September 18, 2007

Bored on singletrack?!?

Something very disconcerting happened to Sarah and I on Sunday – we did a big ~17 mile ride, 90% on singletrack, with great weather, no mechanicals, and no crashes, and we had a terrible time.

How is this possible? Well, Jeffco opened up a new trail called Centennial Cone about 6 months ago. It’s a beautiful location, high above Clear Creek canyon, with cool views all around. Feels really remote, too – there are plenty of places where you really can’t see any sign of civilization. There’s a 2.3 mile singletrack spur leading to a 12 mile loop, 9 of which are singletrack. What could possibly suck about that?

Well, the trail design, that’s what. It’s relatively flat, with no steep grades anywhere. Ok, no problem there, really, but combine that with a decided lack of twistiness, lots of annoying switchbacks with logs inexplicably placed in the worst possible spot, and such a smooth surface that I often spent 10 minutes without needing or wanting to unweight (let alone lift) my front wheel.

This is symptomatic of a problem I’ve seen here in Boulder when the county crews build new trails – they think the trails purpose is to get from A to B, when in actuality, the people using the trail generally aren’t trying to go anywhere at all. Straight trails suck, first because they’re not fun to ride, but more importantly because they’re dangerous. Multiuse/multidirectional trails need to have features that keep riders from going too fast, and they need to avoid having too many blind corners (especially if they’re mixed in with fast/straight terrain).

Centennial Cone, as it stands, is a disaster waiting to happen, because it’s easy to get going 20+ mph on the dead straight, dead smooth downhill sections, and then slam into someone coming the other way around one of the blind turns. It also encourages riders to haul ass like crazy into the (often nigh-unrideable) switchbacks, then slam on the stoppers and skid.

Let me be clear – I have no problem with the fact that the trail isn’t technical or (for me) particularly fun. It’ll attract lots of beginner riders who are looking for a long singletrack loop that isn’t too challenging. But the trail could have catered to those riders AND been much safer and funner with just a few extra twists and turns, and the occasional small rock. Reasonable technical features make a trail SAFER for everyone (hikers, riders, horsie folks) – I wish the folks building trails around here understood that.