Minnesota River Bottoms in the winter.
When you hear the term “adventure course” you might not think of urban mountain biking. Maybe you think of some obstacle course from basic training or something from a ToughMudder event.
In fact, adventure courses are some of the oldest types of riding on dirt with bikes. Paved roads where a rarity in most parts of the world till the mid-twentieth century. If one was riding outside of a major city, it was likely they were on roads of gravel, corduroy or paths as wide as a wagon or horse. Often obstacles, like fences, creeks and rivers greeted riders. From these experiences, what we know as cyclocross was born.
This intimate connection between “bikes going over the country side” was integral to cyclocross, it wasn’t till after World War 2 did most cyclocross races begin to use a circular loop track. Today cyclocross is more like road racing for cars, with highly engineered parts of the course designed to emulate the varied conditions one would find if they rode a bike thru the countryside.
Adventure courses are a way to get back to the roots of both cyclocross and mountain biking. Unlike modern cyclocross tracks they are often point-to-point routes that can be ridden in both directions. They often aren’t wide, varying in width between singletrack (<42”) and doubletrack (<72”). Yet, they aren’t like modern mountain bike trails, where the trail bench is engineered. The tread is what it is, often interrupted by fallen trees, old fences, abandoned buildings and the like.
Can modern cities create adventure courses? The fact is that they can. Unlike other types of mountain bike infrastructure, it might be likely there some good places to start in your city currently. Adventure courses work best as long routes. Areas along rivers, canyons or any other linear greenspace or public land work well. It is possible to do adventure courses in self-contained properties, but to be done right, the area of land required is quite large. In some locations, old mines, logging sites and other areas might be perfect as they have existing road networks. However, most of these properties are large enough that they make great locations for rewilding and the creation of other types of trails.
Because adventure courses are about the adventure, it’s important to retain a roughness to the location, natural or post-human. A half-buried railroad isn’t something to pull out, it’s something to ride over. A sandy shore of a seasonal creek doesn’t need armoring or a bridge, just dismount. The foundation of that old mill shouldn’t be avoided, force the riders to scramble up and over it. The end goal is to create a place where the riders can go for a long ride and just have fun.
A great example of an adventure course is River Bottoms in Minnesota. River Bottoms is in Bloomington and Mendota Heights, Minnesota within the Minnesota River Valley Wildlife Refuge. The River Bottoms is often just feet from the edge of the Minnesota River. In the spring or after large storms sections of the trail are underwater. At Nine Mile Creek there is even a raft to ford across the creek.
The River Bottoms wasn't created so much as it just exits. Years of fishermen and hunters going along the banks left a defined corridor. As the city has encroached toward the River, the corridor became a trail. The strange thing about river bottoms is how outside of the city you feel even though the trail is literally blocks from the Mall of America at one point.
Fallen tree turned into a creek crossing at Minnesota River Bottoms.
There are several realities of adventure courses to be aware of, however.
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