Mountain Biking Trail Etiquette

Do’s and Don’t ‘s While Mountain Biking

Mountain biking is a dangerous activity. But more so because more and more mountain bikers take their bikes onto trails that are also used by hikers, runners, horseback riders, and other mountain bikers.

Few trails are exclusive set aside for mountain biking. The majority of trails that allow mountain biking primarily came to being because of the efforts of hiker and environmental groups and started out as hiking trails. Many of theses trails have been closed to mountain biking due to safety and environmental impact concerns.

In order to lessen the risk of having mountain biking banned from traditional hiker trails, every responsible mountain biker that cares about mountain biking should practice common trail courtesy and etiquette while riding shared or multi-use public trails to ensure the safety and enjoyment of the trails for all users by follow these customs and rules of the trail:

Yield To Horses

On shared trails, horseback riders have the right of way over mountain bikers and hikers.

Don’t zoom pass a horse. Horses have difficulty recognizing humans on bikes as humans and may become frightened and throw its rider, causing injury or death.

If you are approaching horseback riders head-on, pull several feet to the side of the trail and dismount your bike at least 30 feet from the horses and stand between your bike and the horses. Get out of shadows so the horses can see you. Take off your helmet so the horse can see your face and talk to the rider in a relaxed tone as the horse gets closer.

If you’re approaching horseback riders from behind, stay at least 30 feet behind the last rider. The riders may pull to the side of the trail if they hear a bicycle approaching from behind but don’t assume that it is safe for you to ride by. Stop and call out for instructions from the rider. You may be asked to get off your mountain bike and walk by the horses pushing your bike. If you are asked to ride pass the horses, do so at a slow pace and avoid making sudden movements or noises that might spook the horses.

Yield To Hikers

Hikers also have the right of way over mountain bikers on multi-use trails. Slow down as soon as you see a hiker or runner on the trail in front of you, even if you think there is plenty of room. If the trail is too narrow for both you and the hiker, then you must yield the right of way to the hiker.

If a hiker moves out of your way when he sees you coming, he may be doing so in fear and may believe that he is being run off the trail by a mountain biker and prompt a letter of complaint to the management of the trail. Perception is important. Do everything you can to give other trail users the impression that you are a responsible mountain biker.

If a hiker move aside for you and waves you to pass, say thank you as you pass; if he doesn’t move aside, you must pull off to the side of the trail and stop to let him walk by you, as you are supposed to. Be polite and friendly and make small talk as he passes by.

When you are approaching hikers from behind, call out and let them know you are coming. Let the hikers’ action tell you what you should do to pass them. If they move over to the right side of the trail, slow down, call out “passing on your left” and pass the hikers slowly. Thank them as you pass. If the hikers seem to stop dead in the middle of the trail, stop behind them and ask politely if you may pass on their left. Again, thank the hikers as you pass.

Be careful using the commonly used cycling phrase “on your left” with hikers. Not all hikers are cyclist and know what “on your left” means. You may confuse a hiker and actually cause them to move to the left and cause an accident.

Be especially alert around toddlers. They will do unexpected things when you least expect them to. Unless the toddlers parent give you definite indication that it’s safe to pass, slow down to a walk or dismount and walk your bike pass the child. Remember, if you hit a child with your bike because the child ran in front of you, it is your fault.

Yield To Other Mountain Bikers

Mountain bikers going uphill have the right of way over riders traveling downhill. If a trail is wide enough for only one bike, you must stop and move aside to let uphill riders pass if you are traveling downhill. It’s harder for a rider going uphill to restart his climb then for a rider going downhill to restart his decent. It is just common sense – common courtesy.

When approaching and overtaking slower mountain bikers from behind, alert them of your presence, and the number of other riders in your group, in advance as not to surprise and startle the other riders. Don’t assume that they can hear you coming. Chances are they can’t hear your road noise over their own road noise. Call out” on your left” or “passing on your left” and be sure that they understood your warning or alert before passing. Never pass without giving a warning to avoid accidents and do not pass on the right.

If you hear or see other bikers coming up behind you, pull as far to the right of the trail as you can and let them past.

Always approach blind curves with caution and slow down. Give yourself time to stop in anticipation that other trail users may be just around the corner or in blind spots. A bell is handy to have on your bike for these situations. You can also “click” you brake levers or give some verbal signal to let others know that you are there.

Don’t tailgate the rider in front of you. Leave yourself enough distance from the rider in front to stop in case the rider in front slows down, stops or crashes. When you are riding behind another rider, don’t make him feel like you are going to crash into him if he slows down or make a sudden stop on the trail.

Don’t Block The Trail

Don’t block the trail if you have to make an emergency stop, taking a lunch break, or stop to read the trail map. Get off your bike and stay as right to the right of the trail as possible to let any passing riders’ access to the trail.

Stay On Open Trails Only

Stay on marked trails and don’t make new ones. Respect trail and road closures – they are closed for a reason. Respect private property rights and do not trespass. Federal and state protected wilderness areas are off limit to mountain biking.

Leave No Trace

Keep the trail in good condition for other riders. Avoid riding after rain when the trails are muddy. Don’t skid, especially when the trails are muddy, which leaves grooves on the trails that increase erosion.

Don’t Litter

Pack out what you pack in. better yet, pack out more than what you pack in. Pack a garbage bag with you on your rides. Pick up garbage that you spot along your ride and help keep the trail clean.

Mountain biking is an inherently dangerous sport. As a responsible rider you need to follow trail etiquette and safety rules so as not to contribute to the danger for your fellow riders. Remember that mountain bikers share the trails with other users that made these trails accessible to mountain biking in the first place. Impolite, unsafe riding is not only rude and dangerous, but presents mountain biking in a bad light and may causes other users to work toward banning mountain bikers’ access to trails.

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