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Review of Trail Solutions: IMBA's Guide to Building Sweet Singletrack

From the Fall 2004 Trail Tracks, the national newsletter of American Trails

Cover of IMBA's Trail Solutions



Trail Solutions: IMBA's Guide to Building Sweet Singletrack Published by the International Mountain Bicycling Association

IMBA's new book is an excellent, deeper-than-usual overview of the current state of the art of mountain bike trail development from conception to maintenance. Intended for user groups, trailbuilding volunteers, and land managers with at least a laypersons' grasp of trail development, it tries to make development of fun, sustainable trails look doable.

Indeed, its colorful pages, breezy style, simple explanations, and energetic presentation tend to make you feel there aren't any problems that can't be solved. It's great for motivating user groups and land managers to launch trail projects.

Style aside, it's a very practical book full of helpful advice, especially for newcomers to trailmaking. Its eight parts attempt to cover the entire process of developing mountain bike trails and trail systems, with the goal of building sustainable trails.

Each part averages about 29 pages and does a remarkable job of distilling, or at least touching on, much of what you would likely encounter on most trails. Serious work went into the text, which captures a vast amount of pertinent information in a very few words.

Unavoidably, though, when each part could fill one or more entire books, its more than 20 authors concentrated on breadth over depth, omitted much useful detail, oversimplified some explanations, and excluded potential alternate solutions.

Topics which it presents well in limited space include working with land managers and volunteers; trail flow and speed control through design; building full-bench tread, switchbacks, and banked curves; time and cost estimating; hand tools; rolling grade dips and knicks; and trail closure and reclamation. Three-dimensional color drawings are clear and easy to understand at a glance.

The book covers some ground rarely found in published form. It provides detailed advice on switchbacks and climbing turns customized for mountain biking; "rock armor" to harden tread in fragile soils; and an excellent introduction to trailbuilding with mechanized tools including basic pros, cons, pitfalls, and tips on obtaining and working with the equipment. The "Building Challenging Trails" part is a short primer on mountain bike challenge-park-type trails including freeriding, building technical trail features, and risk management, with a brief piece on downhilling.

The book focuses on mountain bike trails yet discusses multiple use and includes information on other non-motorized uses. Interestingly, although OHVs are not mentioned, most of the book also directly or indirectly applies to motorized trails and systems. In lieu of a similar book for OHV trails, OHV developers can learn a lot from this book.

Overall, Trail Solutions: IMBA's Guide to Building Sweet Singletrack an excellent guide that lives up to its title. It will be especially valuable to its target audience of mountain bike trail developers for single or shared use, especially those without much development experience.

Also see: Natural Surface Trails by Design: Physical and Human Design Essentials of Sustainable, Enjoyable Trails by Troy Scott Parker

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