Uncle Dave by Waki
Uncle Dave

Ask Uncle Dave: Why are people too lazy to work on trails?

Photos Waki Designs
Date Jun 20, 2017

Uncle Dave:

What do we have to do to get more people involved in trail work? Theres so many freeloaders out there. Would more brand sponsorship or prizes or bbq's be enough? Sponsored trails (heaven forbid)? Or do trail builders like myself just have to put up with people being lazy, generally ungrateful and indolent. The excuse of being busy doesn't fly with me - if you have time to ride, you have time to work on the dang trail. I know there's a bit better connection out in Vancouver area with that, but getting east of there we really struggle with not having support in the same way.

A Grumpy Trail Builder

Uncle Dave by Waki

Waki drew this rad piece to commemorate the 100th edition of Ask Uncle Dave. 

Dear Gramps:

After reading this, you might not think so, but I do agree with you. We should all be helping to maintain the trails we ride. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to keep things chugging along, and we should all do our part. I also admire those of you that take so much time to build something for the benefit of others. Anybody who dedicates themselves to building and maintaining our trails deserves gratitude.

But…I mean, there’s a lot of shit that we should be doing. We should recycle more. We should spend more time brushing our teeth and flossing. We should all give blood and donate our organs. We should volunteer our time reading to old people, washing puppies and working at the food bank. If we want to get into a game of should, there’s a lot of things that people can/could/should/would do in order to benefit society. Trail building, while noble, falls somewhere on that spectrum. So, in reality, the decision isn’t necessarily ride your bike vs. work on the trails… It’s a whole pile of other shit vs. work on the trails. You’re free to not accept the excuse that people are “too busy”, but reality often gets in the way of our expectations of others. And without knowing their specifics, I don’t think it is totally fair to write off everybody who isn’t putting in enough effort on the trails. They may be contributing elsewhere. Or they might just be lazy pricks. Who knows? It’s not something that we can judge in a vacuum. We all have things that we should be doing more of, and if we spend our lives getting angry at those that are “not doing enough” we are going to end up living a painful and gloomy existence.

But let’s give you the benefit of the doubt. Let’s agree that most people should be doing more to maintain the trails.* If we want everybody to maintain the trails, what would that look like? What is holding us back from accomplishing this? Is it possible that the whole way we go about building and maintaining trails is broken? Yes, this is the way it has always been done and it has evolved this way out of necessity, but it’s a new era and perhaps we should look at a new way of doing things. One poor bastard breaking his neck out in the woods to carve a new line, coupled with begging people to show up for one Saturday every year, does not sound like a recipe for success. And even successful trail days can often feel like an exercise in futility. You have one or two guys who seem to know what they want to have happen, and a whole pile of people running around, possibly helping things move in the proper direction, but not necessarily, because who the hell can keep track of that much activity?

But let’s look at a few reasons why people might not show up for a trail day.

1 – They don’t know about it.

2 – They aren’t able to commit this much time.

3 – They don’t like large groups of people.

4 – They’re lazy pricks who hate the trails.

So there they are. Excuses. Maybe they aren’t good enough. But what if, in all actuality, these excuses are totally and completely valid? What if you’re just some poor Luddite rider who never looks on the Internet? What if you’d love to build trail for a Saturday but your god damn kids have yet another soccer game? What if you’re an agoraphobic guy who writes things on the Internet? What if you’re just a supremely lazy prick?

Myself, I could see myself participating in far more trail maintenance if it occurred in a manner that didn’t require a huge commitment – either in time or…well…in commitment. And if it didn’t involve an equally clueless cluster of alpha males telling everybody what they are doing wrong. If I could just roll up one afternoon, or mid-ride, and spend a half hour or an hour or whatever working on the trail, that would be far more likely to happen on a consistent basis. I’d imagine that it might be the same for others.

So, with that in mind, I think the answer might be delegation. To me, some of these trail builders sound like a crazed, perfectionist manager who insists on doing all of the work themselves (not you, of course). They don’t trust the people around them to accomplish things or aren’t into putting energy into organizing work for others, so they just do it all themselves (once again…not you). And then they’re confused why everybody doesn’t recognize their sacrifice and shower them with the praise and subservience to their desires (of course, not you). So, what would happen if these builders focussed their efforts on enabling others, rather than in doing things themselves (or found somebody to do this organization on their behalf)?

Here’s what I imagine. You’re riding a trail and you get partway down and you discover that a hundred meter portion (or so) is closed. Where it’s roped off, there’s a nice little sign pounded into the ground explaining what is going on, and a checklist outlining all of the tasks that need to be accomplished. People are then free to work as much or as little on a task as they see fit, and once it is done, it’s crossed off the list.**  “Pile Rocks Here” on steroids. Would something like that work? Would you have enough faith in humanity that things would be accomplished? Would you be able to give up control and accept that it won’t end up perfect? Or would it just be a shitstorm of incompetence, stolen tools and crappy trails?***

I am sorry that your experience in all of this isn’t better. The builders and maintainers are an important part of our sport. But if our only solution to keeping our trails alive is larger BBQ’s and better prizes, we’re all kind of fucked.


Uncle Dave

*Let’s also take a moment to point out that there are, in fact, other ways that people can support the trails without showing up for trail days. You can make sure to keep your membership with your local advocacy group up to date (which…shit…I just took this moment to do, because I’m a lazy bastard…sorry NSMBA).

**If we want to get super fancy, we can take things online. Map things out in more detail. Assign and schedule work. Document the process. Shit, you could probably generate enough work to require another army of volunteer labour, just to keep your web presence in order.

***And this is just one terrible idea for changing the way we do trail maintenance. Hopefully others have some of their own.

Uncle Dave's Music Club

When I was a kid...okay...when I was in my 20's, I used to amuse myself by writing strange nonsense to various people out there in the world. I harassed bicycle and snowboard magazine editors with made up questions from an insane person. I complained to large corporations about imaginary problems. I wasn't really looking for anything, it just seemed like a good way to head off some boredom.

For those Vancouverites who listen to the CBC, they will be familiar with On The Coast, the wonderful afternoon program hosted by Stephen Quinn. They often have weekly music themes where they ask people to write in with suggestions. This week it was Yacht Rock. So I sent them this. I don't think they used it.

Dearest On the Coast:

I fear that by playing Ween yesterday afternoon, I may have missed my opportunity to have some contemporary Yacht Rock played. But it would be a shame if we left the band Yacht out of a discussion of Yacht Rock, for, while it may not be what you first think when you think of Yacht Rock, they do in fact, by definition, play Yacht rock, as I've discussed at length in a post titled "Is Yacht Rock, Yacht Rock?" on my blog, located at www.yahtrockisyachtrockblahblog.com (amazingly, www.yachtrockisyachtrockblog.com was already taken). And while many of your valued listeners may have been turned off by the fake Yacht sex tape scandal of 2016, hopefully they will see past that sordid episode and give Yacht another chance.

Case in point is "Shangri-La" (from the album Shangri-La). Smooth. Mellow. Ripped from the 70's. Critical of religion. Suitable for any yachting adventure. Just like any great Yacht Rock song. Please give it a listen.


So. Here I am recommending it to you. I really do love this song.

Gramps - you win some stuff from our online store. A Stevie Smith sticker pack to benefit the Stevie Smith Legacy Fund, a Campy 33 Tee (or the t shirt of your choice), and an NSMB.com sticker pack. And of course you had the privilege of having Uncle Dave take much of the steam out of your sails which is obviously priceless. Send us an email to score your swag. 

If you are hankering for a prize (and we've got some nice ones coming up (sorry Gramps) for an email to askuncledave@nsmb.com


Check out the goods in our online store here...

Trending on NSMB


+1 Pete Roggeman
ZigaK  - June 20, 2017, 2:13 a.m.

"If I could just roll up one afternoon, or mid-ride, and spend a half hour or an hour or whatever working on the trail, that would be far more likely to happen on a consistent basis."


However i don't understand why don't you? What is stopping you? Do you really need directions? Just clear a downed tree (if it's not to big), clip off a raspberry branch that is in the way, move some rocks, nothing fancy. In that way you clear a schedule of a master builder to focus on important things like vision, flow, fun factor and such crap :) 

The tools needed: foldable saw, pruner, work gloves and a sturdy bag for carrying dirt all fit in a back pockets if you're a xc type or in a small backpack otherwise. I carry those with me on every ride and make a rule of doing at least 15 minutes of trail work every time.


+1 Cooper Quinn
Cam McRae  - June 20, 2017, 2:02 p.m.

Don't most of us do this? Opportunistic trail maintenance is pretty easy much of the time.


+1 ZigaK
Cooper Quinn  - June 20, 2017, 2:43 p.m.

This kind of maintenance is great, but not all (or even.... most?) riders know its an option, or what they should be doing. 

We (the 'royal we' of maintainers, advocates, and 'educated' riders) should work to teach these skills and opportunities.


+1 ZigaK
Trent Blucher  - June 20, 2017, 2:19 p.m.

Same, a little folding saw (Silky Saws FTW), gloves (riding gloves are fine) and a bit of time per ride clearing fallen trees and branches counts IMO.  Rainy days are good for getting out and putting in the little features that you've been eyeing off for weeks as well.  Organised trail days are often a gong show of different egos arguing over how technical a section can be and so little actual work gets done.

Gotta love the real trail fairies that carve new lines in though - the real MVPs.


William Gaffney  - June 20, 2017, 5:27 a.m.

In my experience trail builders are autocratic but not willing or lacking the ability to share, coordinate, cooperate and communicate their intentions and ideas for a trail they are currently building. If a person turns up willing to help but needs direction, give them direction. Try help make them feel appreciated for coming out and learning how dig a trail. 

Yes a big team can dig holes and fill table tops with wheelbarrows but where I come from it seems as if people are afraid to communicate the finer details. Or they want to keep their skill set to themselves and still complain about slavery being illegal. :)

I have been procrastinating digging new lines 1992 :P. I joke I joke, I dug two this year and they were poor but on to the next lines and happy Shredding.


+1 Pete Roggeman
Andy Eunson  - June 20, 2017, 8:46 a.m.

Some of us might not show up at specified trail days for various reasons but we do a little work every ride. I tend to do spring clearing on my own as I walk my dogs. I think I've done about a dozen hours by myself with a hand saw and brushing axe on local trails clearing winter dead falls and such. Plus clearing branches and replacing kicked out rocks nearly every ride. It all adds up.


Cooper Quinn  - June 20, 2017, 2:44 p.m.

It does. Little minor maintenance work, especially in the name of safety and environment, is awesome! 

Clearing drains, etc, is all super vital. (if you don't live in the Atacama)


+4 Lee Lau Cooper Quinn ZigaK Jan
Jerry Willows  - June 20, 2017, 9:16 a.m.

If it's a rainy day, good time to get out and clear drains, etc.  Cheaper than spending $700 on a jacket and thrashing your drive train.   Good trail karma as well.


Lee Lau  - June 20, 2017, 10:05 a.m.

I'm with Jerry


skifreak  - June 20, 2017, 10:56 a.m.

And it's so satisfying to see the water going on it's merry way off the trail!


Tehllama42  - June 20, 2017, 9:40 a.m.

Dunno, sounds like a potentially useful plugin to the trail navigation apps out there to have a 'flag trail work' option that could also accept photo uploads. Sure, it would get larded up with since standard internet faire, but as a mechanism to track and organize sorts of work get done, it would be reasonable. Attach it to some Google docs, and spend winters mapping out some of the desired trail work, and it could spread out the burden. Might need some catchy name like Open Source trail work, but in other hobbies where I'm equally mystified and grateful for how much effort, skill, and brilliance get dumped in voluntarily by a dedicated few to further the sport, the best currency to offer is recognition for work done, and the community that emerges from collaboration.


+1 Lee Lau
Cooper Quinn  - June 20, 2017, 2:42 p.m.

You can flag, GPS tag, and take a photo potential issues on the Trailforks app. 

I can't speak to other jurisdictions, but many of the builders on the North Shore have notifications set for this - anything gets flagged on their trails, they see it immediately. 

So, definitely worthwhile, and a quick, easy way to help your trail karma.


+2 Pete Roggeman Cooper Quinn
Lee Lau  - June 20, 2017, 10:10 a.m.

Along with Shar I've built a few trails and maintain more.  If someone wants to help that's great. But a lot of the work I do is spur of the moment so not much warning. Some of the work is mid ride as tools are cached close by (note to other builders in Seymour - hide your stuff well - I had a pack and buckets/sieve pinched).

A lot of times I just pound away at trailwork as a change from a deskjob.  It's cool to build something tangible or maintain an already nice line as opposed to making paper.   While it's nice if people help I don't give much advance warning because I don't know myself.    Long story short - just go donate to a local trail org.  Or what Jerry said.  Because Jerry is right


+1 Petr Baza Basel
Pete Roggeman  - June 20, 2017, 1:39 p.m.

It's all true, but the "$40 guilt relief program" is such a big possibility for so many people - they just need constant reminding that that really is a big help.


+1 Andrew Major
Cooper Quinn  - June 20, 2017, 2:47 p.m.

I'd hope, in 2017, we're largely past the 'shame' game to get people to help. 

Membership is a great start, and there's about a million other small, relatively-commitment-free ways to give back and help. 

We, as an organization, are trying to make this more accessible. But are also limited in what we can do by the very nature of being a volunteer driven non-profit.


Cooper Quinn  - June 20, 2017, 2:58 p.m.

But by all means... if guilt gets you to buy a membership or donate to your local organization.... do it.


+4 Andrew Major Niels Pete Roggeman Cam McRae
Petr Baza Basel  - June 20, 2017, 11:11 a.m.

Very nice article! I actually didn't know about trails days until month ago. Saw some guys on trails fixing things up, and asked. Last week I had trail academy with Penny and Martin, and I want to become regular at trails days and help with trails we are riding every day !

I would suggest this to everybody else, as it is a great way how to lear the proper building techniques. 

Thank you !


+1 Lee Lau
Cooper Quinn  - June 20, 2017, 2:40 p.m.

Oh boy. Are we about to find out how long a comment you can post on Disqus*? Maybe. Apologies for the lack of structure and organization in this mishmash.

A few thoughts and ideas, from your local (if you happen live where I do), friendly mountain bike advocacy organization's Director of Advocacy. Important to note that this is me speaking, not necessarily the NSMBA's official opinions.

Yup. Almost all of us could do 'more' to support the trails. Unless you happen to be an altruistic forest gnome who does nothing but carve out spectacular trails, clear drains, and remove deadfall 24/7.... sure. We could all do more.

I'd like people to leave this article (and this comment) with a couple main takeaways -

  1. There's lots of ways to give back, contribute, and support the trails.  They don't all involve getting dirty.      

  2. Permitting. It can be a b*tch.        

To address Point #1, Dave, lets talk about your commitment issues. Its ok to be afraid of commitment. Its OK to not want to spend a day out in the woods, enjoying physical exercise, chatting with friends....er.... wait. I'm doing the 'guilt' thing. Sorry. Its OK to not want to spend a day doing trail work, and there's thousands of legitimate reasons/excuses not to. But if a day or evening out on the trails with a shovel isn't something that fits in to your life, maybe there are other ways to give back that require less 'commitment', or fit better in to your lifestyle and schedule? One of the reasons I volunteer to be on the Board of Directors is just that; its a way for me to give back to the trails and community in a fashion that fits my time constraints and plays to my skillsets. Fortunately for you, Avid Mountain Cyclist, there are lots of ways to give back that don't require getting dirty. And it all boils down to this : 

just find out what your local trail organization is up to. Give 'em a call. Shoot them an email. Facebook message. Carrier pigeon**. Whatever you need to do to communicate. 

Odds are they have LOTS of small or large ways to give back, either by donating time, money, or a combination of the two. Perhaps they need an hour of assistance here and there to run a local race series? Have you looked at their corporate sponsorship opportunities, and thought about whether or not the company you work would be a good fit? What about that friend of yours who owns a local business, or sits on the board of a large regional corporation? Maybe they're having a bit of a drive to get membership cards out, and need a few people to sit down, write letters, and drink beer for an hour and a half some weekday evening? (note: none of these are hypothetical....).

*Yes. 3000 character limit. 

** Please note the NSMBA currently does not accept carrier pigeons. We have no where to keep them.


+1 Lee Lau
Cooper Quinn  - June 20, 2017, 2:40 p.m.

Point #2. Unfortunately, its not as easy as just delegating work out with a list. Land managers and permitting processes (and this does not apply everywhere. This applies where I volunteer, and with the land managers we, the NSMBA, deal with) make this challenging. So while we'd love nothing more than for everyone to be able to volunteer the maximum amount of time they could, it simply isn't possible. Specific tasks and jobs are permitted, and specific persons and permit holders must be there while work is performed. YMMV, depending on where you live.

Now, should that stop you from clearing some drains during a wet winter ride? ABSOLUTELY NOT. If everyone took 5 minutes from every winter ride to clear some drains and puddles.... man. It would make such a difference. So by all means. Pull some deadfall out of the way. Move some branches. Sweep some leave, move some loose rocks..... you get the idea. But unfortunately it just isn't really possible to totally delegate major (or even relatively minor) trailwork out to a list. If you'd like to do more work, reach out to your local organization who will likely be happy to connect you to the best route to helping out - this may be through structured trail work, or just connecting you with a local, permitted builder who's looking for a hand here and there. Its also very helpful to flag issues and problems on Trailforks.

We (the NSMBA) are trying to provide more opportunities, and smaller opportunities that require less commitment, for volunteerism as we're completely reliant on our volunteer leverage not only to accomplish our goals, but to maintain the level of work we need to to, and keep our relationships with land managers. There's a great calendar on the website to help out and give you a starting point. [http://nsmba.ca/events/](http://nsmba.ca/events/) ;

The 'shame and blame' method isn't doing anyone any favors, as we all lead different lives, and have different constraints. But if you want to, there's always more ways to give back, and not all of 'em really require a whole heap of commitment. Next time you're out on a ride, ask who in your group is a member of your local advocacy and maintenance organization. And if someone isn't a member, no need to shame them about it, just ask why!


+1 Lee Lau
Dean  - June 23, 2017, 8:18 a.m.

Every person that builds trails does it for different reasons.  The original article is a good read and accurately reflects my reality in many ways. 

I started building in 2003.  I had a rough introduction to what was at the time basically a "Secret society of builders", but I stuck with it and over time I've picking up an enormous amount of valuable knowledge.

Personally I think the best thing any builder can do is to patiently teach the craft to others.  Share their skills with someone else that wants to absorb the knowledge of how to build great trails.

Show everyone you see on the trail what a drain is and how to clear them.  Tell people to scour for rocks and pile them beside puddles.  Show people the difference between organic dirt (punk) and sweet golden loam.  Cedar vs anything else. Etc.....

My thoughts are that builders should share the craft with anyone that wants to learn.


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