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Digital Subscriptions > Singletrack > 121 > BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME.


Are ‘pirate trails’ breathing new life into our trail networks, or threatening their very existence?

Mountain biking, it’s fair to say, would be nothing without the trails we ride. Some of us are finding our fun on tracks that have been in use for centuries, others at purpose-built trail centres, complete with on-site bike shop and café. But a lot of the sport happens on trails that occupy a murky middle ground. Whether it’s a rough line scratched into a hillside, or the perfectly sculpted result of many hours’ graft, there are many trails which were built by riders for riders, often without any kind of permission.

Theese trails always used to have a low proffle by default, with knowledge of them passed on by word of mouth. They would pop up in VHS video footage, or photo shoots in magazines, and their general location might be alluded to, but finding out anything else about them would often be tricky. The arrival of the internet changed the game, and you can now find locations, photos and videos of many trails that would have previously been locals-only secrets at the swipe of a finger.


Ooh, look at the little pixie!

It isn’t just finding places to ride that has changed. Riders and builders became able to directly share inspiration and knowledge across huge distances. A group of riders in the Home Counties might start building a trail that takes its design cues from one in British Columbia. And along the way the trail builder became a lionised, quasi-mythical figure, heading up the hill in all weathers with just a mattock to selflessly create somewhere amazing to ride.

But this huge – and in many ways positive – change in the sport hasn’t come without problems. The right trail can now draw in hundreds more riders than before, thanks to the effects of online hype. And as more trails spring up, and more riders find them, the potential negative consequences increase. Other user groups may have to deal with the paths they walk or ride on being crossed by a flat-out section of an un-signed track. The landowner may be unhappy at riders for repurposing a hillside with no thoughts of the impact on nature, commercial operations, or liability claims from weekend warriors who’ve injured themselves on enormous jumps. And trail builders may be aggrieved that their hard work gets worn out, altered, or in some cases lost entirely.

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About Singletrack

Editorial: Longer Shortcuts Chipps encourages us to expand our mental maps and seek out the hidden byways between here and there. In between, happiness lies. UK Adventure: There Be Dragons Here! Probably… Sanny takes advantage of the long dry summer to check out a Lake District route reputed to be so wet, steep and horrible that only a fool would try it. Column: Jason Miles Jason just wants to ride a long way. However, he’s not keen on being judged for it. Classic Ride: Clwydian Hills Tom Hutton takes us on a tour of this lesser known riding spot in an eort to persuade us there’s more to Wales than trail centres and Snowdon. International Adventure: Just When It Was Going So Well Jason Miles dons his best Lycra and jumps on one of the worst bikes he’s ever ridden to take part in a local Spanish stage race. Spoiler: he doesn’t win, but by getting to hear the tale, you do. Interview: Simon Gallup - There Is No Cure Best known as the bassist from The Cure, Simon Gallup is a cycle nerd and collector of Orange Bikes. Chipps goes to check out what’s in his shed… quite a lot as it turns out. Behind The Scenes: Build It And They Will Come Antony de Heveningham takes a look at unauthorised trail-building and asks whether this is breathing life into the trail network, or threatening its very existence. Behind The Scenes: MIPS - Twisting My Melon Our resident neuroscientist Dr Barney Marsh checks out the technology behind MIPS helmets and the injury risks driving their development. Bike Test: XXC We test out three short-travel, full suspension bikes from Intense, Saracen and Yeti to see how this new crop of slack(ish) but swift bikes compares to their steeper cross country brethren. Plus much more…