After a hard day at the office, our home trails transpose our body and soul into a parallel universe, where nothing matters except your heartbeat, bike and the sweet scent of petrichor. Yes, we love our home trails! But where do they come from and why are they in danger? Read our story to find out what the rider community can do to preserve them.

Who’s the biggest enemy of our trails? Hunters? The forestry department? Hikers? Well, no. There’s a good chance that it’s actually us, the sheer mass of (e)bikers who, with the increasing popularity of our sport, are flocking to the local forests to spend a few hours of quality time. While it’s truly amazing that more and more people are embracing our sport, popularity also has its downside. Because mountain bikers aren’t always considerate – neither with nature nor with the trails, land owners or fellow forest users – encounters with other interest groups can often result in unpleasant confrontations. Sadly, some of us behave like hooligans, which reflects badly on the entire community – and, unfortunately, we all pay the price!

No worries, we don’t mean to analyse the clash of cultures, but rather to understand how we, as riders, should feel about our home trails and whether we realise that they don’t just shape themselves overnight. Do you remember your childhood stories, the ones about gnomes, elfs and, how they call them in the Nordic folklore, tomtes? In the heart of the night, when everyone’s sleeping, they rush to where they’re needed, cleaning up, filling up holes, tending and maintaining the gardens. If the community shows appreciation for their work, they’ll come back the next night. You’re probably guessing where we’re going with this! We all have our tomtes, our (mostly) invisible little helpers who put their heart and soul into building and maintaining the trails we ride and love so much.

Shredding is fun, it’s like therapy for most of us, a balm for the soul. We need the trails like we need air to breathe. But without trail builders, even the most promising patch of land remains just a promising patch of land. Without tomtes, your favourite trails would be just a messy strip of soil, with thorns scraping your face and dodgy ruts taking your confidence hostage. But what drives trail builders to do their work, a work that most of us aren’t aware of because it’s carried out off-season most of the time? Those who are aware, expect trail builders to create the raddest of lines and coolest of features. But what do trail builders expect from us, the (e)MTB community? We rode through snow and sleet to watch one of our local trail tomtes at work, shovelling his way through the trails at 3ºC. While doing so, we realised it doesn’t take much to show our appreciation for the trail builders’ effort and to actively help them maintain our favourite trails.

Pickaxes and…
… rakes are key tools for trail builders.

Our trail builder

For starters, he doesn’t look like a gnome! Second, his name is Linus and he’s 27 years old, of average height and from the Swabian Jura in Germany. We met in the forest on a freezing April morning, where Linus was currently mending a trail section for the new season. Linus has been riding bikes since he was 15 and now he races enduro. Incidentally, he got into trail building through racing because he and his mates “needed something rad to train for the races.” At home, there was nothing but hiking trails and none of the guys had a driving licence to get themselves to a bike park. So a makeshift solution was due, and they had to build a training trail themselves. They didn’t even think about the legal aspects back then – they were just young, incredibly keen and naive!

According to Linus, crews of young trail guns often lack foresight, just like him and his friends back in the days. There are plenty of legal projects out there which are managed by keen volunteers and backed by a huge community of helpers, but there isn’t really a plan to back the good intentions. This often results in dangerous trails and uncoordinated activities, which can lead to costly mistakes and inaccessible trails – a real fun killer! However, this tendency is slowly changing. More and more groups are taking a more professional approach to trail building. People are founding associations and seeking support from specialised companies that have the necessary know-how with both the practical aspects and more cumbersome tasks, like bureaucracy and communication. Needless to say, all of this costs money and requires a healthy cash flow to back associations and initiatives that rely on professional support. As a result, the community is always pleased when big bike brands make it their mission to support their customers (the riders!) to get a project off the ground. Funding initiatives like PayDirt, endorsed among others by FOCUS under their A Better Tomorrow project, support our keen diggers, giving our community a solid opportunity to complete projects that would be almost impossible to deliver just through crowdfunding.

“Hip hip hooray” for the efficiency of eMTBs! With his FOCUS JAM² as a pack mule, it makes perfect sense for Linus to set off building trails even for a couple of hours.

But let’s go back to what drives Linus. What does he love about his job? Trail building has a therapeutic effect on him, he says. It’s like meditation, you just focus on one thing. The creative space of nature appeals to him too: shaping, chopping and raking while feeling one with his surroundings. Even as a child, the forest was a familiar environment for Linus. Needless to say, his passion was influenced and fuelled by movies like Seasons and New World Disorder. Like most trail builders, he just wanted to recreate the features and jumps he saw on the screen. And with time, he developed his creative side. Now, he simply enjoys the feeling of happiness flowing through his veins whenever he creates something exciting.

The eMTB as a pack mule and patrol cruiser

With that unique feeling you get from challenging the elements, we jumped on our eMTBs and made our way into the green-brown forest, between a snowstorm and a sleet shower, cruising towards a trail that urgently needed Linus’ attention. His luggage: a heavy, 20kg backpack with all basic tools for essential (and not so!) trail repairs. In the age of eMTBs, schlepping all of this into the wild is no longer a problem for Linus. Finally, we got to watch the master at work while mending a battered trail section that got scarred by the harsh winter. We were witnessing first hand a sad-looking singletrack coming back to life!

Linus’ FOCUS JAM² provides huge relief, helping him carry all his equipment to the building spot. FOCUS support Linus both with his racing career and trail building job. It’s so easy and fast to dash through the woods that it even makes sense going out for just a couple of hours. Without an e-bike, he wouldn’t probably bother. But his e-mountainbike isn’t just a trusted pack-mule but also a discrete “patrol vessel” when Linus and his mates are not building trails but having fun instead, lapping the local mountain while patrolling the area – combining the useful and the enjoyable so to speak! They call it the “TPR” – trail patrol ride – which is when you scan the trails for damage while having a blast ripping.

No time or passion for trail building today? Just go for a TPR!
Linus couldn’t do without his FOCUS eMTB when working. It’s a pack mule, reliable testing machine and fun bike all in one.

Hang-out time is the most important asset for a trail builder after the pickaxe.

When we arrived at the spot, we asked Linus what an average trail building day looks like. “There’s no such thing as a standardised trail building process because every trail requires a different kind of maintenance.” But nothing works without the pickaxe, right? We learnt that from our story in last year’s ENDURO magazine. “Of course”, says Linus, “we would be lost without a pickaxe, rake or a chainsaw. But the most important thing after our tools is hang-out time, perhaps over some lunch and a coffee the energy levels, especially when we’re working in a big group. Gathering for a meal and a drink is just as important as having the right tools.” It’s about slowing down, feeling a sense of togetherness and experiencing first-hand what we’ve created for others.

The busiest time of the year for trail builders is the autumn/winter season. After an intense summer of racing and bike park weekends, trail building is a nice change of scenery for Linus. And that’s also the best time to fix the damage the trails have suffered over the previous six months: touching up speed bumps, filling up ruts, draining puddles, restoring jumps, bridges and kickers, and making it all safe again. Most jumps need reshaping because they tend to round off over time, which means that you’re no longer getting as much airtime. Every now and then, new features are added, which is incredibly cool but not necessarily a must. And if the winter drags on? “Sure, at some point you get fed up with building and just want to go back shredding. However, trail building is also an excellent winter workout!” says Linus.

Draining puddles is an all-time favourite. Wait, what?
Fancy a high-ten?

Support your local trails

When asked who he’s actually building for, Linus had to think for a moment. Of course, he and his crew are keen to maximise the fun factor on a challenging track for their own sake. At the same time, they also think about the community, making sure that the trails are accessible to everyone but at the same time challenging enough for riders who want to improve their skills. No matter what their intention is, by creating, maintaining and repairing, trail builders are always working for their extended community or, in other words, for everyone who uses the trails. Linus realises that this is still not as appreciated by the general public as it should be. What he sees are many riders, often ebike riders, who treat the trails as mere commodities without understanding how much work lies behind them. “Right now, those who tear up berms get all the credit while those who fix them don’t get any. However, it would be great if one day the rider community would appreciate the hard work we put into it and simply value it more.” Among other things, this could be achieved through pushing trail building through social media posts, which Linus believes would be a sensible joint project for all diggers.

We think that it’s time for our community not only to hit the woods for a ride but also to embrace a shovel and rake, to get our hands dirty building and maintaining our trails. This is the most sensible way to show appreciation to the creators of our home trails. At the same time, we would be doing ourselves a huge favour, because you know that your next ride would be even smoother and more fun. There’s one but. Don’t just get on your ebike and head to the forest with a pickaxe and chainsaw in your backpack to mess around with the work your local construction crew has done. Thinking about smoothing out a berm here, perhaps extending a table top there? Just don’t. There are plenty of other jobs we as “trail consumers” can take care of to keep our trails in good condition and support the creators of our favourite place in the forest. Listen to your trail builders! Here’s Linus’ trail building bucket list.

This is how you can help:

  • Clear branches and rocks if they’re in the way
  • Drain puddles – create a drainage channel with a stick
  • Clear the trails in summer or clean them with a stick
  • Rake the trail – this is the biggest help for trail builders in autumn because the trails dry faster without leaves
  • Use a trail and ground-friendly riding style, don’t skid before or through corners

The invisible little helpers in our fairytales get easily in a mood for pranks when they’re annoyed. And when they feel misunderstood or mistreated, they often move on. But wouldn’t it be a shame to see the unsung heroes of our sport disappear overnight? Next time you go for a ride, you could hang out half an hour longer to find a stick and drain some puddles! We want to avoid the boys and girls throwing in the towel – errr shovel – one day!

If you want to know what Linus is up to, follow him on Instagram!

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Words: Felicia Nastal Photos: Mike Hunger