Big Fat Tire: Singletrack trail rules for hikers, horses and mountain bikers
July 15, 2016
I don't do a lot of hiking or backpacking (or, for God's sake, trail running) these days. I have foot issues from birth defects and from injury. It doesn't take a big hike, especially if I'm schlepping a heavy pack, for me to get seriously footsore. It gets to the point where strangers will ask me if I've hurt myself because I'm walking so tenderly.
"Oh, you poor man, let me help you!"
This is one of the reasons I took to cycling: It's much easier on my feet.
My job with the Summit Huts Association, though, occasionally requires me to hike up the Colorado Trail to Janet's Cabin — a hike of about seven miles from Copper Mountain to the hut. Usually I ride my bike for routine trips, but occasionally I have to haul a heavier load than I want to ride with, and, for those trips, I walk.
Don't get me wrong — I enjoy hiking and I'd love to do more backpacking. Walking affords plenty of benefits, like the ability to better take in your surroundings and talk to your companions. I don't have a problem with walking in itself — it's just that my feet get unhappy.
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If you're wondering why the guy who is supposed to be writing about mountain biking is talking about walking, bear with me. It ties into a story from this past weekend, when I was up at Janet's on foot with a bunch of volunteers and encountered a mountain biker. And yes, this is a conduct message.
As most of you (hopefully) know, the rules of the trail are that mountain bikers yield the trail to other non-motorized users. Out of about 20 people we ran into, only five did what they were supposed to do. That is, when we were approaching head on, they stopped, pulled as far to the side of the tread as practical, put a foot down off the trail and allowed the foot traffic to go pass by without having to walk off the trail.
Only five. That's not very encouraging. The other 15 either slowed down or maybe stopped, but they didn't offer the trail or, instead, rode off the trail completely. Apparently, they didn't want to slow down much or stop. From my perspective as a hiker, what these mountain bikers were saying was, "Get out of my way."
Rules of the trail
So… I don't care to have to repeat this, but we've historically had relatively few conflicts that blow into full-on confrontation, and, for the sake of continued bike access and friendly, courteous relations between all users, here's the rule of the trail.
Singletrack and hikers: Bikes yield the trail to foot and horse traffic. When approaching a hiker head-on, slow down — You have been riding with enough control to slow down if you come upon other users, right? — and stop. On singletrack, pull your wheels as far off the tread as possible, put a foot down off the trail, lean your bike off the trail and let the foot traffic pass.
When coming up from behind, slow down and call out something along the lines of, "Hello, mind if I come by?" and then pass at a walking pace. Don't wait until the last minute to lock up your brakes and make the hiker jump out of their skin.
Double-track and hikers: On double-track or really wide singletrack you can often pass without putting one foot to the side. But, even if there's room, slow way down, communicate and yield if needed. Remember: Yield does not mean ride off-trail. It means allowing others to use the trail without leaving the trail completely.
Horses: With horses, once again, slow down and come to a stop. Ask the rider what they want you to do. I think horses are beautiful animals but they can spook, so it's best to give the rider control of the situation. Talk to the horse so it knows that you — on a strange contraption and with that strange thing on your head — are human like the human that feeds it.
I know that a lot of the time, hikers will step off the trail when they see you coming. This is fine, but even then, slow down to a walking pace, smile, say thanks and acknowledge that other person's humanity. They are not obstacles to your fun — they are fellow human beings out enjoying the beautiful, wonderful outdoors.
Westridge rides and the Breck 100
OK, the soapbox has been stowed away (for the moment). On to lighter topics.
For several reasons I haven't been riding much the last six weeks, mostly health-related. I've been feeling better and, a couple days ago, took my first fairly long ride since mid-May. I rode several trails that I haven't been on this year, and it always seems like you're reacquainting yourself with an old friend when you get on a familiar trail after a winter's absence.
Some of the trails are friends that challenge you, like the climb up the Colorado Trail from the North Fork of the Swan to the top of Westridge. "Damn it, trail, you're my friend, but do you have to hurt so much?"
Another section of trail is in a backcountry area I ski a lot. I usually look around for my ski tracks, but, of course, they're gone. Then there are the rippin' singletrack descents — keeping the speed under control, of course, especially where the sightline is limited — like the one off Westridge that is, as they say, as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.
I think I've said this before, but mountain biking is fun.
In the "learned something new" department, while descending the CT I came upon a lady backpacker with a symbol: an orange triangle with a human ear inside. I slowed way down, but the lady didn't seem to hear my tires on the dirt, nor the ratcheting of my freehub. I called out "Hello" to her and she stepped off the trail.
I stopped to chat and asked her about the symbol. She said it was to tell people, especially mountain bikers, that she was hard of hearing and couldn't hear bikes coming up behind her. I'd never seen this before, but it's a good reminder that even without earbuds — or, worse, music blaring out a modern ghetto blaster — some people can't always hear your approach.
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