Pink Bike posted a timely article regarding the construction of new "flow" type trails. Having recently visited and rode the new Tiger Mountain East "flow" trail I have been mulling a similar debate in my head since the visit. Are trails getting dumber?
Pink Bike did a great job of covering the reasons behind and questions relating to these new trails. I think they stem from two points of origin - IMBA and pump tracks. A well built flow trail certainly drains well and would be considered IMBA sustainable - requiring little to no maintenance over a long period of time. The pump track trend which has come and probably peaked also lends an influence I believe.
Personally, I am not a big fan of "flow" trails. They bore me quickly, make me dizzy and provide little to no challenge on a micro or macro scale. They certainly require a certain skill set to ride well and ride fast, but they don't offer the type entertainment that I prefer from a good "trail bike level" downhill trail - good flow(this is a common denominator, I concede) requiring little pedaling input to be ridden fast with lots of opportunities for body english to build speed from the terrain(e.g., good corners, undulations, steeps etc) combined with more than one line choice and a combination of elements that provide an unpredictability from the tread(e.g., roots, rocks, ruts and other "natural" micro features). These trails do wear faster in some sections, but if properly built with erosion in mind they can just as effectively shed water, handle regular use and be able to sustain years of use as well. The other consideration of more "gnarly" trails are that the more they are ridden(seasoned) the more fun they become as the roots and rocks become more exposed and continue to add texture to the tread.
I do think flow trails have a place. They offer beginning riders a predictable way to learn how to "pump" a trail and they also offer advanced riders who ride hard tails or prefer a more pump track style trail a place to shred as well. I don't think this is an argument of which type of trail is better. I think and hope that both types of trails can and do remain but with the stern position that flow trails not become the new standard for mtb trail construction. If the majority of trail construction starts going the way of the flow trail, I will certainly be one of the first into Tahrir Square with a flag adorned with a crest of symbols representing steeps, rocks and roots.
On a most local note - I do believe we have successfully combined a good balance of flow trail and gnar trail with the LLMT. Given we currently have one line to satisfy everyone, the LLMT over the past year really evolved in way that combined multiple interests and riding styles into a really well balanced and diverse set of design philosophies. I am proud to have been a part of it.
LLMT Shuttle Day from Jim Graham on Vimeo.