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Dirt Bike Trail Building Tips For Awesome Single-Track

Building dirt bike trails is a pain in the butt, unless you have big equipment. But if that’s the case, you wouldn’t be reading this right now. I’m here to show you how to make trails with tools you should already have hanging on the garage wall or rotting in the shed.

For years I had a dirt bike and didn’t realize what all I had. I thought our 15 acres of woods was a road-block to my dirt biking….. that is, until a couple years ago.

I started clearing some brush and small trees to ride through on my dirt bike. Wow, was I surprised at how fun it was to whiz past trees going up, down, back, and forth.

It was already Fall, so I only had a couple months before it would snow, but that didn’t stop me. I went out and worked for hours on end, often several times a week.

DSC 0547 Dirt Bike Trail Building Tips For Awesome Single-Track
Trail riding in the backyard on my CRF230F

Outline Trail Map

The first thing I had to do, though, was make an outline or layout of where I wanted the trails to go. The best way to lay out your dirt bike trails is to walk it first to get an idea of where you want to go, trying to avoid large trees and big piles of brush. I put my starting/entry points close to our house or some place that’s easy to connect the end of the trail.

I try to make our trails compact so I can squeeze as much in as possible, while not making it too tight. Building it with long straights (doesn’t have to be as straight as an arrow) with switchbacks/180 degree turns is probably the best way to get the most mileage out of your woods.

dirt bike trail building tips
Trail Map Layout

When walking your woods the first time look for objects (such as logs or rocks) or hills that you can work into the trails to make it more exciting. It’s always easier to build a trail that’s already been started for you, so look for open lines that deer or other furry creatures have made. Doing this can and will save A LOT of time, trust me!!

Use Elevation When Possible

Since we live on farm-land it’s hard to find elevation changes and hills, and if I do happen to find some I make sure to add that section in the layout for future trails. If you have elevation changes or dried up ravines, be happy because they’re hard to come by and are very useful!

Dirt Bike Trail Marker
Dirt Bike Trail Marker

Once you get an idea of a trail layout, walk it a second time, but with markers. I use colored paper and rip it into smaller pieces, but you can use things like plastic ribbons, paint, tires, or anything that’s bright and noticeable. I staple them on trees right next to the spot of the trail I want every 30-50 feet, or whenever there’s a substantial change in the trail (turn).

DON’T Forget!!!

I made one of the BIGGEST mistakes when building my dirt bike trails for about a year!! I need to let you know so that you don’t make the same mistake that will cause your trails to be boring and almost worthless for a dirt bike. When mapping out your trails with markers, it’s REALLY easy to miss-judge a turn and make it too sharp or too small. It’s best if you ride a turn if possible before clearing it out.

Corners can really make or break your trails because they make the flow, and unfortunately I did not realize this until I filled almost half of our woods up….. Oh well, you learn best by your mistakes. But hey, at least they’re good for pit bikes! I’ll cover this and other issues more in future trail building articles.

Brush Cutter For Building Dirt Bike Trails Dirt Bike Trail Building Tips For Awesome Single-Track

If you have woods, don’t hesitate! Start mapping out and building some dirt bike trails in your free time (If the brush/weeds are too thick then use a Brush Cutter, it makes your job a lot easier). It’s hard work, but the benefits are well worth it, and your riding buddies will love you!

Riding your dirt bike through the trail is one way to clear it, but that may not be possible if there’s too much brush and foliage in the way.

Clearing the trail for riding your dirt bike

Clearing a section of dirt bike trails is tedious work. There is often a lot to move or cut out of the way, even if you’re just making single track. There are many ways to do it. The easiest is to bulldoze it over or ride over it with a 4 wheeler, but I’m here to help you build trails with cheap tools.

It took a long time and many wasted hours of trying to figure out what routine works best when clearing a section of trails, but I finally figured it out. I was too picky in the early stages of making dirt bike trails because I was trying to get rid of all the sticks on the ground, as well as RAKING LEAVES!!! That’s right, I actually raked leaves. I cannot believe how many hours I wasted trying to rake every last leaf off of the trail just so I could see dirt! That wouldn’t fly, so I quit raking my time away…

Bow Saw Dirt Bike Trail Building Tips For Awesome Single-Track
Bow Saw

Once you made a layout for your trails, the first thing you should do is clear the big stuff. Use a Hand Saw/Bow Saw (amazon) to cut down trees that are up to about 5″ (13cm) in diameter that are in the way. If they are much bigger then the easiest thing to do is go around them if you don’t have bigger equipment. Next thing is to get rid off any hanging or fallen branches that you don’t want on the trail. Move them to the side of the trail, use them as a border, or make an obstacle out of them. That goes for fallen trees as well.

Dirt Bike Trail Building Clearing The Trail
Clearing The Trail

After you get the big stuff out of the way it might be time to get out the dirt scooter. Ride over the trails to see how it is. Be prepared to make adjustments because you will often miss things.

Different climates call for different actions. Where I live the main problem I have after clearing the big things in the trail is thorns and weeds.

I find that it works the best to trim them just enough so that you can ride through the trails without getting too scraped up. The thorns in our woods can get really thick and tall, so I sometimes have to spend a whole day going through a section trimming them.

Knowing the land

After long and hard work of building a loop of riding trails, it’s a blast to get on them right away. Unfortunately, they will quickly get boring…. That is, unless, you incorporate some obstacles in them. These “obstacles” can range from: fallen trees, to large rock sections, all the way to rutted hill-climbs with a combination of logs, rocks, and tree trunks all the way up.

For most of us that don’t have machinery that can move and haul equipment and obstacles as such, we have to get more creative. Depending on how technical you want your trails to be, the goal is to make the trail so that you can incorporate as many obstacles as possible with minimal/no effort in moving them. I try to make it so that if there is a large/difficult obstacle, such as a downed tree, I make a line that goes over it, as well as one that can go around for less-experienced riders (if possible).

Always be on the lookout for more/better trails

Even if you have a trail loop already, you can still go back and scrutinize what you can add to the trail. Who knows, you may find an even better route than what you had before. Go ahead and change it up if that’s the case, even if you didn’t find any obstacles to include.

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Single track trails at home

What I try to look for are some nice rounded logs/downed trees, long fly-aways, steep hills/hill-climbs, valleys, and anything else that will mix it up, while still keeping the trail flowing, which is key (more about that in a later article). For logs, I usually make the trail go perpendicular over them (better for beginners), and sometimes stack them up in a pyramid-like shape to make it more challenging.

If there are any hills, I look for a line to make a sweeping corner that turns and goes up the hill. Once I get near or to the top, I make a 180 degree turn to go back down, if possible. It’s hard to tell you what to look for exactly, since every woods is different. You just have to look for lines that connect and flow well, and possibly include obstacles.

Next step in building your dirt bikes trails is marking where the actual trail will go. Using elevation makes adds a lot of fun to trail riding, but there’s one key mistake that I made when I first started building dirt bikes trails. To learn more about making the trail layout click here.

Getting rid of thorns for your single-track dirt bike trail

If there’s one thing I hate the most when it comes to building dirt bike trails, it would probably thorns. Where I live, they’re everywhere, and often difficult to get rid of.

You know what I’m talking about if you have them or have ridden through them before. It hurts, especially when he thorns are as high as your head. Getting rid of them is the worst part. It gets very annoying when you’re out in the middle of summer trying to cut thorns down when it’s blistering hot out and they just keep poking you. There are ways to make this process easier, quicker, and get around it at times.

Don’t Call Me A Wuss!

I realize that some of you may be thinking to yourself, “Why don’t you just ride over the thorns, you big baby?!” That’s fine, because if I didn’t know any better I would be thinking the same thing. But the thorns on our land aren’t one foot in height. No, they’re often four feet tall, so they get in your face, scratch up your arms and neck. So once the day is over you are more red marks than not.

How To Get Rid of Thorns Dirt Bike Trail Building Tips For Awesome Single-Track

I would prefer to use big and heavy artillery, such as a bobcat with brush-cutting attachments to mow thorns and weeds down, but that just isn’t probable with the current economy right now. So, instead I’ve thought of other ways to do it with cheap equipment (some of which you might already have).

Suit Up For War…

When tackling sharp and tall thorns, you don’t go out in shorts, sandals, and a beater. No, you will want to wear thick jeans, a long sleeve shirt, and work boots. I know you may say that it’s unbearable to wear that much clothing in the heat of the day, but there are ways to get around this; more on that later. Besides, it better to sweat a little than bleeding your guts out. Some work gloves will also be useful so you don’t tear up your precious hands.

What Tools?

Hedge Shear 1 Dirt Bike Trail Building Tips For Awesome Single-Track

There are many tools that you can use to cut down thorns and weeds, but I try to make it as easy as possible. So, after suiting and booting up I took our old (and I mean old) hedge shear, which are fairly heavy duty and started cutting away. I already had my trails marked (click here for previous article Making The Layout), so I just trimmed the thorns and weeds to make about a 2-3 foot wide path.

I didn’t take the time to get rid of every last inch of thorn on the trail, but I did cut most of the down close to the ground. They will grow back, so after cutting a good section of trails I hop on my dirt bike and ride over them about a dozen times to rip the rest of it up.

To Make Things Easier

I love it when there is an easier way to get a job done, especially when it’s just as good or better! I figured out, not that this should be surprising, it’s A LOT easier to cut and trim thorns/weeds during the fall and spring seasons. You can do it in the winter as well, but here it’s not very probable because we get quite a bit of snow here. When everything is dead/cold it will break more easily, so cutting them will take less strength and go by much quicker. Riding over thorns when it’s cold out really speeds up the trail building process because the tire really tears them up.


Saturday 1st of February 2014

Tom this (and the other trail building articles) is a huge help for people creating their own trails out of nothing. I have memorized everything and i will put it to great use.


Monday 7th of May 2012

Thanks for this! I am thinking about making a little single trail near my house, It isn't a big area but just something to practice on during the week when I'm not doing anything else. Weekends I go places to ride anyway.

Kelley Fager

Monday 7th of May 2012

Awesome, glad it helps!