Stay on Trail

My Mountain Biking Code

I’ve renamed this article. Some people don’t like the term, “rules.” Besides, these aren’t really rules. So I’m going with this being my personal code, a set of guidelines if you will.

Let me start out by reminding everyone, this is an opinion piece, my opinion piece. If your opinion is different, that is okay. I encourage you to leave your opinion in the comments below but ask that you be respectful of each other.

Over the past couple of weeks, there have been a few incidents involving mountain bikers not being as respectful of other trail users as I wish they had been. Did you notice how I used the word “respectful” twice already? That wasn’t an accident.

My goal here is to give mountain bikers a little bit to think about in an attempt at encouraging self-regulation. Having spent many years in the business world and the last 15 in government employment, I am very familiar with the adage, “Control yourself or someone else will control you.”

Listed below is the code I try to follow when mountain biking both to avoid being subjected to rules placed by someone else and because I want people to think I’m a nice guy. Of course, this won’t work unless most other mountain bikers act in a similar fashion. When mountain bikers are rude or selfish, it reflects on all of us. No one likes this but, that is how society works.

My Code –

  • Other non-cyclist trail users – People love trails and enjoy them in different ways.

    • Trail CourtesyHorses – First thing to know about horses, THEY ARE WAY BIGGER THAN ME. They can also be skittish and unpredictable. I always get off my bike and walk it around them while talking to the rider. I have friends who even bring sugar cubes with them if there is a chance of meeting up with a horse. I do not touch or feed the horse without first asking the rider. (Some of you may not realize that in the early days of mountain biking in Arkansas, the only trails we had to ride were ones that the horse community shared with us.)
    • Hikers and Trail Runners – There has been a recent explosion of hikers and trail runners with the onset of our recent health emergency. Sometimes they have dogs with them. I assume that they don’t know I’m there unless they are looking directly at me or have already moved off the trail so I try to slow down and call out as I come past them. My experience is that they have the right-of-way but usually, they are quick to step off the trail to let me by. If they don’t I will come to a full stop to walk around them.
    • Motorized trail users – (I’m not talking about e-bikes here, under state law, they are treated as “acoustic bikes”) I feel like ATV/ORVs and motorcycles are the only trail user who should be required to give bicycles the right of way. If they have to stop for us, they can just push or twist the accelerator to get moving again. No physical effort.
  • Right of Way – This is the biggie.

    • Getting Caught – Uphill or downhill, if another mountain biker comes up behind me, I go ahead and pull over and let them pass. The automatic human inclination is to try to speed up to stay ahead. The problem is, they came upon me because they are faster. If I speed up I’ll only wear myself out and upset the faster rider, that’s no fun for either of us. If my testosterone level is telling me to go faster, I let them pass and then try to keep up. Wish me luck. If I am about to overtake someone, I nicely call out that I’d like to pass, before I am all over their rear tire and give them a chance to get to a safe place to pull over. They may not even know I’m behind them.
    • The Face to Face Meeting – The standard for the last 20 or 30 years is the uphill rider has the right of way. This is to allow the uphill rider who is working the hardest to not lose momentum in a climb, while the downhill rider would more easily get restarted if they stopped to allow the other rider by. It made perfect sense back in the day when cross-country riding was the most popular form of mountain biking. Today, downhill, enduro and flow riding have gained in popularity and the goal is to go as fast as possible downhill. Also, improvements in trail building make it much easier to restart on an uphill. The next change will be caused by the growing popularity of e-bikes.I say, stay with the original plan with the exception that if the uphill rider acknowledges the downhill rider and dismounts or moves out of the way, the downhill rider can continue. I HIGHLY recommend thanking that uphill rider as you pass for taking one for the team. As the downhill rider, if I wish that uphill riders would allow me to pass unimpeded, It is best that I offer the same for other downhill riders as I return to the top. If I want to ride as fast as possible with nothing but rocks and roots in my way, there are several one-way, bike-only trails that I can take that to. Shared trails are not the place to prove my speed freak prowess.
    • Stopping Along the Trail – Oftentimes, I’m riding along and I need to take a phone call, take a selfie, get some water, eat something, pull a leaf out of my spokes, lay my head on the handlebars and try not to puke, see a friend on the trail, and need to catch up on my latest Strava achievement, etc. I always try to take it off-trail. Standing in the middle of the trail for whatever reason is a rookie mistake. If I’m not moving, EVERYONE ELSE HAS THE RIGHT-OF-WAY.
  • My other guidelines.

    • Trash, I try really hard not to leave trash on the trail. If I see trash on the trail, I try to pick it up to make up for anything I might have accidentally dropped.
    • If someone is stopped on the side of the trail I usually acknowledge them, if they look in distress (bike upside down, breathing really hard, etc.) I ask if they have what they need.
    • If I bring a post-ride beer, I also bring one extra just in case I make a friend.
    • If I see something that could be going wrong with someone’s bike or someone looks lost, I try to help.
    • I don’t stop and pick up every stick I come across but if I have to stop to get over or around it, I will try to remove it.
    • Have fun and try to help everyone else have fun.
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This is my list, yours might be different and I’m not saying that every rider should follow my code. I will say that I get asked a lot about trail etiquette and I thought I’d share my personal code. Also, sometimes I slip, I forget the code, I’m too deep in something to say hello when I should, it happens. It’s good to have a goal though. See you on the trail.