The Answer is Flow

Dec 7, 2010
Outside Magazine

MOUNTAIN-BIKE trails are often a disappointment—either over-the-handlebars steep and littered with hazards, or flat, easy, and boring. That's because most of them weren't designed for bikes; they were cobbled together from existing hiking paths, fire roads, and ski runs.

Thankfully, that's changing fast. "There's a big shift toward building trails that the average rider can enjoy," says Dave Kelly, co-owner of Gravity Logic, a Whistler, B.C.-based trail-design firm. "The idea is to create fast, flowing terrain." The key word here is flow, which has become the industry-wide term for trails that cruise like a fat-tire roller coaster over the terrain. "Flow-inspired trails are purpose-built to let gravity carry a biker down a succession of berms, rollers, and other features," explains Mark Eller, communications director of the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA). "This is trail engineering to make riding more fun."

The concept of flow isn't new—Kelly built early iterations at Whistler Blackcomb in the late nineties—but the full-on embrace of the philosophy is. IMBA currently has flow projects in the works on public and private lands, from mountain resorts to national forests to municipal bike parks, where cities are eagerly building "pump tracks," loops you can ride without pedaling. "The question is, Where are they not building flow trails?" says Joey Klein, an IMBA trail specialist who worked on two of the country's newest flow networks: Paradise Royale, in Northern California, and Rush and Maple Hollow, in Draper, Utah. Internationally, flow trails are being developed in Australia, the UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Italy, to name a few locales.

And while hardcore riders may dismiss what is essentially mountain biking's answer to the blue run, they'll be drowned out by the cheers. "No single trail will make everyone happy," offers Nat Lopes, co-owner of Hilride, a private trail-design firm, "but trails with flow will capture the biggest segment of users."

Filed To: Mountain Biking