Have you ever heard of the Golden Rule? “Do to others as you would have them do to you?” In more modern terms, it means treat others the way you would like to be treated.
This rule applies to the trail as well, and by-and-large mountain bikers are the most friendly, courteous, and helpful group of people you’ll ever meet. Nevertheless, it’s still a good idea to learn how to behave yourself out on the trail, especially if you’re new to the sport.
1. Know the Rules of the Trail—Long ago, IMBA came up with six easy rules of thumb to follow. This is a great starting place for any discussion about trail etiquette.
- Ride Open Trails: When a trail is closed, respect the land manager’s and trail steward’s wishes and stay off the trail. Ask for clarification or confirmation if you’re unsure about the trail’s open status. And don’t poach trails, meaning only ride open, public trails. Trespassing is not only illegal, it gives your fellow mountain bikers a bad reputation.
- Leave No Trace: It’s simple. Don’t damage the trail with your shenanigans, and pack out whatever you pack in.
- Control Your Bike: Ride within your limits and obey posted speed limitations and other recommendations.
- Yield Appropriately: Let other trail users know you’re coming either by calling out or ringing a bell. Cyclists should typically yield to both hikers and horses if present, and those headed downhill typically yield to those headed uphill. Also make sure you know if the trail is one- or two-way traffic, and which direction the trail should be ridden. Courteously pass other riders as soon as you’re able, and don’t be a jerk when you pass slower riders.
- Never Scare Animals: Seriously, just leave them alone, even the snakes. If you encounter an animal on the trail itself, give them a chance to move off on their own.
- Plan Ahead: Make sure your equipment is ready and in good repair. Strive to be self-sufficient and bring enough hydration and nutrition. Know your abilities and limits, and research the area you’re riding. Be prepared for sudden weather changes, and always wear a helmet and protective gear.
Not sure what some of the words in this article mean? Be sure to check out our Glossary of MTB Terms and Slang.
2. Know the Rules of the Trail You’re Riding—In addition to, or even possibly in contradiction of, the rules above, make sure you’re familiar with the rules of the particular trail you’re riding. For instance, some trails give cyclists the right of way over hikers (because it’s often easier for someone on foot to step aside). Many North Texas trails also require bikers and hikers to move in opposite directions. You may encounter additional rules such as using only on ear bud at a time. If in doubt, check the posted rules.
3. Never Alter the Trail—If you come across a trail feature that seems out of place, such as a rock in the middle of the trail, leave it alone. Unless the obstacle in front of you is something like litter or deadfall from the surrounding vegetation, you’re better off leaving it be. Many times objects are either purposeful technical features or meant to prevent erosion or both. If you think something is a problem or dangerous, take a picture of it, note the location, and contact the trail steward. Also, find out what types of voluntary trail maintenance the steward allows. Some are very grateful if you trim face slappers as you go, while other stewards don’t want to see any unauthorized trail work. Treat the trail just like you’re in someone else’s home—don’t touch or move stuff without permission.
4. Stay on the Trail—Never cut your own trail. This means don’t ride or walk your bike off of the trail to avoid an obstacle that is beyond your skill level, or to even avoid a problem like a muddy spot. Pledge to always keep your feet and tires on the designated trail surface unless absolutely impossible. Cutting your own trail, or even walking through the vegetation along the side of the trail, contributes to trail widening and erosion.
5. Never Block the Trail—If you have to stop for a breather in the middle of a ride, shift off to one side as best as you can. Also, when you get to the start or end of a trail, get out of the entrance/exit right away. Don’t be a danger to riders coming through who may not be able to stop in time or avoid hitting you. Enough said.
6. Maintain Ample Following Distance—Whether you’re on a group ride or creeping up behind a slower rider, make sure you’re maintaining ample stopping distance between your front tire and their back tire. Not only is it simply rude to breathe down a slower rider’s neck, it’s dangerous for both you and the other rider. In fact, hitting a rider in front of you often goes worse for you, not them.
7. Stop and Render Aid—If you find bikers or hikers stopped on the side of the trail, do your best to see if they need any help. If you see them working on a blown tire or something obvious, stop and give them a hand, especially if there’s no one else around who’s already stopped to help. It is often just fine to slow down as you pass and ask, “Is everything ok? Do you need anything?” Most of the time the answer is they’re fine and don’t need help, but sometimes you’ll encounter someone in need of mechanical help, a spare tube, or even some water or nutrition. And though less likely, you may encounter someone in need of serious medical attention.
8. Strava is Not an Excuse—Your PRs and KOMs/QOMs on Strava should never take precedent over following any of the rules and guidelines above.
9. Volunteer for Work Days—Lastly, if you ride local trails often, you should really volunteer for trail work days when you can. Don’t do it out of a sense of guilt or obligation, but rather out of a sense of gratitude for the hard work that made your fun rides possible. Pay it forward by creating and maintaining trails for everyone else too.
Have fun, ride smart, and keep shredding!