Trail Work Tips and How to Get Involved

We sat down with Jon Kearly, a local trail boss to discuss what others can do as trail users and how to enhance the ride experience in your area.

Working on local trails to improve the ride experience for all riders is an important part of the Shimano ethoshere in Southern California. Many of us use the trails around Santiago Oaks Regional Park, and we’ve established a strong network of trail building and maintenance days to enhance this area. Local rider and avid trail builder Jon Kearly has been a huge help in directing our crew and teaching us about proper trail work. We sat down with Kearly to discuss what others can do as trail users and how to enhance the ride experience in your area.



Shimano Employee's trail day


Why is trail work important?

Trail work prevents the trail from getting wider. Typically, when a rut forms down the trail, users start going around it, creating a path parallel to the original trail. Once this gets warn in, the trail ends up looking more like a Jeep road than a mountain bike trail. Also, shaping the trail and getting water off it allows the surface to pack down better. This reduces dust while cutting down on the amount of sand at the bottom of the run.


How does routine trail work positively impact the local trail network?

1. Trails are kept safe and fun for all riders

2. It allows larger groups of riders at various skill levels to get out and experience the trails.

3. Proper drainage allows trails to dry quickly after rain. This means you can get out and ride sooner.


Shimano Dig Day


How often do trails need to be maintained?

In my area, trails need attention basically after every rainstorm. Each time it rains, water removes dirt from the trails. Downpours will do the most damage while a light sprinkle won't make a dent, but it's best to catch issues before they get out of control. If a trail gets washed out, it could result in a closure, or it may need a bobcat to clean it up.



What damages trails the most?

Rain, aggressive riders, groundhogs, landslides, horses, and downed trees all damage trails in different ways. In California and other dry climates, using a trail system when the trails are still wet and muddy is especially damaging. Grooves left in the mud will harden and can cause riders to crash. Additionally, these grooves funnel water during the next storm, resulting in deeper ruts that can completely upset the trail if not properly maintained.


How does riding effect a trail?

1. Over time, riding lines get warn in and influence the route water takes during rainstorms.

2. When a rider takes the inside line on a turn, they often overshoot the next turn, resulting in the widening of the trail. Once one rider   does this, the rest think it’s OK, and the trail keeps getting wider.

3. When riders ride a berm from side to side, they’ll notice increased traction. This increased pressure helps pack the trail down.


Get Involved and Start Building


How do youstart volunteering for trail work?

Start by connecting with your local land manager. Ask if they have trail workdays that you can volunteer at or if there is a club that organizes workdays. I got involved with SHARE Mountain Bike Club in Orange County, California and started recruiting others to help.


Shimano Dig Day


What is a sustainable trail and how do you build one?

A sustainable trail is one that can stand up to rain and usage over time. The steepness you makethe trail will vary based on the soil type. It’s important tobuild drainage at the proper steepness while also adding grade reversals and swellsin the trail. Even in Orange County, where we don't get a lot of rain, this is important for keeping our trails ridable.


How does working on single tracks differ from working on multi-use trails?

A good singletrack trail informs riders when to slow down without putting signs up. With multi-use trails, we make sure berms are not cambered too much and are still walkable and rideable for the various trail users.


Shimano Dig Day


What type of tools do you need for trail work?

The McLeod is my favorite tool and next up would be the square shovel. The Trail Boss tool is also a great addition that you can take apart and carry in your pack.


Shimano Dig Day


What type of skills do you need to be a trail builder?

Being able to look at the trail and tell where it’ll send a rider and where the water will flow is important for leading trail work. But good eye-hand coordination and hard work go a long way in getting the job done. It’s also important to ride the work you do and to check it out after the next rain.


What are some does and don’ts of trail work?

1. Avoid making a V-shaped ditch on the trail. When water flows through anarrow drain, it will only dig it out more. Instead, make a 1-3-foot-wideoff-camber drainon the trail.

2. Do not make speed bumps. Over time, trail users will wear them down.

3. Placing sticks on the trail to stop riders from taking a line can be dangerous. Our goal should never be to make someone crash.

4. Making a berm steeper does not ensureriders will actually turn. The shape of the arch is really more important.

5. Always put the dirt back on the trail. Never just toss it downhill.



Want to get involved? Check out for more maintenance tips and how to connect with your local trail building community.