How many times have you started the mountain bike season with a promise to yourself that this will be the year you do some volunteer trail building? I’ve promised myself that very same thing too many times to count. I start out with big plans to boost my trail karma with some good old-fashioned hard work only to come upon the end of the season without having lifted a finger. It’s at this point that my guilt generally takes over and I donate some money to a trail organization or two who’s trails I use regularly.
This season was different for me. I went out and did some trailwork! Not as much as I told myself I was going to do at the beginning of the season, but something. Going into it, I was thinking about all of the unselfish reasons people do this sort of thing: I would be helping to take some of the workload off other builders, stretch limited funding, and above all, help keep trails in tip-top condition for other riders. But I also learned that there are benefits for me in volunteering as well. Helping out at trail days has helped me meet new people, improve as a rider and remove some of the guilt I feel while riding for free on trails built by other people and in other places. And it can do the same for you!
Breaking trail is a great way to meet other riders!
When you volunteer for a trail day, you end up working closely with people that have the same interest in mountain biking that you do. Throughout the course of these days you will meet people from many different walks of life and all with their own stories. There might be young people, older people, men, women, rich and poor working side by side. In the wider world, there may be limited reasons for these diverse groups to interact, but out working on trails everyone has something in common: a love for mountain biking. I say love because, in my mind, people that volunteer their time to trail work aren’t merely casual riders. They may be new to the sport, or well-seasoned professionals, but they all enjoy it enough to want to see the experience improved for the riding community as a whole.
Connection is key
Aside from trail work, there are few other ways that mountain bikers can connect so easily with one another. For example, when you’re out for a ride with friends, you’re generally out with people you already know. Maybe there is a friend of friend or two out on the ride, but everyone is usually there to ride, making meaningful interaction difficult. On the other hand, volunteer trail building provides a lot of opportunity for interaction between workers. There is the opportunity, or even the necessity, for teamwork. There are breaks where people can chat to take their mind off of the hard work. Often, there is even some sort of social gathering afterwards, where people can talk about the day over some food or a beer.
There are many reasons to want to meet new people. Maybe you’re looking for riding partners, friends, or even love. It might be all of the above. Whatever the reason, you can at least be sure that you and whoever you meet will share one thing in common—mountain biking.
Improve your riding through trail building!
I can’t imagine that anyone is more thoughtful about how their riding affects a trail, than someone who has spent time either building or maintaining trails. Anyone who has spent time working on trails knows exactly the time and effort that goes into keeping a trail in good condition and would be the last person to want to damage them, even if only accidentally. With enough time spent working on trails, this begins to show in their riding.
There are a lot of ways that a person’s riding can damage a trail. I’m not going to list them all, but some might include riding in the mud if the trails are built on terrain that doesn’t handle moisture well, or sliding around corners and down steep hills, disturbing the ground. It’s easy for riders who haven’t spent time doing trail work to forget that the damage they cause needs to be repaired by someone. This isn’t to say that any of this is done purposefully, but once a person has spent their precious time and energy repairing trails, they will have a greater appreciation for riding respectfully.
On top of being more respectful of the trails, time spent building can also make you a more efficient rider. As a volunteer, you might spend minutes or hours working on a few metres of trail. When you ride over that same few metres it takes no more than a few seconds. The more time you spend closely working with specific trail features, the better understanding you will have of how to move over and around them more efficiently. This could be the case with anything from jumps to rock gardens, and everything in-between.
Volunteer and eliminate the guilt trip!
When I ride trails outside of what I would consider to be my home area, I tend to think about all the work that has gone into building them. In most cases when you travel to ride you are riding on trails that someone else has built for your benefit. And, if you are using the trails free of charge (ie. not at a bike park, etc.) then the resources used to build those trails likely came from volunteer trail building time, donations, or in some cases, government grants.
If you stop to think about all that has gone into those trails long enough, you may start to feel some guilt that you are taking advantage of someone else’s hard work. On the other hand, if you’ve done trail work yourself, even if only on your home trails, this guilt is unfounded. Most mountain bikers, I would assume, travel to ride, at least on occasion. If you put in the work to keep your home trails in good condition for others, it would be fair to say that others would be happy to keep their trails in good condition for you. In a sense, you’re trading the work you do on your trails for what someone else does on their home trails. As a result, the circle of trail building and maintenance continues and because you’ve spent time as a contributor you can feel good about yourself and take advantage of other people’s efforts guilt-free!
Don’t sweat it!
Getting dirty and working up a sweat are part of trail building, but if that’s not your thing you can contribute in other ways and still realize the benefits mentioned above for yourself. All trail associations are different, but many of them have a need for people to volunteer for jobs outside of physical trail building. For example, your local trail organization might need volunteers on their board or executive. Maybe they are looking for proposal writers to apply for funding, or people to coordinate volunteers. These are all jobs where even though you aren’t in the field sweating it out, there is the opportunity to meet like-minded people, gain respect for the trails and feel good about your contributions when you ride trails away from home. So, why not get out and volunteer with a trail association near you? It’s a win-win situation for both you and the people who use the trails.
If you’re looking for more ways to give back to the mountain biking community, check out the RideSphere article ‘Want to Support Local Mountain Biking and Have Fun? Watch Some Local Races!’
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