Shape Your World
Giving Back to Biking
“In my mind, trail work and owning a mountain bike go hand in hand.” ﹘Derrick Bell, trail builder
Rolling through the forest, tires gripping effortlessly as they round another sculpted corner, it can be easy to get lost in the natural experience of mountain biking. Yet, trails are rarely formed naturally. Every foot, every inch of trail has been painstakingly crafted by shovels, rakes and pulaskis. The men and women who dedicate their time to these labors are the unsung heroes of the sport.
Almost all trail builders begin by crafting trails for themselves, trails they want to ride by themselves or with their friends. But as mountain bike communities grow, so does the scope of the builder’s work. “My favorite thing to build right now is actually an intermediate jump or flow trail because it appeals to everyone,” says Ted Tempany, architect and builder of the now-world famous flow trail, Half Nelson, in Squamish, B.C. “It gives beginners a goal or something to build up to. For the pros and elites, they can still ride it with their non-elite friends and have easily as much fun, if you build it properly. It’s actually really hard to build a trail that’s all-inclusive.”
No matter where it is in the world, builders will rise to a challenge like a chainsaw to a blown down tree. They spend long days carrying tools and soil, fighting off mosquitos and enduring the elements. What helps them most of all is support from local mountain bike communities. That can be in the form of volunteer hours helping move rocks and porting buckets of dirt, fundraising for skilled labor and/or special equipment or lobbying local governments to allocate appropriate funding for new trail projects and ensuring that old ones are maintained.
With a surge in growth over the last 15 years, mountain biking is spurring economic diversification to remote communities that have traditionally relied on harvesting natural resources in order to sustain themselves. Builders have played a large part in that evolution.
“If you have one quality trail, people will come to ride that trail,” says Tempany, who has built trails in communities all over the world. “If you have five quality trails, people will stay for five days. In Squamish, we have over 200 trails and that’s just the ones that are mapped. It’s amazing to see the strength of communities where there are good trail networks. Mountain biking helps promote healthy living, so there’s a health benefit as well as an economic benefit.”
As well as promoting tourism and healthy lifestyles, Tempany says having people experience the outdoors is key to maintaining social, cultural and environmental values. “It’s important that we get as many people outside as possible, especially the youth,” he says. “The next generation is making decisions based on their experiences. If they don’t experience the forest, terrain or mountains around them, they won’t understand the value.”
When you take people down a trail for the first time, they don’t even have to say anything. You can just see it on their face. A well-built trail will bring that out. It’s a glow, it’s a smile, it’s a hoot, it’s a holler.”
Those moments of trail bliss — moments we all seek as mountain bikers — all have a story, a story rarely told by the person who wrote it. If you are looking to give back and want to be a part of your community’s trail narrative, look up your local trail organization or track down a local builder and offer your help. Every hero needs a sidekick.
Shimano extends its longstanding mountain bike advocacy efforts and partnership with IMBA through a new multi-year commitment as Founding Sponsor of its Dig In program.