Elevate Your Skills to the Level of the Trail

Elevate Your Skills to the Level of the Trail.  Not the Other Way Around...
Matt Bartelt - SDMBA Vice President and Black Mountain Open Space Liaison
August 30, 2019


I have a trail out my door that I ride with some frequency.  I love the trail for many reasons. The close proximity to my house, the elevation gain/loss, the solitude you can easily achieve on most mornings, and while there are not a lot, I enjoy the technical features built into the trail.

                                    Manzanita Trail - Rider: Matt Bartelt

I designed, built, and have ridden the trails countless times and appreciate the features.  On a good day, I can make most (Darn you, rock roll on Miners!).  Some days I have to accept my “A” game was left on the kitchen counter, next to my water glass.  It is all about personal achievement and growth. Honestly, the bike matters little here. If you like the bike you’re riding, it’s good enough for these trails. I have seen Single Speed, Rigid, Full Suspension, basically just about all forms of 2 wheelers, and a few Unicycles!  Everyone comes for different reasons but the journey is the same for all. Maybe you clear it, maybe you don’t. This should be a fact that all riders accept.

                                    Each rock is carefully placed...this doesn't just happen

Lately, there has been a disappointing movement to reduce the element of challenge by users. Why? I really don’t know. By whom? Don’t know that either.  What I do know is many of the stand out features have been simplified. At Black Mountain Open Space Park, Lilac has seen the rock pinch destroyed.  Manzanita has had much of its rock charm removed and discarded like trash.  Trails get widened, or ramps, or have been butchered such that a unique, well-designed, engaging move is now a straight line with zero challenge whatsoever.  

                                    Gotta walk sometimes.  Embrace the progression of your skills!

This is not a problem isolated to Black Mountain.  Time and time again we see trails reduced to the lowest common denominator - sanitized - the four letter word in trail building and maintenance.  So, we need to look at ourselves and ask why.

Why does this happen?

Why do we do this?

Why do we not stand up to stop it?

The first and second questions really are answered the same.  The trail gets sanitized because the rider cannot master the feature.  Rather than walking a temporarily unbeatable feature, they modify, hack, and sanitize the trail to their current skills.  This is cheating.  Cheating themselves by denying the opportunity of growth in riding abilities.  Cheating the builders by removing specific challenges created to ensure the trail has a reputation.  Cheating the general user population of their opportunity to improve and master what was once too difficult. 

The solution?  Don’t bring the trail down to your level.  If you can’t make it, don’t take it personally. Walk it, this time.  Session the feature, practice at home. I still walk the rock roll of the way down Miners Ridge.  I am fine with that. You need to believe your limits are only temporary. Why would you hamstring your growth potential by removing the challenge? Would you ride less because you had a bad day?  That is what is being done here.

The third question is a bit harder to answer.  We all have an inner voice that stands up for what is right.  Problem is we have worked so long at suppressing that voice that often it is never heard for fear of reprisal. Never be afraid to challenge a rider modifying a trail.  This is a sport that will survive on education. The challenge does not need to be confrontational. Educate them! Explain how you overcame the feature. Show them the line.  If all else fails, be observant and let others know what is happening. We have strength in numbers. Let's use that for the mutual good of the technical trail.

Please don't sanitize the trail. Share your thoughts with the land owners, reach out to the rangers, and be involved with the creation of the trail. All are open to input.  That is how the trail came into existence -Participation and Stewardship. These are the golden words every trail needs to survive and thrive.

                                    Accept the Challenge - Black Mountain Open Space Park