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The Inside Line Listener Response - The Bermification of Mountain Biking? 34

Are we making mountain biking too easy with so many new flow trails? The Inside Line podcast listeners respond with their thoughts.

The Inside Line Listener Response - The Bermification of Mountain Biking?

Welcome mountain bikers. A question was asked at the beginning of last week’s The Inside Line episode with Shimano’s Joe Lawwill. I wanted to try something new this year, to engage more with you, the listener, and I’m blown away by your responses. So much so, that I’m taking your feedback to create supplemental podcast episodes with your opinions on the topic brought up.

So, I began wondering why so many new mountain bike trails seem to be flow trails instead of natural trails. I wondered how this may impact the future of our sport. Are we making MTB too easy in general or do the benefits of getting new riders out on the bike safely outweigh any potential boredom long-time riders might experience on a flow trail.

You all showed up with some great, diverse responses. There were even a few brave souls who recorded their thoughts and a bunch wrote in to weigh in on the topic, which is awesome. In this episode, I read the write-in responses and play the audio replies.


If you have any questions or comments about the show, email your audio thoughts or a written message to You can also comment on, too.

To get me an audio clip that can be used on the show, just use the voice memo function on your phone or computer, and fire it over to my email address.

I figure we do this with every episode and see where it takes us. Thanks to everyone who responded and stay tuned for the next Inside Line on January 29th.

If you're not involved with your local trail advocacy group, get involved, so you can make a difference in your region. And thank you to trail builders around the world. Without you, we'd have nothing to ride, bermed, natural or otherwise.

Cover photo by Sven Martin

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sspomer sspomer 1/25/2020 5:35 PM

34 comments newest first

Nico Vink built a flow trail in Belgium at his local park. I thought I was doing pretty good on it, until he showed me some lines he had in mind during the build. I bet at least 90 out of 100 bike riders will have a huge challenge riding it in a way like that.
Same for Sölden. Many people bitch about that place with their endless flowtrails, but in fact it’s super rad and it gets the double rad factor when you’ve seen the 50/01 ride it.....

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Wow, I really just had to stop listening. I’ve never heard so much raw opinion, covered up with “just my personal opinion here”! Seriously, does nobody get that the “sport” of mountain biking is also just something people do for fun? It’s not dumbing things down, it’s building people up, letting people grow into the potential sport side of it.
I’ve run a bike park in Germany for five years now, and I’ve watched kids grow from only riding our easy flow trail, to the bigger green trail, to our enduro trail, to racing iXS Cups and doing pretty well.
And if it’s not about making money(to the last dude) then it will not be sustainable. If someone isn’t making money, they won’t invest time in it. They can’t, we all have to eat dude.
Build flow trail! Just for goodness sake, don’t only build flow trails. I’ve built four new trails in this park in five years. 2 machine built flowy ones and 2 hand build, natural trails. We went from 1800 visitors a year to 15000 a year in a tiny bike park, on a tiny hill, and most of them are achieving the most important goal of mountain biking: having fun.
Peace people, and please keep up the great work.

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"Flow" around here (Ontario - Toronto area) often equates to wide, easy and boring. Its also unfortunate that it seems to be a buzz word with local groups - so much so that some clubs go out of their way to build "flow" trails. But for advanced riders, they are often boring, too easy and often not built correctly. They also happen to cater to the least skilled riders, so are most likely to be the most crowded. Like others have said, most flow trails should really just be called beginner ones.

But I shall stop there before this turns into a rant about local trail groups and their practices. :D

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Two things:

1) Every argument against flow trails is the same argument I make against 29 inch wheels. It's just the pussification of mountain biking.

2) There's a place for flow/bermed trails. For those of us who have a past of riding moto, a good flow trail is the closest you're going to get to moto style riding. Highland mountain bike park is the epitomy of this. Fast flow trails with tech sections and huge jumps. Their more technical flow trails still have a scare factor even after riding them thousands of times. But small flow trails in local XC networks are usually underbuilt, slow, and offer no appeal to me.

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I have a deep affection for ALL mountain bike trails, from the prehistoric fall line dinosaur trails I learned on to the newest, most blown out and unmaintained green circle flow trail.

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Coming from the pnw flow trails were always jump trails. It wasn't until I took my bike with me on some midwest trips that I learned what a poorly designed mess some flow trails could be.

Really I think we need to change the wording when it comes to trails. Jump lines should be called just that. "Flow trails," that are simply beginner trails should be called... beginner trails. I think there is were a lot of the frustration comes from. The term "flow trail" is so ambiguous and used as a catch all. A blue flow trail could have some decent jumps, or it could just be a mess of 180 berms the entire way down the hill.

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awesome comments and response from all of you! thanks so much. i even had a couple audio responses sent as well as some email responses since this went up. re: derby photo - that trail looks so freaking fun and it's a rad shot from sven that illustrated a machine-built trail. no way am i implying that trail isn't fun/good/etc. pinkrobe and losifer bring up some great points about what a flow trail actually is (not all flow trails are "easy", but generally speaking, they are often aimed at entry- or intermediate-level riders). keep it up!!

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I like this podcast. We just built a tech trail in our area and people are loving that it has an old school tech feel. There are some people that don't like it but they're newer riders who didn't grow up riding tech trails.

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We're in an age where the average trail bike is WAY more capable than they were 10 years ago, but we're found riding more and more trails that are less demanding. I love a good flowy trail, but they encourage riding faster and faster to make them harder. Beyond how it might affect skills growth, it seems like that could encourage more user group conflicts. A good techy, natural trail just can't be ridden as fast by as many people as a flow trail.

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Spot on assessment. Especially with the likes of IMBA and similar sanitizing trails. Bikes, tires , suspension better than they ever have been.

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My issue isn't so much with "flow" trails, but the "dumbing down" of existing "non-flow" trails that have been ridden for years. Taking out rocks, roots and other technical features to sanitize the trail drives me nuts. Groomed flow trails definitely have a place, as pinkrobe said, they don't have to be a beginner level trail to be a flow trail. Even beginner level trails are great, for their intended purpose. I build under the idea that all trails should have flow, but not all trails should be flow trails.

My wife started riding 3 years ago; she's at the point where she can ride most single black diamond trails, slowly. She got super pissed when some of the lesser skilled riders started to remove features that would give her trouble on some rides. I got upset, but she took it to another level. Her reason was those features gave her a challenge to try to overcome and better herself. If the challenging features, for some riders, are removed, how does a rider (like my wife) improve their riding?

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When the ROBOTS take over, they will not be kind to people who cut out roots. They won't be kind to anyone, actually, because they plan to kill all humans, but they'll be extra kill-y and unkind to people who cut out roots.

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That was a good listen! I am a bit surprised to hear so many people automatically equate "flow" with "easy". When I think of flow, I think of A-Line and Dirt Merchant in Whistler - wide enough to drive a truck down, lots of berms, lots of tables, but in no way shape or form could they be considered "beginner". Also at WBP is Angry Pirate, listed as a tech trail, but with loads of flow, despite its relatively narrow width and an assortment of roots and rocks. I'd also consider Moab's Captain Ahab and Squamish's Rupert as flow trails. Closer to home [Calgary], most of our "flow" trails have rocks and roots, steeps and some small drops. What makes them flow is good design, where riders can move from one feature to another, carrying the right amount of speed on the right line.

I find that the techy/puzzler trails tend to have similar features, but bad connections between them; you're JRA and all of a sudden - SURPRISE MOTHER****ER - there's jank hiding behind a tree to mess with you. If the approach was a little different, you'd roll the rock, or drop the root step, or whatever and away you go on to the next feature. Instead, you need to have exactly the right line and/or technique to avoid landing in the rhubarb. I like a challenge as much as the next rider, but I don't need every trail to be a Rubik's Cube - it's fun to go fast, gap some stuff and drift some corners too.

I get that some flow trails are designed to require the absolute minimum of skill. In that case, maybe ride them faster for more challenge? Could gapping from berm to berm be an option? See how far you can get without pedalling or without braking? Rip the berms like Bryn Atkinson? It all sounds like fun to me...

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From a builder’s standpoint, we now consider a “flow trail” one that (generally) is machine built, minimal natural features, designed and shaped top to bottom with mountain bikes in mind. I’d say that, although I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting WBP, A-Line is a flow trail, Angry Pirate is a natural trail that flows. Ahab is definitely the latter.

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This is a very good point. Machine built trails will end up being smooth by design. The alternative is hand-built trails which are difficult and expensive to build. Does anyone know of any good examples of machine built "tech-gnar" trails?

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machine built trails are going to be more expensive... What does an excavator cost per hr? Hand built trails are typically not as wide and not as big jumps or berms.

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makes sense... but I think for non bike park scenarios, it'll cost way more as natural trails can be made pretty much next to nothing with volunteer labor from the trail orgs or rogue builders.

i talked with a whistler local who's built trail in the valley there for years and knows the scene and people. in ignorance, mentioned the same thing to him, "earth circus has to be way more expensive than a hand-built trail like miss fire." his response was that is not true at all. flow trails (as we're talking here) can be built quite quickly via machines with skilled operators, while hand built trails take a lot of manual time armoring and aligning sections that wouldn't last a season if not properly built. his impression was the price difference, if any, probably wasn't that great. in the long run, a natural trail may cost more b/c of maintenance and labor hours. i was really surprised to hear that but the logic made sense. i guess it depends on the trail location and terrain, but a legit, natural trail made for sustainability isn't as simple as a pick and shovel scratching in a line.

Sure, a machine built trail costs more than a volunteer built trail. But if you're a ski area/bike park that is trying to monetize land by getting more people riding it, than a machine built trail will generally pay for itself faster. As for equipment rentals, you're looking at around $1000/week for a mini X or skid steer, but the real expense is in the expertise to build with that equipment.

Great idea to offer the listeners a chance to chime in!

Now, the bigger dilemma for me... Do I continue to type in my answers or do I figure out a voice memo on my phone and subject myself to listening to my own voice on the recording which feels like fingernails on a chalkboard to me?

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It is... I was trying to do some radio work years ago and listening to my tapes to try and critique them hurt.. Even watching videos of my race announcing.. I can't do it.. I read about an actual scientific
explanation of this years ago... I wish I could remember it... Also, I didn't realize how long I've been hanging out on Vital until you mentioned it...

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Interesting that the image used is of the EWS trail of the year. Off to have a listen.

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