As an ambassador and frequent user of Stromlo Forest Park I see this time and time again. Corners being cut, straight lines appearing everywhere, obstacles being avoided, and trails being altered. Normally I just report it to the park managers to fix but today I thought I would weigh in on the debate.
To me this is wrong. Wrong for two main reasons: the environmental impact and the impact it has on the trails for other users.
Let’s have a look at the environmental impact side first. Mountain biking does cause an impact to the environment. However, over the past 10 or so years trail builders and land owners have learnt and developed techniques to help minimise that impact and make our riding more sustainable. Good trail design takes into account water flow, erosion control, and species and habitat protection – amongst others. Yes, you can argue that some of the trails you have seen don’t adhere to these standards but over time we will find more and more sustainable trail building occurring. It’s a win-win for the sport.
However, when someone goes and alters the trail to suit their own needs all this is thrown out the window. Lets just look at the example picture. First off a tree has been trimmed substantially. That tree could have been a protected species and could have been a home for local fauna. Secondly, the new track has opened up a literal flood gate for water to flow less-obstructed down the hill. The previous unaltered scene would have acted as a natural diversion for water and thus helping to reduce erosion on the trail.
Now to the effect it has on the trail experience for others. Good mountain bike trails and locations have riding to suit all manner of skill types. Stromlo Forest Park is a good example of where you can progress your skills through riding the many varied trails and obstacles. It’s this progression of skills that is a key element of the sport and has always been part of the roots and soul of mountain biking.
Put simply, changing the trail to suit your skills is selfish. I understand that hitting the deck isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, so if a part of trail is beyond your ability, walk it. Or even better, take the time out of your ride to learn the skills to ride it. I feel no happier and more at peace with life than when I have overcome that fear and hit that jump, trail, line, obstacle for the first time. That is what progressing your skills will do. You may crash, you may get hurt, but your riding and your experience will ultimately be better for it.
If you come up to an obstacle and mess it up, go back and try it again. If it’s beyond you, there are plenty of people out there to teach you the skills to ride it, or stick the trails more suited to your skill level until you’ve progressed. Changing the trails to suit you is not the answer, and taking the time to learn to ride an obstacle will ultimately benefit you and the rest of the riding community.