The opportunity to build new trails is a rare one. Usually, we cyclists only get to solve problems on existing trails. But, we've realized that it's the initial design that is the most important part of building a new trail. If the design is right, then all other problems can easily be solved without having to relocate a section of trail. The two big keys to successful trail design are to always try to minimize natural (erosion from rainfall and water) and user impacts.
A good place to start trail building (after obtaining permission from the land manager) is to decide where the trailhead will be located. From the trailhead, start with a short 3- to 5-mile loop (loops are preferable to out-and-back trails) to create your beginner trail. Keep the grade at 5 percent or less over the bulk of the loop; concentrate more on scenery than challenge.
If you have a linear piece of property, more difficult trails can be located farther out, building off the back of one loop to another. This stacked-trail design gets more challenging as you get farther out, which helps keep less experienced riders away from trails that prove too challenging for their abilities. It also allows you to use the mileage from one loop to another to increase the total distance over the entire system.
If the property is not suited to this type of layout, consider separate loops for different levels of ability. We recommend the following trail guidelines: 36-inch-wide trail for beginners, 24- to 30-inches wide for the more experienced; and for experts, 12-inches wide.
Keep these rules in mind while designing and constructing trails:
Identify all the places you want to avoid (property lines, ecologically sensitive areas, etc.) and all the places you want the trail to go (i.e. trailheads, scenic vistas, cool rock areas, etc.) before you start.
Use natural features (large rocks, sharp turns, natural dips, etc.) to provide challenge rather than steep grades, which easily erode.
To prevent erosion (you want the trail to last, don't you?), follow the land's natural contours and don't build on fall lines (straight up and down the hill). Water will run right down the trail.
Keep your average overall grades to 10 percent or less.
Most importantly, spend as much time as possible looking at what the land has to offer and planning your trail system before you build. Your buddies will thank you for it later! And, for more great trail tips and information visit IMBA.