The New Soquel Demo Flow Trail: A contrarian view

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Everyone loves Santa Cruz’s new Soquel Demo Forest Flow Trail, and rightfully so. It’s a flat-out world class screamer that grabs you by the throat, shakes you like a rag doll and doesn’t let go till it’s done, only to leave you gasping for more.

But now that the hoopla is dying down, it’s time for some perspective. To move from “It’s great!” to “It’s great, but…”

Yes it’s great to have new trails. For years, nay decades, it’s been impossible to build new mtb trails. Too much hiker opposition, not enough money, too little political clout.

But now we’re in the midst of a trail building explosion. Just about every nook and cranny of the US has something going on, with lots of community support.

In reality, there’s really only one new trail being built. Over and over, everywhere.

That trail is fast and flowy. It’s steep and wide and highly bermed, with launches and doubles and jumps and tabletops. It’s incredibly fun, too… as long as it lasts.

The Flow Trail is the perfect example. It’s 4 miles down and takes around 15 minutes to do, if that. It’s essentially a bike park trail not in a bike park.

If there were lifts or a shuttle, it would be more repeatable. But so far there aren’t, and few riders have enough in the tank to do multiple runs of the Flow Trail on the same visit. By the time you climb back up on steep fire roads, you’re fried.

Fast one way...
Fast one way…

Plus it’s one-way-only. This is a real downer, as a new trail really should be two new trails, because riding up and riding down are two different experiences.

In any case, while we all love flow, it’s just one component of trail joy. And here’s where the Flow and other new trails seem to be missing the boat.

Classic mountain bike trails — converted hiking trails, really — have their limitations, but monoculture or homogeneity isn’t one of them. Packed with switchbacks, loose rock, steep climbs, natural obstacles, twisty descents, loamy cush, river crossings, you name it, they offer constant challenges, skilz tests, variety and scenery.

Granted, the one thing they typically don’t have is flow. But there’s so much else going on, you don’t miss it.

I like going fast as much as the next rider. But I also like picking new lines, riding up as well as down, being tested by natural terrain and being able to ride all day without repeating myself.

New trails ought to offer the opportunity for glorious hybrids. From early descriptions I thought the Flow Trail would have, in addition to flow, a lot less quick elevation loss, a lot more length and variety. Maybe even some climbing. Prolong the ride, give it texture, make it interesting.

Instead we got The Flowtobahn. A freeway.

Flowtobahns have their place. But my question to IMBA (to which I belong), to local clubs (I’m a member of 3) and to trail builders (I volunteer when I can) everywhere is, does every new trail have to be a freeway?

How about bringing back the kind of trail we all learned on and learned to love? You know — singletrack.

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