NOBL Trail Love

Builder Feature

Michael McKenzie

Thunder Bay, Ontario
Blacksheep Mountain Bike Club
Featured Trail: Drift

Those who have had the opportunity to visit Thunder Bay know that it’s situated in some of the most beautiful geography on the planet. With the rugged shoreline of Lake Superior to the south and true classic Ontario wilderness to the North, It creates a perfect canvas to build the perfect mountain bike experience.

Michael originally joined us here in Canada for school, and quickly integrated himself into his local trail association. From there, his passion and hard work have been instrumental in expanding the local trail networks and creating opportunities for all riders.

Who are you? What’s your story?

I’m a 23 year old filmmaker and photographer living in Thunder Bay, Ontario. I moved North 5 years ago from Iowa for school and fell in love with the untouched terrain and tight-knit outdoor communities. After relocating I became involved with the local mountain biking club Blacksheep, this year marks my 4th year on the board of directors.

Currently we are working on funding our Trail development master plan which will add 15km of trail and a bike park to our trail system.. This past year trail building has been even more important to me as I was diagnosed with MS. Trail building gave me the escape from reality to be able to just focus on the simple task of making an awesome trail. Being able to go out into the woods and work with the natural terrain to sculpt a unique line is magical. After a trail is finished hearing laughter and excitement from riders enjoying your work is the ultimate award. I hope my trail building continues to get people outside and spend time with their friends in the woods!

Describe Your Trail

The 1.5km long trail starts off with a long flowy descent with 2 large optional features, a rollable drop to berm followed by a shark finned drop. Shortly after that you are met with some large berms and rollers and the frequent optional rock huck. Following that you cruise through a pedally section to get to an open section in the woods full of S-berms. After that you cruise up and down a beautiful side slope above a swamp on a section full of hidden doubles and tabletops which are just as fun to roll as they are to jump. Then you drop into a steeper descent with an optional rock kicker you can send as deep as you wish followed by an optional lip to make a 20ft tabletop or a long roller. This spring we’ll be adding a 4ft drop as an optional line before the 20ft tabletop that you’ll have the option of dropping in from up above the trail leading into the tabletop. Following that, the trail dances around the woods with rollers and berms taking you to the end. Once here you could turn around and enjoy the trail the other way with a couple of extra option rock lips you passed on the way down.

Drift on

What inspired you to create it?

In designing this trail we were looking to build in a new section of the woods that had a lot more open space and amazing dirt, which is rare in our trail system. Most of our woods is full of shale and packed with balsam thickets. I wanted to take advantage of the abundance of good soil to create a flowy trail packed full of large berms, rollers, and optional features so any group of riders of all skills can share a great time together. We also wanted to be able to make this trail bi-directional but still a blast both ways so it could serve as a way back up when we finish a nearby downhill trail. This was going to be a first of its kind type of trail for Thunder Bay as the rest of our trails are more old school cross country style tech trails.

What are some challenges?

To make this trail happen we planned to use hours of volunteer work and to hire a machine operator to cut the initial line we flagged and cleared. In the fall of 2018, I started flagging the trail looking to take advantage of as many natural features as I could. Over the winter we secured funding through a grant from the city’s economic development committee so we could start construction in the summer. In the summer of 2019, we headed out to the trail and cleared the corridor. Then our contractor came in to start digging the initial line. As he worked into the fall we started hand finishing and feature building. The machine had pulled out lots of rock so we were able to get creative with optional features. We got about 1/3rd of the trail done before winter hit. In June of 2020 we were finally able to start building again. We did some more hand work with limited crews due to COVID and decided that we should rent a mini-excavator to speed up the process and so myself and another member of the trail committee could gain some more experience operating.

What are the Highlights?

This project would give us the perfect chance to practice building larger features with the machine on an already cut benched out trail. In the week that we had the machine we were able to finish up the trail just before fall to open it to the public. This was the first trail that I got to design in our system and I’m super excited about how it turned out. It’s giving riders the chance to try features in town that we’ve never had before and progress their skills. I’m super excited about getting in there this spring to finish building the optional drop which will be the first in town as well.

Judging panel highlight

“Very detailed, made me want to go ride bikes, dope photos!”
– Jack (Quality Control)

Voting Opens April 9th