...oh no you didn't!

Trail Etiquette

Well, it’s obvious that the season has officially started...the weather is finally “less fickle” and the temperatures are consistently warm enough for shorts and short sleeve jerseys every ride.  That being said… I think it’s time for a reminder.  

Our sport has grown amazingly fast over the last few decades...hell...who am I kidding...over the last 5 years!!!  As a result, I’ve personally seen a few of the “growing pains” that accompany that rapid expansion.  Some people have forgotten (or were never taught) that we aren’t the only trail users.  The majority of the areas we ride are shared use trail areas, and a lot of riders don’t acknowledge that...which leads to potential conflicts with other trail users.  I’ve attached a link to the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) Rules Of The Trail, below.  This has been in existence since when I first started riding back in the early 90s and it hasn’t changed.  I just don’t think it’s being taught anymore...and it should be. 

There is actually a system of trail etiquette that was established many moons ago for the sport of mountain biking.  Actually, not so much just for the sport of mountain biking as much as for all trail users so that we can all get along with minimal conflict. 

For those with a short attention span who don’t want to read the whole document (although I highly recommend that you do), here’s my top 3 that are most important to follow and the reasons why.


Ride on open legal trails only:

  1. Rogue trails that were cut without the approval of the local land manager are a quick way to get MTBers kicked out of an area where they were once welcomed.
  2. Also, “shortcutting” and going off route is damaging to the local ecosystem and approved trails were designed with the intent to minimize adverse effects on it.  Shortcuts typically are not and in many cases lead to erosion among other detrimental conditions.

Ride in control

I’d have to say that this has got to be self-explanatory but…

  1. Don’t ride beyond your abilities
  2. Don’t ride in a manner that puts other trail users at risk…(more on this with the next rule)

Yield to other riders and trail users

  1. Hauling ass down a trail into a group of hikers is not a good look.  Especially when you consider that there are more than a few hikers that don’t believe bikes belong on trails in the first place. Don’t give them a reason to be “right.” 
    It’s inevitable that at some point, you WILL startle a group of hikers at some point on a ride.  Acknowledge it. Greet them, apologize and bid them a good hike and be on your way.  Simply being polite could be the difference between an incident that will be forgotten quickly vs a trail conflict that gets us kicked out of a prime riding area.
  2. This one is a biggie.  The most overlooked/forgotten tenet of MTB etiquette that I’ve seen in recent years is that of uphill rider vs. downhill rider.  Short and sweet...unless you’re on a trail that has been marked as a downhill only trail, the UPHILL RIDER HAS RIGHT OF WAY.
    Please respect that.
    It’s a true dick move to play chicken for trail rights while one of you is working hard fighting against gravity and the other is simply enjoying the benefits of it’s effect.  In this instance, the downhill rider is expected to stop, move to the uphill side of the trail and clear a path for the climbing rider to pass unimpeded
    Incidentally, all bikers are expected to the same thing when encountering hikers going either direction.  In many instances, an opposing rider, or a hiker may waive their right of way politely and that is fine...just acknowledge that they are doing so and thank them for it.  It will go a long way in ensuring happy trail users of all sports. 
  3. Oh...and let’s not forget equestrians.  Long and short of this one...DON’T SPOOK HORSES.  You spook a horse and get a rider thrown, and you could be looking at liability issues that could have been avoided. 
    Cyclists always yield to horses...period.  If you approach an equestrian from the front, slow to a stop and openly communicate with the rider.  They know their animal and will either stop and direct you to continue, or they will acknowledge you and simply ride past. 
    When approaching equestrians from the rear, immediately slow down and try to maintain a safe distance from the animal.  Horses are a prey animal and do not like being approached from behind, and getting kicked by a horse will ruin your day quick.  Once you’ve slowed and have established a safe distance behind the horse, communicate with the rider and they’ll work with you on finding a safe spot to pass. 

So that’s about it...I know this may seem a little restrictive but don’t lose sight of the fact that there are a lot of people who love to get outdoors on our local trails and all of us move at different speeds ranging from walking pace to pretty damn fast.  Not establishing some type of trail etiquette and usage hierarchy in that environment is a recipe for disaster and discontent.  No one needs that. 


Additional Resources for Trail Etequitte