Green, gently rolling paddocks. A flowing track carved from close-cropped Kikuyu. Perhaps you saw a picture of it as the title of our last newsletter. We had many people email us for the sole intent of knowing where that track was, something which happens only for a very special location. Well the wait is over, and for anyone living in the Auckland/ Waikato region, welcome to Awhitu. We would love to greet you there in the near future.
There is obviously a yearning within many riders to have access to a track like this, with the number one reason often being forgiveness. By that I mean a safe track that is not too hard on the body, or the pocket. This list of key points in track design may be a help to those people who ever get to design their own track, some things that I have learned over the years.
#1. Soft Ground
Ideally this means a sandy type of soil, although most surfaces can be made more forgiving with the right kind of ripping. A power harrow was the method for breaking the grass off of both this track and my own, but after this initial work, rippers are best. The reason for this is that while the power harrow does a great job at breaking up the first 300mm or so of soil, it leaves a hard and slick surface underneath which will soon show itself. On the other hand, rippers use spring tension to break chunks out of that bottom layer, avoiding that sealed surface.
#2. Rolling Hills
If there is ever a choice as to where to put a track, avoid steep ground and you will be ever thankful. Of course this is also the best land for farming, which is exactly why you so rarely see tracks like this one at Awhitu. Sacrificing the flatter ground for a track may be expensive (sometimes very much so) in loss of grass production, but is massive when it comes to safety, rider enjoyment, and soil retention.
Flatter ground makes it possible to avoid any banks or drops on either side of the track for riders to fall in, which is crucial. When enough soil gets moved that a small bank does form, I highly advise pushing those berms or fallen soil back towards where it came from if this is possible.
Not only does flatter ground and a combination of this kind of maintenance keep the best soil on top to avoid getting down to what is typically a harder base soil, it means that there is nothing to catch a rider out if they get a little close to the edge of their abilities; something which should not be punished by an unnecessarily nasty fall.
#3. Less Is Best
With the Supercross influence came this idea that we need obstacles everywhere. Building a berm on every corner and a jump or whoop section on every straight is a typical mistake. It can be easy to completely lose the plot. Here is my advice. Unless your paddock is completely flat, let the contours of the land do much of the work for you.
Rip the soil on the flatter turns if you can, and then let the bikes form the berms for you. Sometimes a small amount of work can help you turn the base of a hill into a larger berm, but it shouldn’t look like it was put there. Unless you have quite a few off camber turns, just leave them be or only rip very shallow in order to avoid losing all that soil with the next heavy rain.
Building a berm on an off camber corner that will need a headache of a drainage pipe in order to avoid it filling up like a pool is something you just don’t need to deal with. Even berms formed by bikes alone can hold water however, so I try to design turns that either are higher on their entry that they are at the exit, or ideally, are lower on the entry and slope slightly up to the exit.
Jumps and rollers should be constructed nearby to a place you can safely rob soil from without creating a dangerous ditch or bank that someone could run in to. Try to add soil to the base you have, rather than digging your track into the ground as this will usually mean banks and a lesser quality soil for your track surface. Most of all, carefully choose how many obstacles you want. Remember that people do enjoy straights for simply gaining speed and working on braking points. They will usually get rough enough to create enough of a challenge by themselves without an obstacle needing to punish you.
#4. Forgiving Obstacles
Having an obvious progression from a ski jump, to a table top or three, to a double with an extremely long and progressive landing is all that most tracks really need. Having a set off rollers is nice also, so long as they are low (knee height is often best) and well spaced apart (one every ten metres or so often seems like too much spacing until you ride it for the first time).
Most obstacles are best when they travel up hill, for example a step up can be ten times more forgiving than a step down. It is crucial to have up ramps that don’t suddenly start at the bottom. A constant curve is needed, a curve that is the same at the bottom as it is at the top, in order to send a bike consistently into the air and to avoid nasty kickers forming near the top. Because you don’t want these jumps too steep, this curve might be hard to see. Don’t be tempted to flatten off the last section of the up ramp much either as this will also do some weird things to any jump.
Landings are also crucial in that you must avoid any kind of sharp knuckle. Any rider attempting the jump (within reason) should be confident that they could land anywhere and not be punished for it. If you want a more forgiving sweet spot for the landing, bring in more soil rather than creating something that could bite you because of a simple brain fade.
As you would expect, we had a brilliant day at this most excellent office. With the worst of the wind deflecting over the top of us, and the rain happening during our lunch break, we had three great sessions. I can’t wait to get back there.