As mountain bikers we think of trails as a linear playground, bringing us deep into nature and allowing us to share our best moments with our best friends. Land managers and lift companies, however, view trails dispassionately as infrastructure, similar to a building or a traditional playground. To continuing using any infrastructure it must be regularly fixed and that usually means investing in annual maintenance.
How much should be set aside for trail maintenance? It is a question that is frequently asked by those who have to develop budgets. For classic singletrack the maintenance costs are typically 3% - 5% of construction costs. For example, if a trail cost CHF 100,000 to build then it will cost CHF 3,000 – 5,000 annually to maintain it. These costs will rise the further away the trail is from vehicle access so budget more for backcountry singletrack.
Maintenance costs increase considerably for trails in bike parks and urban areas. Not only are the trails frequently pushing the limits of sustainability in order to provide a unique experience but the volume of users far exceeds what is seen on a typical multi-use trail.
In bike parks and other high-use sites the cost of annual maintenance will be above 10% of construction costs. If the maintenance costs exceed 20% then it is likely that the trail was not designed or constructed in a sustainable manner.
What’s the best way to reduce future maintenance costs when building a new trail? Keep the gradient mellow, between 5% - 10%. Steeper trails suffer both from increased water erosion and from soil displacement from all types of users. Grades over 10% in bike parks can be supported either through rock armoring or by providing ample run-out at the end of steep segments. Don’t make the common mistake of going too steep into a turn or the trail crew will spend endless hours fixing brake bumps.
Finally, a “rainy day fund” should be established to augment the standard annual maintenance budget. With trails we play by Mother Nature’s rules and sometimes she’ll drop a landslide in the middle of your trail or wash away a bridge. Expect to have to perform hors catégorie maintenance every 7 – 10 years to keep your trail in tip-top shape.
If you're planning a flow trail, we've put together a quick check for you to evaluate the gradient of your projected trail and avoid unpleasant surprises when it comes to maintenance.