Understanding Trail Features


If you’re new to mountain biking the terms used to describe trails, equipment and skills can seem pretty impenetrable. In this feature we’ll get you up to speed quickly on the main trail obstacles you’ll encounter

Unpicking trail chat with our trail features jargon-buster

Mountain biking is full of jargon and, particularly when you are learning how to mountain bike or travelling to ride your bike, you find that different people have different terms for the same thing, whether it be trail features, riding style, bike parts…

Sadly we’re not going to be able to de-mystify every gnar-tinged biking term in just one blog so, we’ll focus here on what we think is the most useful ‘glossary’ to have; that of the various trail features you might come across when riding  with us on our mountain biking adventures around the world.

So, bags zipped up, gloves and race-face on – here we go!

  • Switchbacks: Where the trail will turn 180 degrees on a tight corner. These are especially noticeable in the South of Spain, where many of the trails have been walked into the mountainside by goats and mules.
  • Rolldown: Is where the trail drops significantly, but you are able roll down with both wheels firmly on the ground. You’ll see examples of these on our EWS Travel mountain biking holiday in Finale Ligure, Italy.
  • Drops: A drop is where the trail falls away sharply, where you are not able to roll the bike down. You have to carry enough speed to allow both wheels to hit the landing at the same time. If you join us Ecuador, you’d better be confident with drops!
  • Doubles: This is an advanced trail feature, it is effectively a jump, with a take-off and a landing, but the middle ground in between has been dug out, so no safe rolling option, you must jump.
  • Table tops: These trail features can be mixed up with doubles, the main difference from a double is that you can safely ride over a table top with both wheels firmly on the ground, and/or practice your jumping, before progressing to ‘doubles’.
  • Berms: A bermed corner is where the corner is built up higher on the outside of the corner than it is on the inside, just like on indoor track cycling (velodromes). A well-built berm is a joy to ride and you’ll find plenty on our Yukon adventure in Canada.
  • Flat cornering: Flat corners are just a normal corner, but can be a bigger technical challenge than a bermed corner, as you need to weight the bike properly to avoid the tyres losing grip.
  • Rock gardens: These can be found mostly on halftrack and singletrack, they are like a load of head-sized rocks that have been spilled onto the track. They can be fixed or moving underneath the bike and can vary in length. Rocks are a big feature on our Highland Odyssey adventure in Scotland.
  • Step ups: A step up could be a at the side of the road, over a fallen tree, all the way through to a large rock placed in the middle of the trail. You often need to employ both the front and rear wheel lifting technique to achieve this trail feature.
  • Water bars/ drainage ditches: These come in all shapes and sizes and are designed to allow water to drain off the trail efficiently, so that they don’t turn into a river. They can be found on climbs and descents, especially on our coast-to-coast Scotland adventure, and require the ability to lift your front and rear wheel to avoid punctures. For more hints on how to ride these ‘wheel catchers’ then check out our guide Mark’s top tips.
  • North Shore/ boardwalk: First developed in British Columbia, North Shore is a trail that has raised up above the ground, generally made of wood, to avoid boggy sections that would otherwise be unrideable.

If you’re new to the sport you might not be riding all of these trail features just yet but with this quick guide you’ll at least be well equipped to talk about them. From there it can only be a short matter of time before your sending those drops like pro.

If we’ve missed any of your favourite trail jargon or obstacles then let us know and we’ll see you on the trails soon!

Trail features - piecing it all together