If you are a skier or snowboarder who happens to mountain bike, you’ll discover there are quite a few similarities in trail etiquette practices between the sports.
These golden rules of the trail ensure everyone has fun, stays safe and enjoys the experience. If we all look out for one another, we’ll have a better day! If you’re just getting started with mountain biking or even if you’re an old trail hound it’s important to know and understand a few basic principles of responsible trail usage. Let’s ride!
BUCKLE UP - Secure Your Bike
Before you even leave, make sure your mountain bike is securely attached or settled on your vehicle. Give your bike a firm shake to ensure everything is safely moored. It’s a bit terrifying to imagine your bicycle or rack parting from your vehicle at high speed. Your bike would likely be destroyed and neighboring motorists would be endangered. A quick dub check can prevent any mishaps before you head for the hills.
TRAIL STATUS - Stick With Open Trails
Ensure you are recreating on open trails and respect any posted trail closures. Trail closures can be initiated for a variety of reasons: aggressive wildlife, wildfire, logging, local events and races, poor conditions, flooding, downed trees, the presence of heavy machinery or trail construction, etc. There’s typically a decent reason for trail closure and it’s up to us users to respect it and ride another day. Note that bicycles are simply not permitted in areas designated as state or federal wilderness, it’s against the law and you may be fined.
Not all trails are open to E-Bikes; if you are an E-Biker, please do your homework and respect the rules of the road. Always take a look at trail signage as some trails will be marked DOWNHILL ONLY and pedaling up these trails puts yourself and speedy downhillers in grave danger. When visiting a new trail, there is often a decent amount of information available online with trail updates by frequent users, so it’s helpful to google your trail of choice before departing.
BE NICE - Say Hello to Fellow Trail Users
When you encounter someone on a trail, it’s nice knowing you already have a bit of common ground around enjoying the great outdoors. Being friendly, saying “Hullo” and shooting out a smile make using trails a positive experience for all. Mountain bikers can sometimes get a bad reputation since we are the fastest trail users. We can often startle hikers, children, walkers and horseback riders. Being friendly and aware of other trail users goes a long way to keeping the trails welcoming and pleasant.
On that note, dearest Strava geeks, your attempts to earn digital accolades do not give you the excuse to charge up on people and act rude. I’ve seen it so many times and it’s simply appalling to think your statistics are more important than treating others with basic courtesy and respect. Common courtesy is more important than virtual badges and KOM ratings.
BLOCKERS - Don’t Be an Obstructionist
Even if you’re confident nobody is coming, it’s best to move yourself and your steed completely off the trail while stopping or resting. It’s entirely possible a much faster rider will come upon you all of a sudden. In the best case, you’ve become a trail nuisance and worst case, you could cause a dangerous crash. Try not to block intersections when gathering with buddies and simply be aware that other users are on the trail.
Much like skiing and snowboarding, it’s highly unwise to plop yourself in the middle of the trail around a blind corner or areas where you don’t have a great sight line into the distance. If you always assume someone is coming and take care to create room for others, you’ll keep the trails safer for yourself and everyone else.
RIDE RESPONSIBLY - Know Your Limits
Much like skiing and snowboarding, you should strive to remain in control and ride within your ability level. Keep an eye out for the siren song of adrenaline and pay attention to your body, your abilities and your equipment. Remain alert for other users out on the trail, know how to handle basic mechanical problems and be prepared for changes in weather or temperature. Also, wear a helmet, duh.
YIELDING - A Guide to Success
Before you even have a chance to yield, ensure that you are on a trail designated for your chosen activity and pay attention to any directional signs. Some trails are only for hikers, others are designated downhill trails where hikers are not permitted. Pay attention to signage and go with the flow!
In general, bikers should always yield to non-bike travelers like hikers, runners or horseback riders. We're the speediest trail users so it is up to us to yield first to all other non-cyclists. Let other trail users know you’re coming with a friendly greeting.
When bicyclists encounter one another, the rider climbing uphill has the right-of-way and the downhill rider should yield, moving off the trail if possible to allow the climber to continue along using their momentum. This is because the downhill rider can easily straddle their bike and continue along with less effort than what would be required by the uphill peddler.
PASSING - Pass With Care
If someone catches up to you, locate a safe spot to pull over and allow them to pass. Faster riders may need to alert a slower rider of their presence and should avoid tailgating, allowing the slower rider to pull over when they’re comfortable doing so. Always say “Thanks!”
A Note on E-bikes
Many trail users are not yet accustomed to sharing space with much faster E-bikes. Thanks to their magical electronic natures, E-bikes are deadly quiet. I can’t tell you how many times an E-biker has snuck up on me and I remained completely unaware. Before I know it, they are inches from my rear wheel and I’m flustered and pissed. E-bikers, please communicate! Use your voice or better yet install a bell and politely warn human-powered bikers of your approach. E-bikes often have a bad rap on the trail and it’s important for these users to understand why and strive to avoid impolite sneak attacks.
LNT - Leave No Trace on the Trail
Keep off muddy or wet trails in order to avoid damaging them. Pack out any trash and avoid trampling plant life or picking wildflowers. You can learn more about solid trail use practices in our Mountain Manners article.
For the sake of every trail user that dipped out into nature to enjoy the scenery and solitude, please do not be the person blasting music on a Bluetooth speaker. Subjecting every other trail user to your musical taste is a risky endeavor indeed. Most trail users don’t appreciate the aural assault so leave the speakers for your backyard BBQ, they should not be used on the trail. Wearing earphones can also endanger yourself and others, it’s best to leave those at home too!
ANIMAL INSTINCTS - The Call of the Wild
Many bike trails are located in areas that wild animals call home or zones where cattle or livestock are on the range. You should always stay alert to avoid frightening or startling an animal, wild or domesticated. Give critters plenty of space and don’t disturb or harass them. Bear bells should be used in bear country and it’s generally recommended to ride with three or more friends.
If you’re a dog owner, strive to train your pup so it’s not a nuisance to other trail users. Ensure your dog is well-trained and under verbal command at all times. It may be impossible for dog lovers to imagine, but not all trail users appreciate dogs so it’s important to keep your dog under control. Ditto for responsibly removing any poop from the trail and disposing of it properly!
Honor and recognize the hard work of your local trail builders. Help remove any debris or fallen branches and consider participating in a dig day. Investigate which groups are diligently maintaining the trails you often use and volunteer your time or money to pay it forward. You’ll meet like-minded community members and can take pride in the trails you most frequently enjoy.
Good Mountain Manners - A Trail Ethics Guide - Click Here
10 Trails for E-Bikes - Click Here