Photo courtesy of BLM
One of the founding concepts of urban mountain biking is “ride to your ride”. That is, the ability to get to the trail via your bike. No need for you pack up your car and drive to the location you intend to ride.
This concept has many advantages. First, the selfish one, in that it gives you more time to ride if you don’t have to go very far. But from an ecological point of view, the reasons why ride to your ride is a positive start to stack up. Just under a third of greenhouse gases are from transportation. Private motor vehicles are the primary culprit. Every trip you don’t use a car is that much less greenhouse gasses that are killing penguins. Connected to this are the items used in your car moving, from the rubber in your tires, to the oil in your engine, the various coolants and fluids. All these impacts add up because, even with recycling, many of these items have long supply chains that require motor vehicle transportation themselves. Lastly, there is the infrastructure aspect. Fewer car trips require few roads that are smaller in size. Smaller roads allow for the type of development patterns that further lower man’s impact on the planet. These development patterns, sometimes called “old school” or “strong towns” also can pay for themselves through tax revenue and therefore give a city the ability to invest in more public services, including the purchase of lands for public use.
But is this concept just that? In practice, can it exist in the real world?
The perfect model
Let’s talk about what a perfect “ride to your ride” model would look like for a town or city.
The smallest and most numerous trails in our perfect model would be neighborhood level trails. These would be 1 to 5 mile (1.6-8.0 km) long trails, maybe with some minor skills routes or bike park features. The purpose of these trails is to provide a place to ride for the largest amount of citizens. Given their length, of course, these trails would not attract someone from across town. For locals and locals only, in other words. These trails would likely be shared between hikers and mountain bikers. They would be located roughly on a 3 mile (4.8 km) by 3 mile (4.8 km) grid within the town, allowing no more than half that distance to ride to the trail. Clearly, geographic features and population patterns would alter this grid slightly. A 1 mile (1.6 km) trail can easily fit in a 10 acre (0.4 ha) area, maybe a bit tighter if you aren’t so concerned with the “solitude factor” of users, so these trails would use a minimum of land.
The 3 mile (4.8km) grid might seem like a weird and arbitrary distance, but there is a reason for that grid to be the default. To travel to the nearest neighborhood trail for citizens would be about 1.5 miles (2.4km). On a bike, factoring in stops and turns, that is about a 10 to 15 minute ride each way. That is a good warm-up/cool down distance for a rider and certainly not too taxing for new riders or children riding with mom or dad. Even if one wanted to go the neighborhood trail furthest from them, or 6 miles away, its only 30 to 45 minutes each way. Also, for a lot of riders, they would find themselves in “sweet spots” where three trail systems are no more than 25 minutes away.
A good example of a neighborhood trail from Des Moines, IA. Yes Iowa.
In the next size bracket, above the neighborhood trails would be the districts trails. These would be far less numerous, possibly on a 6 mile (9.6 km) grid or by districts within a city. The length for these trails would be much higher, 5 to 10 miles (8.0-16.1 km) in length. Think of these trails as the “freeboard” of the system. They would absorb capacity differences between weekdays and weekends, keeping the neighborhood trails more tranquil and preventing other, larger trails, from getting slammed. These trails would likely be shared by hikers and bikers with some form of user management techniques. User management techniques are a set of tools designed to minimize or eliminate the possibility of users having negative interactions with each other. These trails should be within a mile of mass transit options, meaning the final leg of the ride to your ride could be from a transit facility to the trails. These trails would become the default locations for events, so at least one of them should be designed to allow lots of spectators.
Swan Creek Park in Tacoma , WA. Contains a lot of what a district level trail should contain.
The last level would be the destination trail. The one (or two) trail system(s) in the city that puts you on the map so to speak. This trail would be massive for an urban trail, being much larger than 10 miles (16.1km) in length. While these trails would be popular within your city, in some ways they would act as an "every now and then" ride for locals, maybe once a month. This would be because for most people in the city, getting there would mean some form of transit or maybe private shuttles from the local bike shop. Also, a significant portion of usage would be visitors to your town. Remember, this will be the system that outsides will know about. However, due to its high rate of visitation, it would likely be so popular that it would have to have user management techniques that completely eliminate user interactions. So some form of segregation, whether that be boxing or fully segregated, is necessary. It should also have its own mass transit station to allow access for all in the city so we don't get people blowing holes in the sky by driving across town.
Palos Trail System in Palos Hills, IL. Southwest Chicago area. Here is the commute from downtown Chicago. While it could be more centrally located, those that are will be highlighted in part 2 of this article.
However, this is just a model. The fact is no city has this exact layout when it comes to urban mountain biking and quite frankly, it will take decades to get to this model in even the most mountain biking friendly cities, if ever.
Does that mean then that ride to your ride is a myth or a fantasy?
Hang on for Part 2 and find out.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.