Bentonville, Arkansas

Bentonville: Building the First Adaptive MTB Jump Trail


, by Greg Heil

Photo by Dale Tropp, courtesy of the Trailblazers

The town of Bentonville, Arkansas, is striving to become the go-to destination for almost every type of outdoor adventure athlete imaginable. Their goal? Help the state of Arkansas create a larger outdoor recreation economy than Colorado.

Their efforts began with mountain bike trails and have since expanded to other sports such as trail running, rock climbing, whitewater paddling, and more. However, even within the vast sport of mountain biking, there are many different types of riding and different subgroups of riders, including some user groups that have historically been underserved.

One such chronically underserved user group is adaptive mountain bikers.

Photo by Dale Tropp, courtesy of the Trailblazers

Adaptive mountain bikes (or aMTBs for short) come in all different shapes and sizes to serve adaptive athletes with a wide range of different physical needs. Most often, they feature a three-wheeled design, with two wheels in front and a single wheel in the rear. Depending on the rider's needs and physical capabilities, they are often propelled with a hand crank, with the rider lying flat on their stomach. While aMTBs have been around for decades, in recent years, the technology has improved at an astronomical pace. Most notably, the advent of ebike motors and powertrains has been revolutionary for many adaptive riders, although some still prefer to be 100% human- or gravity-powered.

Thanks to a culmination of many factors, adaptive mountain biking is currently experiencing a renaissance, with athletes such as Jeremy P. McGhee pioneering aMTB-specific trail ratings and helping trail advocates and land managers retrofit existing trails to be aMTB-friendly.

That's where Bentonville comes in.

The Trailblazers—Bentonville's nonprofit multi-use trail advocacy group—has contracted Jeremy P. Mcghee and Brian Carlson to help them identify limitations in their trail system that could be tweaked slightly to allow aMTB access. This doesn't mean dumbing the trails down—most adaptive riders love the challenge of techy trails as much as anybody! Rather, the limitations are most often choke points and unnecessarily narrow features that can easily be widened to permit an aMTB to pass without negatively impacting the character of the trail.

But Bentonville is going one step further by building what they claim to be the first mountain bike jump trail optimized for adaptive mountain bikes.

Photo by Dale Tropp, courtesy of the Trailblazers

Granted, adaptive riders have been sending insane jump lines for years, including the infamous A-Line in Whistler (video here). But when the Trailblazers were filming and observing adaptive athletes sending some of Bentonville's best jump lines at the Oz Castle Hub, they noticed something interesting. "We watched. . .this big long train of adaptive riders go through one of our blue jump trails, and we noticed through getting the photography back that everyone was just getting bucked and sent [on] a weird trajectory," said Uriah Nazario, Director of Soft Surface Trails for the Trailblazers. "And so, we looked at it, studied it, and started working with our consultants and asked, 'hey, do you want to be a guinea pig and let us test these jumps, the faces of these jumps, and see what can work with your wheelbase?'"

Most adaptive mountain bikes feature very long wheelbases, which don't seem to mesh well with the way most mountain bike jumps are built. So, the Trailblazers have decided to craft a jump trail with takeoffs and landings that are specifically sculpted to accommodate these longer wheelbases.

In order to make the jumps aMTB-friendly, they'll start with a tabletop design to eliminate any unnecessary risk as compared to a gapped feature. There won't even be a steep knuckle on the lander and will instead have a more gradual transition into the landing zone. But most importantly, "we are also relaxing and elongating the [takeoff ramps], creating this nice even radius for the adaptive bikes because they have a longer wheelbase, [so] there's no extreme compression for their shocks or anything that's going to affect the trajectory," said Nazario. With extended takeoff ramps, adaptive riders will be able to launch smoothly into the air. To picture this, think of the difference between a kicker that you might have once hit on your BMX bike compared to a massive wedge-style booter that snowboarders use to send huge hits in the backcountry.

Beyond designing the individual jumps to work well on their own, the entire trail needs to work together cohesively and predictably. "We can build continuity into this trail," said Nazario, "so there's a continuous progression on these jumps. It's like, 'Hey, if I came up short on the first jump, I need to go a little bit faster to clear the second jump,' or, 'Hey, I feel comfortable on the third jump, so now it's time to try to clear the fourth jump.' By doing that, we create this continuity, and then it translates over to the next trail. So if you finished the last jump and you cleared it, you're ready for the next trail. It's kind of like a graduation."

Photo by Dale Tropp, courtesy of the Trailblazers

One final factor that will enable this jump trail to better accommodate aMTBs is the incorporation of flat sections of trail below the bermed corners. On many current jump trails, if a three-wheeled aMTB runs out of speed on a steep berm, they can (and have) tipped over and rolled down the berm. Incorporating a section of flat trail below the berm is an example of an easy fix that won't negatively affect any riders on two-wheeled bikes but will prove to be a massive boon for some adaptive mountain bikers.

Above and beyond adaptive mountain bikes, this new trail will also fill a gap in the jump progression at the Oz Castle. Currently, there's a massive jump in difficulty between the green trail and the blue trail, and this new addition will fill the gap in the middle. Even though it will be optimized for adaptive riders, mountain bikers of all stripes are guaranteed to enjoy this trail!

While the Trailblazers contract out many of their projects to professional trail building companies, they're choosing to keep the construction of this jump line in-house. By having their own employees build this line, it will enable them to tweak it over time to get it absolutely perfect. "We may have to go back and refine this multiple times to get it right," said Nazario. Remember, this type of project has never been attempted before. "It's a very long, arduous trail building [process] from that perspective. A for-profit trail builder would have a hard time because they're trying to set a schedule months in advance. It's like, 'Hey, no, this needs to be redone and this needs to be redone, this needs to be redone.' And it would cause a lot of tension and aggravation, whereas our own in-house team can simply dedicate more [time] and really refine the trail before it goes up for public consumption," he explained.

The Trailblazers will be breaking ground on this innovative jump line around the time this article goes live, with a projected finish date shortly before an adaptive mountain biking festival that Bentonville is hosting in October during their sublime fall weather. What better time to plan a getaway to Arkansas?!

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