My kids have been eagerly trying to get a chance at mountain biking with dad. In researching ways to get them started I found one of the best ways was to create something in the backyard.
So how do you build a mountain trail in your backyard? The #1 tip for building fun backyard MTB trails for the kids are to get their help designing it on paper as well as building it. Use you best judgment to combine their designs with kid friendly obstacles for them to test their abilities and build confidence prior to going on a real trail.
My son and daughter have been getting more and more excited about mountain biking. After hearing of the fun I was having with my friends they were asking to join me one day out on the trail. I figured the best way to get them started and keep them interested would be to create something close to home.
In an effort to make the whole process fun for them we talked about what we would like to be able to do in the backyard mountain bike trail and how we would go about doing it. While I did have to scale back some expectations ( I shouldn’t have let them watch the Red Bull Rampage videos first) we did come up with some pretty cool ideas.
I gave everyone a piece of paper and let them sketch out what they wanted to see in the backyard. This allowed us to design it together by taking bits and pieces from everyone’s ideas. It helped let everyone feel like they had an equal part.
After combining some of the musts from each list and sketching out the final initial design overtop our property plat map. We discussed length, location, obstacles, and different sections.
This was done in an effort to help the kids understand they wouldn’t need to do it all as soon as the trail was completed. They new that as time went on they would be able to grow the necessary skills to do so. Once we got started the kids had a blast helping.
As with most things kids related you are going to want to set mini goals. Our initial goal was to just take out the pure beginner trail which even our daughter could ride with her training wheels. Below is our trail building process.
Walk out proposed trail
The kids and I walk out our proposed trail with a rake in hand. We are lucky enough to have a great backyard for a little beginners trail. We have an initial tree line that lines where our grass yard should be. About 10-15 feet in is another somewhat cleared section of the yard.
This allowed us to make a basic loop that would allow the kids to get accustomed to riding within a marked trail but would allow them to go outside the lines without consequences. Your kids will get a kick out of this and it amps up their excitement for the project.
Take the time while walking out the proposed plan to identify any problem areas that you might want to avoid.
Adding a log roller
One of the regular features on just about any trail is a log roller or a downed tree. Foster really wanted one of these in our trail so we started with a simple single roller with a larger roller toward the end of the trail with a bail out section to the right.
Our initial plan incorporated a roller of four logs and as the kids progress we will add another layer of logs to bump up the skill level needed.
Adding a jump
Start off small. One of Foster’s most wanted items was a jump that he could practice on. The biggest thing here, is to be sure you have enough of a landing spot depending on the size of the jump.
The higher the jump the more speed your child will need to attack it properly, and therefore will also need more space to be able to break. It is also a good idea to in sure that the landing area is free of debris.
You don’t want the little ones tires to wash out on sticks or rocks when they do come down from the jump. This will also help prevent any additional injury if and when they do fall while trying to learn how to tackle the jump.
Adding a skinny
When adding a skinny, simply have it on top of the ground. This will allow the kids to practice without having to worry about falling and will help build confidence.
Once their confidence grows you can raise the skinny slightly off the ground and gradually raise it higher and higher until they have no issues.
A run to the local hardware store should allow you to snag a pressure treated 4x4x8 that would work out well for this. If you are lucky enough to have a wooded lot you may be able to locate a downed tree or simply take one down like we did here.
Adding a tight switchback
Foster picked up on our backyard trail pretty quickly and was eager to add some additional features. By slightly adjusting one of the lines I was able to add a switch back which is taking him some time to master.
A switchback is generally used on steeper slopes to help erosion and creates a zig zag pattern. While our backyard does slope back towards the creek it’s not really drastic. In time we will add banking to allow for a more realistic switchback experience.
Adding pump track
This is a future section that I hope to start in 2019. More and more trails are adding pump tracks which when rode right allow the riders to use the trail to get their bike up to speed without pedaling.
If the track is setup correctly and the rider is riding it correctly then you will be able to work on cornering as well as attacking the berms.
Momentum is key for fast and flowing trail rides and this to can be honed while on a pump track. And who’s kidding, it’s just a heck of a lot of fun. I showed the kids some videos of this and they absolutely loved the idea.
One of the main issues with our back yard is that there isn’t a ton of space. There is more space than others may have so I can’t complain too much here.
Invite their friends
Once we completed the basic section the kids put it to the test. Foster rode the course for hours every weekend for almost a month testing everything. Once we made the changes we deemed necessary it was ready to go.
We then opened it up to some of the friends in the neighborhood and it was a huge hit. It’s awesome to be able to hangout on the screened in porch or while sitting next to the fire pit while also being able to keep an eye on the kids and their friends.
While the need of these tools depends on your type of terrain as well as what you are looking to build you standard tools are going to be a rake and shovel.
Depending on the surface you may be able to get away with a leaf rake while there will be scenarios where you would also need a garden rake.
You will also need both a pointed tip and flat tip shovel to help with digging and flattening the trail in various layouts. If you have a wooded area like we have you would also benefit from having a chainsaw, brush saw, machete and/or brush axe.
If you are looking at long term trails there are actual trail maintenance tools that will make the job a hell of a lot easier. Tools like this one on Amazon allow you to make easy work of just about any type of environment.
RQ1. Do you need permission from you Homeowners Association?
If you live in a neighborhood that has an HOA you will want to review the HOA guidelines to ensure you won’t have an issue with having a trail in your backyard.
In most cases if you don’t go overboard and/or do a hack job in building your trail there usually won’t be a problem. If the trail is more or less out of site then they usually won’t give you too much grief about it.
RQ2. Can I get sued if someone gets injured while on your trails?
While I am not a lawyer and I don’t play one on tv I have done some research online as well as discussing this topic with people who were knowledgeable on the topic of law. One of the keys to keep in mind here is that as long as you maintain the trail and keep it in safe riding condition then you should be fine.
The rider would have to prove that you were somehow negligent in maintaining or preparing the trail that led to their injury. To be on the safe side have them, if you can, sign a waiver stating that they are riding the trail at their own risk.