Mountain Biking the Hercules Trail (Loop 5) at Cypress Bend Resort

Cypress Bend Nature TrailCypress Bend Nature TrailIn 2008 I started a little tradition of doing a trip to ride my mountain bike for my birthday. In 2009 I was not well enough for such a trip so I had to skip that year. This year, I chose to ride at Cypress Bend Resort on the trails they just opened this year. It’s about the same distance from me as Tyler State Park and I was hopeful that there might be some good trails there to add to my options.

I have read about some of the details of the trail, but not much as far as opinions on the trail. As for the vital statistics, the resort claims a length of the longest loop (Hercules) at about 6.1 miles with 1000+ft of climbing. That hinted at some pretty hilly terrain. Average race lap times were about 1:13 for the first race in the spring and they’ve done some work since then in hopes of cutting about 10min off of a lap.

As I approached the area, I wondered where the terrain was. On highway 191, it looked like all the rest of East Texas with gradual slopes and gently rolling topography. Nothing special. As I reached the resort, I got into a patch of steeper terrain. At that point I realized how the trail got its large elevation numbers.

We went to the resort check-in desk to sign in on the trail. I had heard the resort had begun charging admission for the trail back in October, but we weren’t charged a dime. I am unsure why. Maybe it’s officially the slow winter season and they just want people to come. Maybe word is not out enough on the trail and they don’t have the traffic they’d like.

Shoe repairPrior to getting started, I checked on a patch I had made to my Lake MX 165 shoes. I noticed after my last ride that a bit of the sole at the toe was peeling back. I used some Elmer’s Craft Bond Polyurethane Glue (similar to Gorilla Glue) for the repair. It took some time, but the way this glue works was ideal for the repair I needed. You see, with a little water, this adhesive is activated into a sticky foamy consistency (somewhat similar to expanding spray foam insulation) and it really forms a tight bond. That way, I didn’t need to clamp the shoe which was in a very challenging spot for clamping. I placed the glue prior to leaving the house. By the time I reached the trail in about 1.5hrs, the glue was beginning to expand getting a little foamy. By the end of the ride, the repair was complete. It filled any voids around the edge of the sole, so there’s nothing to snag on trail debris in the future. Hopefully it continues to hold well. I’ll be keeping some of this glue around full time, I think. I bought the stuff to glue some vinyl outfitting onto my Royalex canoe (vinyl is VERY hard to glue) and I’m hopeful it will make a solid attachment. I had used some other vinyl adhesive before, but it failed miserably within a couple of years.

Sorry for the tangent there, but it’s something important to mention, I think. Lots of people need to repair an expensive pair of shoes that are showing wear a little too early. I really like those Lake shoes, and as you’ll see later on, they made a big difference on my ride at Cypress Bend.

As soon as my wife and I started the trail at Cypress Bend, we noticed something was amiss. There really wasn’t a trail “tread” to speak of. There were dimples and bumps in the trail EVERYWHERE. It took me awhile to figure out why the trail looked the way it did. At first, I thought it might be machine-cut trail that was never followed by hand crews. But it eventually became plainly obvious that the builders never even put that much work into it.

This trail is a terrible example of rake-n-ride trail I’ve ever seen. Now I’ll be the first to admit that rake-n-ride is sometimes your best option. My local trails have a lot of rake-n-ride. We don’t have much topography, and much of what we do have is VERY sandy and it would all wash away if we exposed the mineral layers of that soil. Therefore, we need to leave the organics on it to keep it held together. But we still go through and pack it down and smooth it out to make it ride well. The trails at Cypress Bend…not so much.

The duff is raked off the surface of the “trail” and isn’t even cast about the woods to prevent berms from forming and holding water. Brush and small trees are cut level with the ground. The stumps are not dug out at all. As the trail packs in, these stumps are going to start protruding from the trail making the trail even tougher to ride (and creating impaling hazards in the event of a crash). I was riding a full-suspension and the constant bumping of the dimples was horribly annoying. I could never really sit and pedal even on the flats. On the downhills, the dimples really prevented me from building significant momentum to carry me up the next climb. Because they were so irregular, they really tossed you around a lot. My wife, on a hardtail, had an even rougher time. And both of us were even running larger, lower pressure tires.

The bridges were also pretty hokey out there, but at least they were ridable. Instead of building a real bridge over a stream crossing, builders laid down corduroy across the wet section and put a 2×12 over the corduroy to make it smooth. Kinda like combining corduroy with a puncheon. It would be a fine method in a swampy location with only standing water. However these were used at every stream crossing such that they blocked the streamflow. I wonder how they plan to deal with the eventual swamping of their structures as sediment and debris builds on the uphill side of these resulting in streamflow overtopping the structures in the future. Strikes me as done by someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Either armor the crossing to let riders cross through the water or built a real bridge to allow water and debris to go underneath.

The design of the trail system is poorly conceived, too. To understand it, you need to see a map of the trails.

If you switch to the MyTopo basemap option, you’ll see what I’m talking about. The trail has a strong tendency to go STRAIGHT UP the steepest portions of the available hills. You want to avoid fall line trails since they have a tendency to erode severely. The high point on this trail is the highest point for quite a distance around. There’s a good bit of elevation change here that the trail designers failed to use. I understand that the purpose of the really steep section (measured at around a 30% grade) was to force racers to hike-a-bike for a little while, but this is NOT the way to do it. The soil here has some rock content, but not nearly enough to make slopes that steep sustainable.

The section of trail along the shore of Toledo Bend was an interesting one. It’s the one section of trail that’s really rocky. The designers really could have maximized the use of all those rocks by simply following the shore more, but nada. The designer also lined the downhill side of the trail with rocks in that area. Do they WANT to retain water on the trail?

You don’t see well on the map, but many of the climbs wind up the hills. The designers used climbing turns on some extremely steep slopes on really tight radii. The situations really call for switchbacks but again the designer cheaped out and did the least amount of work possible.

The designer also completely skipped the use of bench cutting on the trail. I realize you don’t need to bench cut EVERYTHING, but the technique is an important one to have in your arsenal of trailbuilding techniques in areas with steep slopes. This area certainly counts. I understand that off-camber sections add technical challenge, but there are times when such sections are inappropriate. For example, there isn’t a SINGLE bench cut on the entire trail. In the case where I mentioned the rocks lining the downhill side earlier, it’s obvious the designer wanted to clearly indicate the route through the rocky portion. A bench cut would have done the job while still allowing the water to move off the trail. Yes, bench cutting takes work in rocky terrain. I’ve spent entire days bench cutting with a pick into solid rock. I know it’s tough. But it works. Some of the off-camber sections occur in areas with a lot of roots running up and down the slope. Tires hit those things and slide downhill until they can get some purchase on soil. Bench cutting gets through those little roots on the surface and gives a bike something solid to ride on.

Cypress Bend Nature TrailAccording to my standards (and those of most trail builders I know), this trail is only rough-cut. There’s a LOT of work left to do here and IMO it shouldn’t even be open to the public yet, let alone open for races (there was a race here just a week ago with multi-thousand dollar payouts). I had to walk a lot of it due to the excessively steep climbs and some of the terrible off-camber sections. My Lake MX 165 shoes really shined. They’re really well-suited to extended hike-a-bike sections like you find here. Not once did I feel a hot spot developing. My wife’s Pearl Izumi shoes had her heels going raw within a mile of the trailhead. We had to spend some time cutting moleskin for her to ward off blisters.

In spite of my criticisms of the trail, it was still better being out here than sitting on the couch all day. But I will not be making this trip again and I won’t be recommending it to any of my friends. The trail boss of my local trail system told me to recon this trail system for suggestions we could use on our own trails. I emphatically state that the builders here could probably learn from OUR trails instead. I certainly won’t be borrowing any techniques from Cypress Bend.

I was able to enjoy myself on this trip by slowing down and just enjoying the weather and the forest. It really was a gorgeous day. It started cold (25 or so), but by midday I was in shorts with my sleeves rolled up. Clear skies with bright sun.

1 comment to Mountain Biking the Hercules Trail (Loop 5) at Cypress Bend Resort

  • Rich

    I just rode the first section of this trail before reading any reviews but didn’t expect very much. It was as expected and nearly unrideable, certainly not much fun. One of the resort managers asked me how I liked the trail and I kindly explained that it was not a trail. I think I hurt his feelings. I really don’t think they have clue. Maybe you could give them some tips.

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