In my 20+ years of mountain biking and competing around the world, I’ve had the good fortune to set my knobby tires on singletrack in some awesome places. Even though these countries have different languages, cultures, cuisines, wildlife and sometimes their cars drive on the opposite side of the road than I’m used to, all of them seem to be on the same page when it comes to trail etiquette. It’s kind of nice to know that no matter where you ride your bike on the planet, you already have a shared understanding with your fellow riders.
For people who are new to mountain biking, there are so many things to learn, from shifting to braking, body position to pedaling efficiently, the stuff that is going on between just you and your bike can take up all of your attention and it’s easy to forget about all of the other stuff going on around you. It’s important to realize, however, that you’re sharing the trails with others and there are certain (sometimes written, but often unwritten) rules and general etiquette that you should follow to be a responsible rider.
Greet fellow trail users. It’s just common courtesy. Whether it’s saying “Hi”, giving a smile, a nod or a wave (or all of the above), these gestures don’t take much effort and you’re immediately putting everyone at ease. Maybe you startled a hiker and they are about to snap at you for it. A well-timed cheerful greeting could diffuse the situation. Mountain bikers sometimes have a bad rap among other user groups, so we have to work extra-hard to dispel that unfairly earned poor reputation. So, no matter how tempted you are to be aloof and ignore those other guys, be the bigger person and say “Hello”.
Respect signage. Some trails are directional and they will be signed accordingly. And then there’s the dreaded “trail closed” sign. It’s happened to all of us. We climbed all the way to the top of our favourite descent, only to discover it’s closed due to maintenance, construction, logging, fire danger, a local event or one of many other reasons. Be a responsible trail user and choose another option. The trail will be ready for you again when it’s, well, ready. If it’s permanently closed, tough luck. Recall the good times you were able to enjoy when it was open and try and muster some gratitude (It might take a while, because it was a really, really good trail!). Maybe now is a good time to join your local trail advocacy organization to lend the group a more powerful voice when it comes to negotiating trail access.
Get involved. If you spend any amount of time shredding your local trails, remember that they don’t build and maintain themselves and you’re enjoying their awesomeness thanks to the hard work (usually primarily by volunteers) and dollars from others. You’ll be making a deposit in the karma bank, feel better about yourself and hopefully make some great community connections if you donate your time to your local trail group. They usually organize regular trails days that often even include snacks! If you don’t have time to spare, a donation never goes unappreciated. Take things a step farther and join local trail advocacy association to lend another voice to the cause.
Respect the environment and the trail. When you’re riding, practice the “Leave no trace” code of conduct and don’t litter. Beyond that, it’s a big no-no to modify the trail in any way (ie. cutting corners or creating rogue lines, cutting or damaging trees). And always try to adhere to the “Ride, don’t slide” guideline, even though that can be very difficult. It basically means don’t be a jerk and skid all over the place. Respect the hard work of trail builders. If there is debris that has fallen on the trail, it’s always good etiquette to move it aside, if possible.
Ride in control. It’s a good rule of thumb to anticipate that there is someone around that next blind corner (because it’s very likely that there is!) and ride at a speed that will allow you to stop safely whenever you need to. Remember, to hikers, it may seem like you’re going faster than you feel you are, so be mindful.
Right of way. On a two-way trail, the uphill rider always has the right of way. (Imagine how much harder it is to get rolling again if you’re pointed uphill than if you’re headed down.) When it comes to other user groups, unless otherwise signed specifically as a bike trail, other non-motorized traffic generally has right of way, so be sure to yield. If you encounter a horse, dismount and move off the trail to let it by, since they spook easily, which is dangerous for everyone.
Don’t block the trail. Before you drop in, when you get to the end of a trail or if you stop for whatever reason in the middle of it, move yourself and your bike completely off of the trail to avoid getting in other people’s way.
If you’re riding and someone has caught up to you, it means they’re going faster and you should allow them to pass the next chance you get to do so safely. On the flip side, if you catch up to someone, be polite and patient and allow them to indicate when it’s okay to pass. Be sure to leave lots of space and don’t forget to say “Thank you!”
Be prepared. It’s always a good idea to inform yourself of the trail area you’re planning to ride so you’re on top of anything specific you should know about that area, like trail closures, wildlife alerts and weather. If you’re new to a particular riding area, it never hurts to ask a local in the parking lot if there’s anything specific you should be aware of. Chances are, they’ll also give you tips on the best trails. Also, be self-sufficient when it comes to appropriate clothing, water, food and other supplies, as many areas don’t have facilities. Make sure your bike is in good working condition, your phone’s battery is fully charged and you have taken safety precautions, like informing someone of where you’re going, as well as packing basic bike tools and first aid equipment with you.
Now that you have all the tools you need to be a great ambassador for your sport, get out there and enjoy the trails! Don’t be afraid to educate your fellow trail users in a friendly and courteous way if it seems they’re unsure of the protocol.