Local riders talk mountain bike etiquette 101
Ryan Summerlin July 8, 2011
A good snow year means a challenging mountain bike season, David Rossi of Summit Fat Tire Society said.
“Up high, the trails are too muddy to ride,” he said.
The group is focused on three main principles, one of which is trail stewardship – so he and his colleagues are reminding mountain bikers of the “unwritten rules of the trail,” even as the sun shines and everyone is eager to get onto the singletrack.
“We need to get the message out to people about how best to use the trails,” Rossi said.
About three years ago, the group, which Rossi said is older than the International Mountain Bicycling Association, had a rebirth.
“We packed into the Summit County Senior Center when the Hidden Gems group was proposing to close off certain trails,” Rossi said. That’s when Summit Fat Tire Society’s leaders realized “a trail advocacy organization was important up here. Just riding the trails wasn’t going to be enough.”
The key to protecting the trails for future use (and keeping a good reputation for mountain bikers) is knowing when to turn back. When to ride through the puddle instead of around it. When to stop and let foot traffic go by, or ask an equestrian if it’s OK to pass.
“Skidding (into turns) and making go-arounds are the biggest no-nos,” local pro mountain biker Leland Turner said. This spring and early summer, he’s been sticking to trails in the valleys, and has only recently tried the higher trails that he thinks are mostly dry.
“If you make a route going around, people follow you,” he said. “If you’re going to ride where its muddy, you have to suck it up and ride through it.” He added that deadfall is another problem riders encounter these days, and sometimes they ride around it instead of carrying the bike over the obstacle.
If the mud is too deep or the fallen trees are too thick, Turner would like to see riders pick up their bike and create a less obvious foot path to protect the trail. Same with beginners – if the obstacle is too hard, carry the bike instead of riding around or trying to remove the rock or branch.
“Mountain biking drew me here,” he said. “When you find a nice, pristine trail that’s a winding singletrack, it sucks to see it over time become a wide double-track.”
He said he imagines hikers also prefer narrower trails that aren’t braided.
“It’s one more thing you don’t want to do to (annoy) hikers,” he said.
That’s why he and Rossi so carefully highlight trail stewardship.
“As the sport grows, there are so many more people on the trails, we lose our ability to be nice to each other and be courteous,” Rossi said, adding that the goal of the recently rekindled Summit Fat Tire Society is to bring back the communication and respect among trail users.
When mountain biking evolved years ago in Boulder, it was the “Wild West,” Rossi said. “It was a free-for-all.”
But as bikes took over trails, a vocal group of irritated trail users spoke up – and mountain bikers got shut out of many popular trails.
“They lost some of their best trails … in some cases, it’s because mountain bikers didn’t proactively engage other trail users,” Rossi said. Which is a situation he and the rest of the Summit Fat Tire Society want to avoid as mountain biking grows in popularity with town promotions, races and general attraction to the sport.
“In the old days, it was a badge of honor to come back covered in mud … nowadays, you just can’t sustain that. There’s too many of us out there,” Rossi said.
Some rules to remember – as Rossi said – to avoid giving mountain bikers a bad reputation include:
• Hikers always have the right of way – stop, even when cruising downhill, and walk move slowly past or let the foot traffic pass.
• Mountain bikers should yield to all non-motorized traffic, including equestrians, trail runners and hikers. Horses, especially, can be frightened by bicycles. “That person on horseback can get bucked and that can turn into a bad situation,” Rossi said.
• Uphill mountain bikers have the right of way.
• Avoid skidding around trails as it pushes dirt and creates ruts.
• Be aware that trail users are also stewards – taking care of trails often means they can stay open.
• “Saying ‘hello’ goes a long way,” Rossi said.
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