- Trail Assist is a new outdoor nonprofit based in St. Louis.
- Trail Assist consists of a network of all-weather boxes that contain bikes supplies to save stranded riders on local trails and cycling routes.
Every biker knows how fast a flat tire can deflate a perfectly good ride. All it takes is one sharp rock or piece of debris, and if you don’t have the right replacement gear on hand, your fun could be over.
Accomplished cyclist and St. Louis resident Christian Hon saw it four days in a row with mountain bikers on the Bluff View/Zombie Trail in Wildwood, Missouri, and then had an idea to do something about it.
“I kept seeing people wheeling their bikes out with flats. The first day, I gave the guy a spare tube and CO2 cartridge [inflator],” said Hon. “The next day, I saw another person and realized I hadn’t replaced the tube and CO2 in my own pack. I ran into people the next two days with the same issue. I said to myself, ‘Why aren’t there tubes out here?’”
Hon’s DIY solution: He purchased several small, weatherproof boxes, filled each one with a 29-inch-diameter tire tube and two CO2 cartridges, and attached them to demarcation posts on Bluff View/Zombie “just to see what would happen.”
Reaction was swift and overwhelmingly positive.
“Within days, someone posted on Facebook, ‘Thank you. You saved my ride,’” said Hon. “I went to the park manager, a little worried I’d get in trouble, and said I would take them down if he wanted. He said, ‘No, I’d like to put more up.’”
It took a “serpentine path” to get Hon’s boxes into other St. Louis County Parks. He had to create a 501(c)(3) organization, called Trail Assist, in order to accept donations to restock the containers, which Hon and his friends do themselves. There are now 10 boxes on Bluff View/Zombie and 10 in Greensfelder County Park. The next step is installation on the mountain bike trails at Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park, Cliff Cave County Park, Sherman Beach Park, and West Tyson County Park.
But Trail Assist is more than just a mountain biking initiative. Hon has received permission from a growing number of residents along popular road cycling routes in Wildwood to place containers on their mailboxes.
“Wildwood is really popular for cycling and group rides, and a lot of people come from pretty far east to participate,” he said. “So, when they’re stuck with a flat, they’re really stuck, especially on a Sunday when a lot of bike shops are closed.”
Hon hopes to keep adding road boxes to other popular cycling routes and has been reaching out to potential participants.
“This is about scale, building enough momentum to cover more areas. We’re all familiar enough with routes that are popular, and there’s no red tape like with parks, so I’m hopeful we could get to maybe 100 boxes installed,” he said. “That would be really effective.”
So far, most people have been “doing the right thing” and sending in funds to replenish the boxes (each one contains a sticker with Venmo and PayPal instructions). Hon says he could use more people to restock the boxes, which has become harder as they spread out. He also hopes to engage more parks’ personnel, maybe adding one to the Trail Assist board as a show of acceptance and support.
“It’s going to take a network to make Trail Assist work,” Hon said. “And if it doesn’t, that’s ok too. I just think it’s a great idea that can save people’s rides.”
If you’re interested in being a box steward of local trails or willing to host a box on your mailbox, there is no cost and the time spent is tax deductible. The best way to voice your interest is through the Trail Assist Facebook page or at trailassist.org.
Author: Brad Kovach is the editor/publisher of Terrain Magazine.