In an ideal world, mountain bike etiquette would be a given. We would all grow up being taught how to be a responsible trail user, knowing that we YIELD to all other users and uphill riders who we encounter on the trail. No mountain biker would ride muddy trails or skid around berms into a group of kindergartners on a field trip to catch butterflies. There would never be sideways looks, scoffs or fingers raised to other users who did not enjoy the trails exactly as you feel they should. We would have an endless ribbon of tacky dirt connecting all aspects of our daily commute and our jobs would be out in the forest void of email, internet and cell signal.
Well, the last part might be unattainable! With a little self-reflection, education, and compassion we as a user group might be able to stop coming across as entitled assholes.
A recent cause for concern
The Kingdom Trails in Vermont – one of the most popular trail systems on the east coast recently received a major blow likely due to entitled riders. If you are unaware, the Kingdom Trails are made up of 90+ private landowners. Three of the landowners revoked their access to mountain bikers (not horse riders or hikers) due to confrontations with mountain bikers while on their own land.
These three pieces of land contain some of the most popular trails and the closure of these to mountain biking will cut off access to many other trails. There is chatter among riders who are already changing their summer plans for travel to the area. The region and surrounding businesses will experience a negative economic impact due to the cancellation of NEMBA Fest. NEMBA fest was the largest annual fundraiser for the Kingdom trails and the largest MTB festival east of the Mississippi.
I think most of us mountain bikers want the same things when it comes to places to ride. Good trail access, well maintained, sustainable, fun, and challenging trails. To have this we need to be respected as a user group. This is the only way we will have a seat at the table in order to maintain and develop future trail access. As riders, we need to earn that respect and show proper etiquette if we want to continue to have great places to ride bikes.
1: having a right to certain benefits or privileges. After having saved the country, ain’t they entitled to help themselves to just as much of it as they want?— Mark Twain
Riding trails on public or private lands is a gift, not a privilege.
We all need to remind ourselves of this from time to time. Ask yourself, do I deserve this gift? Am I part of a strong, well-intentioned community? Is my trail use today hurting my chance to ride again tomorrow?
How we use our trails and communicate with other trail users does have a direct impact on future access and how we as a user group are perceived in the community at large.
Understandably, as traffic on many popular trail systems increases, so do the problems. It’s our responsibility to respect and obey the basic rules of the trail and be courteous to other user groups. It would be amazing to see continued growth of all off-road systems (public and private) to accommodate the expanding group of people who love mountain biking. Unfortunately the shrinking National Forest funding and reliance on volunteers to maintain trails built long ago raise the risk for potential closures. This will only compound the problems, concentrating users to fewer trails.
Mountain Bike Etiquette – Ignoring ANY of these is like saying you don’t give a shit about your trails!
1) Be nice to ALL other users, say hi and wish them well on their outdoor adventure.
Sure, they may have interrupted your flow, but you did theirs as well. Take the opportunity to be friendly, instead of ignoring them. This person might have more in common with you than you think. We all love what the outdoors can do for peace of mind.
2) Slow down! Ride in Control.
It’s terrifying for someone to see a bike coming around a corner and feel like they are going to get hit. Not everyone knows how quickly you can stop or that you have enough room to pass them. This makes for an awkward encounter and makes it difficult to be NICE. Keep in mind your “line of sight.” Can you see far enough around the corner to make it safe for the speed you are going? Try to expect someone to be anywhere on the trail and realize you need to be able to stop.
3) Don’t ride muddy trails, or widen the trail around puddles.
It’s NOT ok to ride muddy trails no matter where you are (see above.) If you are leaving a rut in the mud you are causing damage. Riding around the mud creates wider trails and damages sensitive vegetation on either side of the trail. This encourages other riders to do the same, making the problem worse. If you encounter a puddle or mud bog that is isolated, go through the middle of it and make sure the local trail organization knows about the issue to be repaired.
4) Don’t ride or build illegal trails.
Staying on the permitted trail tread is RESPONSIBLE trail use. Why would YOU personally be entitled to ride trails that others can not? Use your time and effort toward working with your local volunteers who are fighting for YOUR local access. Put your RAD building skills to real use. Remember, just a few irresponsible trail users can ruin access for all (see Kingdom Trails.)
5) Don’t cut sections of trails or make new lines to suit your taste or lack of skill.
Trails have turns in them for a reason – to help with drainage and to help control speed and decrease user conflicts. Use the corners to build your skills.
6) Donate, join or get involved with not only your local trail organization but those of the trail systems you regularly ride.
Get your ass involved with your local mountain bike organization or start one if you don’t have one. A unified voice in your community with an organized club can go a long way in protecting and expanding trails. Your local organization is a vital part of the future of trails and far too few contribute to these resources. Undoubtedly, your club could use your special talents. From organizing fun rides and fundraisers, digging, meeting with land managers, taking pictures or brainstorming about community resources, you are NEEDED. No one has an abundance of extra time, but you can always do something! Don’t like your local club? Get involved and make it into a club you can be proud to belong.
7) Respect all other Mountain Bikers.
Mountain biking is a sport that has really evolved to many different types of people. Kids, Moms, Dads, Grandads, and Grandmothers are enjoying riding in the woods. Realize that if you get involved to make riding better for ALL, you will make it better for YOURSELF too. Increased opportunities to ride include local in town single track, pump tracks, brown-ways and skills parks. These all need funding and sweat equity to build. Providing increased opportunities for all riders will make your community a place you can be proud to call home, even if you don’t ride all of that. Getting youth involved early in advocacy efforts is the key to sustaining sustainable trails and riding communities. So, even if you don’t have kids, try to get involved with local youth programming and efforts to build them great places to learn to ride.
8) Know what trails are open for YOU.
If you ride an e-bike IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to figure out where you can legally ride and not ride and abide by the rules! Just because the local shop sold you one, does not mean you can ride it on all the trails in that area. There is hot debate right now on E-MTB’s so be sure you are voicing your opinion to your local club who will advocate for you.
By ignoring any of the above you are jeopardizing future trail access. Just because other riders ride irresponsibly DOES NOT mean it is right. It just makes you look like an entitled DICK. If you do these things you are not only disrespecting your mountain biking community, but your personal opportunity to trail access. So just think – smile and be nice! That’s really the first step.