Trail Etiquette 101
Electric-assist mountain bikes have opened up the trails for many new riders, which is a great thing. There’s nothing better than getting more people outside while having fun on two wheels. But, unless you have an experienced friend to ride with, you may be unaware of some longstanding rules of etiquette on the trail. Respecting everything and everyone on the trails helps keep harmony between riders, trails, other users, animals and authorities.
“In some cases, it can also get you bitten, kicked, trampled or gored.”
Many of these rules for trail etiquette and design are derived from the efforts of the International Mountain Bicycling Association, which has tirelessly fought for trail access and bicycle advocacy for 30 years. Similarly, PeopleForBikes, too, is another membership-driven organization that works the government channels to get more access for bicycles. Both groups have been supportive of the influx of e-bikes and deserve the support of cyclists of every stripe.
RESPECT THE LANDSCAPE
When you’re riding singletrack trails, stay on the trail and watch for others who may be slower or riding in the other direction. Always look for signs that may show directions or closures. Don’t ride muddy trails, as this will cause rutting and trail widening, which creates maintenance and political headaches. If there’s standing water, you’re better to ride through it instead of around it if there’s no other trail around. If you have to walk a technical feature or hill, walk over them, not around them.
SHARE THE TRAIL
If you’re on a singletrack trail made for bikes, you merely have to watch out for other riders and/or critters on the track, especially watch sunny spots for snakes. We see rattlesnakes regularly, and we’ve never had one rattle or threaten to strike, because we either carefully go around them on the trail or stop and stand there until they slither out of the way.
Since you’re on an e-bike, if you’re climbing a singletrack and you’re behind someone slower, don’t pass and don’t sit on their rear wheel. Saying hello is always appropriate; you might have a good conversation, and if they’re an experienced rider, they may have tips on riding and/or the area. We’ve learned about new trails this way. If you get to a wider place where you can safely pass, ask if it’s okay to pass them.
Most wider trails and fire roads are multi-use trails, often shared by hikers, bikers and sometimes horses. If you encounter others who are walking, make sure to give them a wide berth (or even stop) and say hello as they pass.
RIDE OPEN AND LEGAL TRAILS
Ignoring signs, poaching trails, building illegal/unauthorized trails or adding unauthorized features can all go against our efforts for more trail access. A few bad apples can spoil the whole bunch. Poorly built features can seriously injure riders or other trail users. If you want to build a new trail, get involved with the local land manager and/or trail stewards. You’ll make friends and help others enjoy the area.
RIDE IN CONTROL
Too much speed, not being attentive and rudeness are the primary causes of conflict among trail users. If you’re at a place where you need to pass, announce yourself (e.g., “on your left”) and/or ring a bell to let others know, and wait for them to move out of the way. You can get a bell that will ring as your bike moves. Also, a good tip is that if you’re riding with a group, tell the others that you pass how many more are behind you. Be especially careful around horses, as they can be highly unpredictable. The best thing to do is to dismount, wait until the horse passes, then resume your ride.
Be especially careful when riding trails with poor sight lines and blind corners or trails you don’t know well. Make sure you can hear what’s going on around you. Here’s another place where a bell comes in handy. We’ve seen a lot of close calls on the trail when somebody is bombing down a trail, especially if they’re listening to music and/or trying to get that Strava KOM (we think multi-use trails should be locked out of Strava).
BE KIND TO ANIMALS
As the saying goes, live and let live. In some places, scaring cattle and disturbing wildlife are serious offenses. In some cases, it can also get you bitten, kicked, trampled or gored.
If you’re going to take your dog with you on the trail, check the local leash laws and make sure your pup is obedient enough to not cause trouble with others on the trail.
Make sure you have the tools and supplies to perform minor repairs. Learn how to fix a flat tire and do some simple repairs. If you’re in a place you don’t know well, download a GPS map of it to your smartphone, because there’s not always a guaranteed signal out there. Riding with friends is always fun and safer, but if you’re going out by yourself, be sure to share your ride plans with someone.
There are many resources online for learning trail specifics (e.g., if they’re directional or closed, etc.). Spend some time looking there beforehand.
If you’re going to be riding for a while, at least bring water with you, either in a bottle or a hydration pack. Take more
than you think you’ll need, because it’s often hotter than you expect, and you’ll still be putting a lot of effort into the fun you’re going to be having out there.
Now that you’re armed with good trail etiquette, get out there and start practicing it!
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