From Evergreen Trail Guide
What is Singletrack?
Mountain bike technology has come a long way over the years. The early mountain bikes consisted of little more than knobby tires installed on traditional road bike frames. These bikes were – and still are in the form of cyclocross bikes – excellent for gravel paths and dirt roads, much like Washington state’s Snoqualmie Valley and Ironhorse trails. Riders enjoyed taking their bikes off road and traveling the countryside, but wanted more. They wanted to get on steeper, more wild terrain where their ability to pedal and maintain balance could carry them away from the crowds and into the backcountry.
The desire to ride more rugged terrain led to a revolution within the bicycle industry that yielded dozens of mountain-specific technologies including changes in frame geometry and the inventions of suspension and disc brakes to name but a few. Today’s mountain bikes are sophisticated pieces of equipment designed from the ground up to be ridden on rough, technical trail. With practice, riders can effectively pilot their mountain bikes over narrow, natural surface trails that oftentimes feature small obstacles such as rocks, fallen trees, streams, or tree roots. This is singletrack.
We call this type of trail singletrack because it forces cyclists to ride in a single file line, thereby minimizing the impact on the surrounding environment. Singletrack is typically no more than 12-18 inches in width and resembles a narrow ribbon of exposed tread snaking through the wilderness. Good singletrack will challenge one’s skills and endurance while simultaneously affording the rider the opportunity to commune with nature. Once they’ve mastered the basics, mountain bikers almost always prefer to ride singletrack over other forms of trail, for many of the same reasons that hikers prefer hiking trails over paved walking paths.
In the world of mountain biking, there is no resource more valuable than wilderness singletrack. The allure of a scenic, challenging ride in the backcountry is what many riders invest their time and money in this sport for – epic backcountry rides are the carrot on the stick that help people get through the workweek. Unfortunately, quality singletrack is under constant threat from development and land use restrictions. As a result, those looking to enjoy the true singletrack experience are being forced to pile into vehicles and drive further and further distances to access the trails they crave. In the Seattle area, this often means driving several hours east to the Wenatchee area, or as far north as British Columbia. It’s imperative that mountain bikers support organizations such as BBTC and work with their community leaders in order to reverse this trend and bring quality singletrack closer to home.
- Natural surface trail, not smooth gravel or paved
- Trail, not an overgrown road
- One-rider wide, usually 12 inches to a about of 30 inches wide at most.
- Backcountry in nature
- Article, The importance of singletrack from IMBA.
- Book, Trail Solutions:IMBA's Guide to Building Sweet Singletrack
- Along with singletrack, mountain bikers also need freeride trails. Description of freeride trails.
Click the picture for a larger view. Most mountain bikers don't call the Iron Horse a trail. It is considered a gravel road or a path. It IS an important part of our recreational infrastructure, but doesn't meet the needs of mountain bikers.