Trail Maintenance 101 - Desire Lines - Pedal Progression


29 March 2018

Trail Maintenance 101 – Desire Lines

Whilst walking the trails with Architrail (the trail building contractor) and discussing the main areas that need work, we noticed a bunch of desire lines. This started a long conversation and one which we think is important to share with you all. If you know about this stuff already, have a read anyway and see if you can learn something new, then share it on the socials, or pass it on to someone who might need to think about it!

What Is  A Desire Line?

Put simply, a desire line is a short cut or a route off of the main track. Perhaps called so because the line is (or becomes) more desirable than the provision that already exists. In this case, the trail.

Pic 1. The drop on the right (Super Nova trail) was in major disrepair and so a desire line has appeared to the left where there used to be foliage.

Why Are Desire Lines Formed?

There are a few reasons, some perhaps more obvious than others.

  • In areas where the trail is particularly worn, riders tend to ride whats fastest rather than what’s fun.
  • Where there are technical or damaged sections of trail, desire lines can crop up to avoid potential dangers.
  • Strava hasn’t helped, with people cutting corners to ‘beat’ their mates on the app.
  • Sometimes the desire line is simply just the most obvious route!

Pic 2. Looking back up the (Nova) trail, you can see the bermed corner (left) has really worn and a desire line (right) has appeared, widening the trail and creating a puddle in the process.

So, What’s The Problem?

Sure, this is slightly #yawn but please don’t zone out because this stuff is important!

  • Desire lines untidy the trails, which in no way helps get planning past those who perhaps already don’t like bikes! When you’re already on the back foot, you don’t want to take another step back. Get me?
  • In the woods, new lines widen the trail. Many sections of Ashton Courts Nova & Super Nova trail have suffered from this. When first built, the trails had riders surrounded by thick brush which added to the riding experience. Now, as in Pic 1, the addition of desire lines in dense woodland (and grasslands) are increasing environmental damage.
  • Desire lines drag mud onto the groomed trail surface which in time makes for a slippery surface which can in time, lead to more desire lines and so the perpetuating cycle continues! Pic 3 was taken in ‘The Saucy Field’, Ashton Court in March 2018. There are 3 desire lines here and the trail is covered in mud making it slippery! What needs to happen (and in time it will), is for the trail to be resurfaced and re shaped too and the desire lines to be obstructed to prevent their expansion. The trails improve, the grass heals and everyone is happy – hopefully!?
  • Slippy trails mean more accidents which (as well as being rubbish) also causes difficulties when trying to develop an create new trails. If the safety record is poor on smaller features, the chances for building ‘bigger’ stuff becomes almost impossible.

Pic 3. The trail here is to the left. It’s become too slippery for some to ride & desire lines have appeared. There are 3 in all, which look messy and bring mud onto the groomed trail.

What’s The Resolve?

  • First off, we need people to understand this stuff. If we are now funding our own trails and trail maintenance, we need to understand that desire lines will only add to the repair bill, meaning ultimately we’ll get less for our money!
  • Stick to the trail! Sure, you might feel like it doesn’t make sense when there’s a quicker route but you are contributing to the problem. If you need to cut corners (cheat) to beat your mates on Strava, you’re probably not all that! There, I said it! :p
  • As money comes in for trail repairs we will do all we can to get rid of desire lines for the sustainability of maintenance and also to keep good relations with local authorities who’ll we’ll have to work with in order to get new trails built.


Ultimately, our aim is to have a trail free of desire lines because the trail itself is desirable enough to ride!

If you’ve got this far, thanks so much for reading!

Matt, Sam & Ollie


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