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Mountain Bike Courtesy

Right of Way: who rides, who pulls aside

Let Uphillers Ride!  Because it's harder to restart when riding uphill, bikers have agreed that the uphiller has the right-of-way. Downhillers should pull to the side and let the uphiller ride past. (On the other hand, the purpose of riding is to have fun. Don't be a jerk about right-of-way. A lot of us -- including the UMB riders -- routinely pull off for downhillers when we're riding uphill, because (1) it's easier for us to stop, (2) we see the downhiller before he sees us, (3) we need the rest, and (4) we want the downhiller to have a good time.) If the trail is very wide, the downhiller can pass without stopping, by pulling far right and slowing to a crawl. The uphill rider may "signal" that he plans for you to do this by pulling onto the trail shoulder himself. If two bikers approach each other on the flat, the rider with the most expensive bike has the right-of-way. (Just kidding.) Keep right and slow down. Both bikers should look for a convenient turnout to get off the trail. 

Fair Warning.  When overtaking a biker from behind, always call out a warning. Chances are, he can't hear you over his own tire noise. If you're in a wide area where it's possible to pass, call your lane. Shout "Hi! To your left!" Never pass without warning -- the rider in front may make a sudden move that puts him into your path. And if you're someone who always rides with full-blast ear-buds pumping music, you pretty much deserve an occasional "tire-rub" from the pissed-off rider behind you who's been yelling for the last quarter mile.

Yield the trail to all non-bikers.  That means you stop for all hikers and runners, unless they've already stepped off the trail and given that nod that says "come on down." Get completely off the trail for horse riders -- they need more room than you think. And if you're approaching one of these "right-of-way" users from behind, let them know you're there and ask to get by. Then wait for them to decide how to let you past. Be patient.

Get Out of The Way!  If you hear or see another biker coming up behind you, pull to the side and let them past. This also applies to you hikers and horse-riders: even though you, as a foot soldier or cavalry rider, have the right of way, you're only doing 3 mph. When a 15 mph biker falls in behind you, he has to get past you somehow. If he gets off the bike, he's now going slower than you are. Think he's going to "steeple chase," carrying his bike through the pine trees until he gets past? Just step your butt -- or your horse -- a few feet to the side.

Respect the trail system

Don't Hurt the Dirt! Keep the trail in good condition for other riders. Don't skid: Skidding your tires, whether at a switchback or just stopping, stirs up loose stuff that makes riding harder (and more treacherous) for others. Don't dig: If the trail is so soft that you're leaving marks or ruts, find a firmer trail to ride. If you come to a puddle, don't ride around. That makes it bigger. Either go straight though the middle of the water or get off your bike and tiptoe around it. Don't litter: If you just knocked a big rock or tree branch into the trail, stop and move it off.

Follow the posted rules.  If the trail is marked closed, stay off. If it says "no e-bikes" then find another trail for your e-bike. If it says "no riding when wet" then stay away after that rainstorm. 

Stay on the trail!  Don't cut corners, don't "explore," and don't "freeride" unless the riding area is specifically designated for that. 

Trails are not "Do It Yourself" projects.  Please, please don't build your own new trails on public land. Don't alter an existing trail. Don't build jumps or dig out the rocks you don't like. Unless you're part of an approved trailwork team, leave the trail alone!

Living with Other Trail Users!

Don't Block the Trail.  When making an emergency stop, lunch break, or a pause for trail-guide reference, get your bike, Camelbak, helmet, and butt off the trail. (Everybody forgets this one now and then, so forgive a trail-blocking biker freely. Really, the guy is already embarrassed when he sees you, so there's no need for that snide comment to make him feel worse!)

Always ask if you can help (even if you don't really mean it).  Having read our bike repair pages, you're in a position to help other riders who are broken down. Share your knowledge, and your patches, generously. A quick "Got everything you need?" as you glide by is all you have to do.

On the other hand, leave other riders alone. It usually doesn't improve a stranger's day when you offer unsolicited "constructive criticism." Like, they should get a different brand of tires. Or their seat is set too low. Or they should ride with flats instead of cleats. Yes, if they ask you "How did you clean that ledge so easily?" then that's an invitation to discuss their technique. Otherwise, just nod and say hello as they walk their bike up the rocks past you and resist that temptation to tell them they should get further forward over the handlebars. In particular, beware of uninvited mansplaining of mountain bike technique or equipment to women you don't know personally. This is never welcome, trust me.

Preventing Pissed-off Pedestrians.  To keep trails open to mountain bikes, avoid spooking hikers. Although, technically, the pedestrian has the right-of-way, he will usually be jumping off the trail in terror the second you spot him. A "timber bell" can help if you have the habit of bombing the downhills on multi-user trails. Slow down immediately when you spot a foot soldier. Signal your intention: "Hi! Going right!"  Go past more slowly, and with more clearance space, than you need to. If the hiker moved for you, say thanks. (And if he hasn't already jumped off the trail when you hit the brakes, go to the side and stop so he can walk by, like you're supposed to. And say it's a great day for a hike.) When approaching hikers from behind, call out and let them (slowly, it will seem) move off the trail. Don't try to whoop-de-do the trail sidewalls around a bunch of hikers.

Don't be a Horses Patoot!  Horses are skittish critters. And they always have the right-of-way over bikers. When approaching a rider, slow down and reduce tire noise (don't skid your tires) while still a fair distance away. If you're approaching from the back, stay at least 30 feet behind. Call out and ask when it would be a good time to get by. When the horses are standing by the side of the trail, get off your bike and walk it past them. It's often a good idea to ask if their horses are OK around bikes as you approach. (If the horses are well off the trail -- 20 feet or so -- and stopped where they can see you, you could glide slowly by. But watch for any sign of nervousness from the horses. When in doubt, walk.) When approaching riders head-on, slow as soon as you spot them. Signal your intention: "Hi! Come on by!"  Then stop at least 30 feet before the horses. Step your bike several  feet off the trail, and stand until the horses have walked past. Smile and tell the cavalry to have a nice day.

And don't be a Sphincter-boy! Mountain biking is about having a good time. We all "bend" the rules of trail courtesy now and then, because it's the most practical thing under the circumstances. We've all been the "rule breaker" because we just didn't know. We all mess up. Give other bikers the "assumption of good intentions." Downhiller runs you into the bushes while you're grinding uphill? He might have been riding a bit fast for his line-of-sight, but he just learned his lesson. You don't need to say anything; just give that "yeah you screwed up, buddy" tight smile and let it go. Knobby tires excavated a few pounds of dirt skidding around that switchback? He's a newbie, and it's the best he can do. You don't have to ruin somebody else's day by being the "Trail Policeman." Speaking up is sometimes necessary, and if so, do it kindly and with a smile.

Copyright 2001 Mad Scientist Software Inc