been imparted upon all the ‘students’ we geared up and hit a lower section of Dream Weaver which the NSMBA and the Trail Care Crew had decided would be a good spot to put a whole range of different trail building techniques into practice. We were trying to re-route a section which followed the fall line and was acting as a waterway. More so, multiple lines had sprung up over the years as riders attempted to dodge the worse bits.

We set to work cutting a new bench, decommissioning several old and defunct lines, building stone retaining walls for the turns, stone pitching and flag stoning a section for a newer rock rollover which would help retain the flavour of the trail. Despite the big crew the daylight slipped away from us and plans were made to visit the site the next morning to get it all finished.

The reworked section integrates natural features, greatly lessens the environmental impact and doubles as a good climbing line for walkers (we saw numerous walkers whilst working). It’s also less of an eyesore while providing more fun and flow for riders. This was a great little test bed for the graduates of the Trail Building School.

  View from the top. Certainly adds some excitement to the trail, especially if you really go for this.

Although the course is only short and naturally has to glance over many of the elements and teachings of trail building it was still time well spent. I took one of these courses six years ago and have helped lay many kilometres of trail in the years since and I still think it was worthwhile brushing up on a few techniques. The course also provided an opportunity for a three way dialogue between IMBA representatives, trail users and local trail builders. The North Shore is a demanding place to build trails which explains the aggressive, technical building approach. There is a considerable need to preserve the character of the North Shore when upgrading trails, but this can be done by combining the broader guidelines of the textbook with the real world knowledge gained spending time on the bike and on the shovel.
As Chad and Deanne observed, trail building is a skill that requires the builder to have many different techniques and knowledge at his or her disposal. The art is knowing which tool to use and when. Working beside highly experienced trail builders like Chad and Deanne, as well as Daniel Scott (globally recognized professional trail builder) who joined us, is inspiring and humbling because it goes to show how much of a craft it is to build trails correctly. With things like this visit from the Trail Care Crew and future plans of the NSMBA the trail riding experience of the Shore will be enhanced and sustained for many more years to come. Thanks to Chad and Deanne, IMBA, all the NSMBA board members and all those who attended the course.

The Magic Ball never lies. This is an essential tool for seeing were the water will flow.

Class is in session! Talk IMBA Trail Building School or trail building below.

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