Mountain Bike Etiquette: We Are Not Entitled

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.

en·​ti·​tled

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.

MTB Trail Etiquette
This trail is NOT OK to ride. Leaving tracks like this in the mud is IRRESPONSIBLE trail use.

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.

 

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This Post Has 32 Comments

  1. Brian

    Great read! Definitely worth a share.

  2. Hillary Marques

    Yes! Way to spell it out!

  3. edu

    Nice words. Thank from imba españa valencia

  4. Richard

    The clowns that ride like no one else is on the trail riding mountain bike s are ruining access. Even worse are the gravel bike riders trying to beat their own Strava times. Rudest riders on the trail by far. We are destined to lose access unless attitudes change. Mello out fellow riders . Ride safely and protect your own dome, wear a helmet.

    1. Michael Nichols

      Out here in California MTB community is running into the same issue, but mostly people trying to make new lines on trails. Cutting a turn or going around a feature. Maybe we can adopt a license to ride system. Maybe pay a small fee, volunteer and take a class on safe riding. We can tackle 3 or the major problems right there. We already do it for some major outdoor sports.

  5. Vivian Buckley

    This is the best article I’ve read on these issues and I LOVE that it addresses responsibility rather than just etiquette. SPOT ON! I was an active volunteer for KT 25 years ago when they had only one employee. It has been difficult to watch the degradation of the system and the tension in the community. KTA bears some significant responsibility in this, not just irresponsible riders. However, I appreciate that our troubles are bringing etiquette and responsibility to the forefront.
    THANK YOU.

  6. Jeff swett

    Good piece but those who need to read and apply this will ignore it or attempt to justify their actions. I see this in hunting, skiing, even hiking. Some folks just refuse to consider that they are part of the problem and blame everyone but themselves.

  7. anonymous

    Thank you for this great post, which I hope will be taken to heart by the selfish, ignorant and self absorbed 1%. At 69 years old I am even more stoked on mountain biking than I was thirty years ago when I started. I know many others my age feel the same. I workout and condition 20 hours a week just so I can keep it going. I just love it, and the the fact that I still do not need or desire an e-bike. But the reality is that at my age I cannot risk a fall and so pick my trails and always ride in control. I cannot put into words the disdain I have for that minority of riders – thirty or more years younger than me – that come up on my tail demanding repeatedly for me to get out of the way instantly, instead of issuing kind words and waiting 30 seconds for a safe pass or stopping zone. Because of this 1% I do not support any of the initiatives to expand biking rights to wilderness areas, even though I personally would love to see these areas open to mountain bikes. I fully understand that this stance is not logical given my love of mountain biking. But I am so disgusted with the 1% for spoiling the public perception of the 99%, that I will stick to my position, even though it limits the horizons of my own riding. Perhaps through pressure by the 99% of absolutely stellar personalities on the trail, the despicable 1% will feel the social pressure and shrink to 0.1%. So…if you encounter one of these jerks on the trail, do not let them get away with their attitude without scolding them. Think of this as your responsibility, and perhaps there is a chance here for improving the overall attitude among riders – and the public’s perception.

    1. Bob

      Well stated.

  8. Jax Farley

    With all due respect …I’m kinda tired of hearing it was all of our faults when referencing the KT trails. The latest statement by KT clearly states they are as much at fault as any individual MTBer. Along with growth ,infrastructure, education and direction need to be given. The issue that closed those parcel of land did not happen over night.
    I personally ride with many different groups at many different trails. You know the one thing in common with all of these groups???? They respect the trails, they respect other users on the trails and appreciate the opportunity that is given to us as a group.
    We are not entitled but are not all guilty.
    Let’s all as a group keep doing what we do to allow the great growth that we have had in our sport within the last 10 years.
    We should let the few that are not like minded know the damage they can cause.
    Let’s remember as a group we are Awesome!!!!

  9. Johnny

    The 3 land owners SPECIFICALLY STATED that it was rude and confrontational interactions with MOUNTAIN BIKERS on their land that brought about the closures. Those confrontations were not isolated incidents but an ongoing problem for the land owners. So you are correct that this didn’t happen overnight. As far as the ‘statements’ from KT, they are in full damage control mode. So with all due respect, it was ALL the fault of mountain bikers.

    1. Jax Farley

      I disagree and full damage control came too late. The fault of a system that became overwhelming due to the presence of MTBers , yes. If it weren’t for the few land owners that were probably exhausted by the large presence of people who happen to be MTBErs then they would have negotiated rather than put an immediate stop to it all. This is a bigger issue than a few disrespectful MTBers.
      It’s similar to writing with capitals letters….those large letters can distract you from the real message.
      As far as the land owners go, a few made statements on the KT FB Page and made it perfectly clear it was long past due.
      I hope for the quick recovery of the system and the “vibe” that brought me to KT. If I’m not welcome as a MTBer then I won’t return.

      1. Mr Ag KatKathan Putney

        THERE GOES MY ROOTS. As native VT’r- I must now go back to MOAB where they wil tolerate MYB’rs!

  10. Elizabeth Hinckley

    You forgot the one about wearing a bell on your bike. We don’t know you’re coming as we are running/hiking/walking the trail. Big Bear now requires it on trails.

    1. Sally Gregory

      Good job! Best article I’ve read on this subject. As a hiker and horseback rider, in my area (east central Idaho) I personally have had more trouble with motorized trail bikers than mtn bikers. I appreciate you reminding users who can go faster than my horse and I can walk, to slow down for other trail users. We don’t want ANY of us to be lifeflighted.

    2. Chad Davis

      Great point Elizabeth! Making our presence known well in advance is important!

    3. Michael Nichols

      If we are required to wear a bell then i think the jogger/walkers/hikers are required to take off all head phones in order to hear us coming. Ive had multiple instances of coming up behind someone to literally yelling that im behind them just to wait another 30 seconds going up hill for them to move, followed by the deadly stare as i pass. At the least take one ear bud out. It will save us all the trouble and wont spare anyone’s safety. Lets work together.

  11. BlameCanada

    I blame the Quebecois that ride there.

  12. Pamela Lloyd

    If you do not have a bell, please alert a Walker you are passing with a ” Passing on your left” call. It will give us a chance to get out of your way.

    1. Chad Davis

      Great point Pamela! Riders should definitely be making their presence known well before pressing.

  13. lynn

    As a female MTB, who is in the VAST MINORITY of most MTB(most are MEN as you know), WHY did you choose to show a WOMAN as the confrontational person for your article picture???????? As a female-cyclist, I have been MAN-SPLAINED more times than I can count, and belittled, etc… by MALE cyclists. PLEASE!!! Pictures are important. So IRONIC you choose a woman when MEN are historically and presently more often the perpetrators of confrontational behavior in ANY BIKING SETTING. Just Google ‘sexism in cycling’ and you will get to read many many articles- road racing, Cyclocross, etc…

    1. RL

      Your comment just introduced discrimination into a healthy discussion. This is a common group with a common interest.

      Great article! Saying hello can go so far on the trails. It’s simple and powerful and anyone can participate in being friendly. Sometimes people won’t reciprocate back with the same kindness but I still believe it makes an overall positive impact.

    2. Mike

      Probably out of convenience and because Trisha was readily available and willing to pose for the photo. I’m sure Chad meant no offense. BTW, good article Chad

      1. Chad Davis

        Thank you Mike. You are correct that the photo was not meant to point a finger at women. Lynn we’ll be sure to be more considerate of our photos in the future.

    3. Jay Hacking

      I have always tried to be polite and respectful as a bike rider. I will say, however, that I have encountered quite a few rude and entitled trail runners.

  14. Loye

    Just to add a note. Those of us sharing the trails with mountain bikers (some of us ride 1000 lb animals). Please remember that flying past is may and spooking a horse may is as unfriendly as running over kindergarteners catching butterflies. We should all be respectful.

    1. Chad Davis

      Very good point Loye! Bike riders should totally be yielding and getting off their bikes to let you pass!

  15. Sally Gregory

    Good job! Best article I’ve read on this subject. As a hiker and horseback rider, in my area (east central Idaho) I personally have had more trouble with motorized trail bikers than mtn bikers. I appreciate you reminding users who can go faster than my horse and I can walk, to slow down for other trail users. We don’t want ANY of us to be lifeflighted.

  16. Ranger Harrison

    As a Park Ranger in a popular mountain biking destination, I greatly appreciate this article. We have see an increase in the “entitled” so this is timely. I will be posting this on our message board. Thank you.

    1. Chad Davis

      I’m glad you liked this Ranger Harrison! I do believe that the resent issues mentioned at the Kingdom Trails have been an eye opener for many riders. Now we just have to keep getting the message out that we are all ambassadors of our sport and we have to realize how our actions on the trail reflect.

  17. Tim Tucker

    There’s always exceptions to every rule – take the assertion we should be kind to ALL trail users.

    Sometimes people go out on trails to hide bodies – if we encounter them I don’t think it’s necessary (or safe) to be nice.

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