MTB Trail Etiquette
IMBA Basic 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.
Remember the essentials
Less a question of etiquette and more an issue of preparation, remembering to bring the essentials goes on this list because there’s nothing more depressing than your chain falling off your bike miles away from civilization with no phone reception. There’s also nothing more annoying than having to give away inner tubes to the same rider who never brings their kit.
So every time you go out, remember to take:
Spare inner tubes
Enough water and snacks to see you through
A first aid kit wouldn’t go amiss either...
Stopping in the middle of the trail
You might be psyching yourself up to get started, or happily celebrating an awesome section of trail, but do you need to do it right across the entrance/exit to the trail? Shift off to the side a little, people.
And this leads on to…
What you don’t want to see when you come flying around a corner is someone fixing their puncture across the middle of the trail. Move off to one side. It’s not hard. Blocking the trail is dangerous both for you and other users. Let’s face it, nobody wants a tire in their face.
Going the wrong way
Most trail centers are unidirectional, so you can merrily fly along safe in the knowledge that you’re not going to meet someone heading at speed towards you. So respect the one way signage. Funnily enough, this isn’t such a big issue on downhill tracks… but that said, if you are downhilling, use the separate push-up tracks to get back to the top, rather than pushing up the trails. Again, that whole rubber-meets-face thing isn’t an ideal outcome.
Encountering slower riders
Chances are you’re going to catch up with riders that are slower than you at some point, and how you deal with this says a lot about you as a person. They might be less experienced than you, and it can be nerve-wracking when you hear someone faster ride up behind you. Don’t get too close. Just call out in a friendly way that you’d like to pass, allow them time to pull over to the side safely, then say thank you when they let you go by.
Letting people pass
Vice versa, if you’re riding along and there’s a faster rider coming up behind you, it takes all of a few seconds to pull over to the side, slow down and let them past. Of course, they’ll have called out politely to let you know they’re there (right, overtakers?) and won’t just ride up your rear. If you’re letting someone past, it’s fine to wait until there’s a safe wide bit of trail you can roll over to the side of, leaving enough room for the rider to get past you.
Not saying thank you if someone lets you pass
Are you in a race? No? Then why not show a little gratitude to the person who’s just pulled out of the way to let you past. It’s just polite, and makes the trails a nicer, friendlier place for all of us. Say thank you!
We hate to be the one to break it to you, but there’s no such thing as magical litter-picking trail pixies. That gel wrapper you just dropped on the ground? That’s not going to decompose for oh, say 500 years! You managed to carry it out here, so surely the weight of a now-empty plastic wrapper isn’t going to massively drain your energy if you carry it back to the trailhead and put it in a bin.
The same thing applies to water bottles, punctured inner tubes, broken helmets and abandoned dreams.
Why? Just why? Apart from the fact that swooping corners or technical turns are part of the reason mountain biking is fun, or the fact that trail builders have spent hours lovingly crafting that turn you’ve just opted out of, cutting them just trashes the trail, erodes the land around it, causes lots of damage and leaves a mess. Yes, it may shave seconds off your Strava time but you’ll know deep down in your heart that you’re now a Stravasshole.
Riding closed trails
If someone has closed the trail, it’s unlikely to be because they wanted to ruin your riding plans for the day. Trails are usually shut because they’re dangerous – for example, if there are trees down after a storm – or because it’s a new trail and needs time to bed in. Ride the former, and you’re putting yourself at risk. Ride the latter, and you’re going to trash hours of hard work. Neither reflects well on you.
Be polite to everyone
If you’re heading off into the wild to ride your bike then sooner or later you’re going to encounter other trail users. That’s right – people who AREN’T ON BIKES! A little courtesy goes a long way here. Slow down ahead of time, control your speed, call out ahead to say hello and alert them to your presence. If there’s room to pass them then do it nicely, or you can stop for a moment and let them past. Basically be nice. Don’t be the idiot who flies past down the trail scattering hikers and giving the sport a bad name.
If you encounter horses, you should be extra considerate so as not to spook them and cause them to bolt. Slow right down, call out to alert the rider to your approach, roll past leaving as much distance as possible between you and the horse, and don’t start speeding up until you are a good distance ahead.
If you ride it, you dig it
Mountain bike trails don’t just appear by magic, and some serious work has gone into crafting them, often by dedicated volunteers. Over time, they do suffer wear and tear and need constant maintenance to keep them in good shape and riding well. So if you ride them, you should seriously consider joining a volunteer dig day to help out. These days are also a great way to meet your local mountain biking community, are fun social events, and usually involve cake. What more could you want?
Stop and lend a hand
Whether it’s someone who’s just crashed, or just a person holding a deflated tyre and looking sorry for themselves, stop and check they’re okay. Helping your fellow mountain biker in times of need is certainly good karma; who knows when you’ll be the person who forgot their pump 10 miles from the car park at some point in the future?