I was on a road trip through the North West with a couple buddies. Our goal was to find prime singletrack wherever we went. At one such destination, I went into the local bike shop, bought a map, and asked the salesman about the trails.
He pointed out the standard loops, but as we continued talking, I described what we were looking for: Steep, dh style, jumps, drops, freeride features. With a quick glance around the room to see that no one else was watching, he drew a squiggly line down a corner of the map and said “you should check this out, a couple buddies and I have been building this for a few years now, you know, under the radar”.
Hmm, what do you think we did? What would you have done?
Of course we went a rode it, who wouldn’t? Very few mountain bikers can stand on that high horse and claim they haven’t ridden illegal trail. It is part of our culture, and everyone, from IMBA top brass, to local staunch trail advocate, to a BadAss Mom (BAM) who innocently cuts through some private property to complete her after work loop, is guilty.
Without renegade trail building, the best trails out there would not exist. Many riding areas and trails across the country were created without permission, by mountain bikers. Think of your local trail system, or favorite riding destination, in a lot of cases those trails were built illegally, then over time adopted and recognized by the land management.
Shoot, even the banal trails West of Bend in the Phil’s network, were scratched in with no permission back in the day.
Since we all know it’s going on, almost all of us participate and illegally built trails aren’t going away, there needs to be a set of rules that we abide by. Here is the code based on my observances over the years, it is probably incomplete, or some don’t apply to certain areas.
The riders code:
In most cases the trail builder, or core local group, sets the rules for their trail. If you are privileged enough to be shown a renegade trail, you must follow the rules laid out to you.
Don’t tell anyone Of course this isn’t practical, so choose wisely who you show it to. Usually just your closest riding buddy who you trust to stick to the code. Whatever rules were imparted to you, you must pass on the code as it was explained to you.
No STRAVA or GPS This is a funny one, many renegade trails and trails illegal to bikes have cycling STRAVA segments with sometime thousands of posted times. If that is the acceptable on the trail, so be it. However if you are told to turn it off, you must do it.
Do not post pictures or reports reports to social media. I know you need to show the world how connected you are and how rad you can get. But don’t expose a buddies trail in the process.
If someone does post pics, video or trail report, do not comment. I have seen this too many times: A bike company comes out with a hot new video showing off their new product ridden by their pro rider, and they used renegade trail.
No one would know except the small group of folks who ride that trail, until some jackass comments: “The trail they filmed on is illegal, who do they think they are, it was built by locals who don’t want anyone to know about it”… dumbass, now we all are going to try and find that trail because it looked so rad in the video.
No asking about renegade trails on forums. If you are trying to find info, getting to know the local crew and riding with folks is your best bet. If someone asks on a public forum, there is no good response accept to say “I don’t know”. Even giving a hint that you might know something but can’t tell is bad form.
Walk in/walk out. Often times, to hide the entrance and exits of a trail, walking and carrying your bike is practiced. Usually this is done if the trail splits from a popular route onto private property to prevent curious passer from seeing tire tracks.
So, you have a rake and shovel, a vision in your head of your dream track, but don’t have permission to use the land you want to build on. Some suggestions below.
#1: Don’t do it!
First of all, you are not qualified! 99% of the renegade trails out there are poorly built. The absolute shit I have seen over the years is embarrassing, I am
ashamed for whoever built it and annoyed because it is associated with our beloved sport of mountain biking. Ladder bridges made out of twigs, jumps to no landing, fall line ruts three feet deep, Pungy sticks or sharp rocks in the fall zone and many more terrible offenses are common on most renegade built trails.
Second of all, you don’t have the time. Building a good trail takes more time than most of you have patience for. Way to many times I have seen or heard of someone start their dream track, only to have them realize how hard building trail is and quit after a day or two of half-assed shoveling.
Lastly: Going rouge on public land flies in the face of the efforts by all the advocacy groups working with land managers over the years. Mountain biking has a very tenuous place in the user group battle, and a ranger who finds illegal trails built by mountain bikers isn’t going to be very sympathetic to the association advocating for mountain bikers.
My suggestion: join you local trail association, spend some time along side the master builders in your area, an apprenticeship of sorts. Learn good, sustainable trail building technique. Contribute your newfound shovel skills to working on legal trails. Go to some meetings about land use, and learn why land managers have such a hard time with user built, renegade trails. Learn who gets the responsibility of policing and tearing out user built trails. Hint, it’s usually your local trail advocacy group, and they’ll be pissed at you for giving them extra work.
So after all this, if you still feel the need to go rogue and build trail without permission, a couple suggestions:
Build it right!!! Put some time and effort into your project. make it sustainable, with drainage and some flow. If building wood features is your thing, build them to last.
Keep it consistent. If your trail has three drops that are rollable, don’t make the fourth one a mandatory gap, or at least give some warning. This leads to unnecessary accidents, which shuts down trails.
Choose your location wisely. Low traffic areas, away from the normal riding loops are best. I have seen renegade trails persist right off the main local loop, but usually they get discovered, overrun and shut down.
You, as the builder, are at the top of the “riders code”. You set the rules, choose who to tell and are ultimately responsible if some loud mouth exposes your trail.
If your trail gets exposed and shutdown, it is your fault, don’t be surprised or indignant. You were doing something illegal, tuck your tail between your legs and slink off to a dark
corner to think about what you’ve done.
Are there renegade trails built in your area? Do mountain bikers ride trails closed to bikes often? Do you have a code or rules when riding illegal trails? Do you think renegade builders have impacted our sport in a positive or negative way?