Cody Wilkins has been through St. Louis, Missouri a handful of times, but until recently, he hadn’t entertained the idea of stopping for a ride. To be fair, the city has never been a mountain bike destination for most people.
When I talked with him in early February, he’d just finished up another day digging. He’s been in St. Louis working as a sub-contractor building a dual slalom track, made for all ability levels.
“The midwest is kind of blowing up with trail development,” he says. What may be even more surprising is that Wilkins is helping build a dual slalom track in St. Louis, Missouri under the direction of freeride legend Cam Zink.
Wilkins has been building trails professionally for about a year with the Sensus RAD Trails program, but has been building trails in one way or another since he was 16. He and his brother built jumps in their backyard when they were kids and spent the weekends digging at Plattekill Bike Park in New York. The owner of the bike park had dig weekends, and every day that someone helped dig trail, they would get a day pass to use on another day, and get to ride the remainder of the day after they finished working on the trails.
Years later, Wilkins’ friend growing up, Ray Syron, started working for Cam Zink’s mountain bike grip brand Sensus. Syron let Wilkins know that Zink was looking for diggers on his property in Reno, where he has trails and massive jumps. If Wilkins dug for him, then he could ride the trails. “For me that was a dream come true,” he said.
He spent two days a week on Zink’s property for about year. Wilkins also joined Zink at Rampage one year, and talked to him about starting his own trail business. It can be good business and he had been getting some killer experience on his own and at Zink’s property. Zink didn’t have as much time as he wanted to put into his new RAD trails program though, so he offered Wilkins a position.
“The mission of RAD trails is really to promote progressive mountain bike infrastructure,” says Wilkins. The idea with progressive bike trails, is that someone can start on a green-rated trail and eventually feel comfortable on it enough because of the trail’s design, that they move seamlessly onto harder trails.
While getting trails built is ultimately the goal, the program is as flexible as the title. In their press release when the brand launched a year ago, Sensus joked that the acronym could mean Really Awesome Dudes, Ride After Digging, or a number of other things. Zink launched the RAD trails program a year ago to give back to the next generation of riders, and that can play out in a number of ways. Like any trail building organization, their time is spread doing much more than just digging.
Wilkins says he’s probably done more consulting and fundraising for trails, than digging so far, but things are picking up. He’ll go somewhere for a week and help a city that doesn’t understand how to approach new trails to come up with a master plan. They might not understand what makes a good trail, or a network, or how to get the word out with media. What they do understand is that it is beneficial to have better trails in their neck of the woods.
“Not a single person on the city council that we’re working for has ridden a mountain bike and they’re pushing all these projects through. I think that now they see that it’s actually a ‘thing.’”
The new dual slalom track is located in the new Eureka Bike Park in Eureka, Missouri, just outside of St. Louis. RAD Trails has been working with the city and the local mountain bike advocacy chapter Gateway Off-Road Cyclists to make the park a reality.
In the past year, RAD trails has worked in Reno, (Zink’s home town), they resurfaced the pump track in Ketchum, Idaho, built flow trails in Florida and Missouri, and are helping to put together a mountain bike youth camp in Oregon. Completed jobs turn into new ones through word of mouth, and other trail builders, bike shops, and media attention have all helped RAD Trails get to the next city to dig.
While the mission is similar to something like IMBA Trail Solutions, RAD Trails prides itself on being much more flexible to individual needs. They are set up as a non-profit and since donations have been fairly low, they can contract or sub-contract, and network with other resources in an area to get a job done.
“It gets expensive, and it’s a booming industry right now, and a lot of contractors are trying to make money — and they should be — but in reality a lot of towns and municipalities don’t have a lot of money to make a jump trail, so we work with them to figure out how we can make it happen within their budget. If someone calls us and says ‘Hey, we’ve raised a thousand dollars and want to build a flow trail. Where do we begin?,’ then I want to help them get that flow trail built.”
With each project, Wilkins is trying to make a video to show the completed work, and to let people know that there might be somewhere good to ride in a place that they might not have known about before, like Missouri or Florida. The idea can, of course, help sell a new trail to a city council if they understand the economic impact, but it’s also beneficial for the locals, old and young, who are new to mountain biking.
Kids can progress really quickly, but everyone still needs to start at the bottom, and if there aren’t those trails around, then really there’s not much hope. Technical, hardcore mountain bike trails have been around for decades, and now the flow trails, berms, and skills parks are giving the general public a bigger reason to pick up a bike and try out some jumps.
“These bike parks are a good way to pass the torch to that 18-year-old kid that’s looking for a passion project, or a 5- or 6-year-old that is looking for their calling.”