A crash course on mountain biking trail etiquette in Summit County — or anywhere
June 12, 2015
Let's talk about mountain biking trail courtesy.
If you look through ads and stories in mountain bike magazines, videos or websites, you'd think most mountain bikers spend their time flying through the air or sliding their bikes through corners while wearing full-face helmets, goggles and body armor.
The fact of the matter is that despite what the media portrays, most mountain bikers are a bit more tame and do what these days is categorized as "cross-country" or "trail" riding. (I've always just thought of it as "mountain biking.")
But it seems there is a need to categorize almost everything in today's world, and mountain biking is no different.
Going back to those ads with the goggled bikers, you'll notice that nowhere in those photos are the subjects interacting with other members of the trail-using public. You don't see descenders encountering climbers, or mountain bikers interacting with foot and equestrian traffic.
The vast majority of trails here in Summit are multi-use, multi-directional trails. For the moment I don't want to get into a discussion on directional trails, although it's a discussion worthy of having. We'll keep it on the back burner for now.
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The fact of the matter is that no matter what, most trails will remain multi-use and multi-directional. We mountain bikers will encounter other trail users, whether they're on bikes, on foot or on horses.
The right of way
I'll start with yielding. When we encounter foot traffic on our bikes, we should always yield. That means make sure the walkers are aware of you and your bike. A friendly, "Hello, do you mind if I go by?" works wonders, then slow to a crawl and pass.
Yes, more often than not the hikers will step off the trail to let you by, but you should always give them the option first. When I'm out biking and encounter oncoming folks on foot, even if they step aside I will often stop and tell them to come on by, just as a matter of good will. I'm not a huge hiker, but when I do hike I get brushed off by enough bikers that I can understand why some hikers have a bit of a 'tude toward bikers and, in some cases, want bikes banned from select trails.
When approaching on bike to bike, descenders should always yield to climbers. And by "yield" I mean STOP, then pull slightly off the trail and give the climber enough room to pass. Climbers are the ones working hard, and getting started again after stopping can be really tough on a steep or technical climb.
Once again, if the climber stops and waves you by it's fair game, but they should always have the option.
On wider trails or double-track it's fine to pass without stopping, but do slow down! By the way, yielding does not mean ride off the trail and blast though the brush without hardly tapping the brakes. It means ride with enough restraint — assume someone or something is around that blind corner — that you have enough control to stop in time, without it turning into a full on, panic-stop type of situation.
Headphones and boomboxes
Sorry for the preaching, but we mountain bikers really can be our own worst enemy. We have it really great here in Summit County — so great that we might be guilty of taking it for granted. Many other places across the state see plenty of heated conflict, leading to situations that are not as favorable as here in Summit. Let's keep our situation positive, our trails world class and our community relatively harmonious.
While I'm on my high horse — and soap box — I'll mention another trail courtesy subject: Music on the trail. Many folks like to listen to music while they ride, walk or run. Now, I love music and I play music, and while my personal preference is to leave artificial sound at home (beyond the creak of the bottom bracket I've been meaning to fix), there's nothing wrong with listening to music on the trail as long as you are still aware of what's going on around you, or as long as you're not imposing your tunes on everyone within earshot.
It's not just courtesy, it's also a safety issue: Avoiding collisions between two people means both people need to be aware of each other.
Too many times I've come up behind someone who, despite me repeatedly calling out "Hello!" louder and louder, is oblivious to my presence because they have their earbuds cranking. I've had to actually tap people on their shoulders because they couldn't hear me, which almost always causes them to practically jump out of their skin. Knowing what's going on around you requires you to be able to hear, so ride (or walk) with the volume turned down, or at least leave one bud out.
Above I mentioned imposing your taste in music on others within earshot. Over the last few years, I've noticed a small but increasing number of people riding with music coming out of their backpacks.
Yes, boomboxes have finally become compact and light enough to fit in a Camelbak.
Last year I was working with other volunteers during a Summit Fat Tire Society workday on the Colorado Trail and heard what I thought for sure was distant music getting closer. It turned out to indeed be approaching music, as this person had the jams turned up to the point that anyone within a few hundred yards knew it. Call me a curmudgeon, but please don't impose your music on others.
News that's not a rant: National trails days came and went. The Friends of the Dillon Ranger District and Breckenridge open space department both had projects this past weekend. Thanks to all who showed up. Happily, the weather cooperated.
If you didn't make it out for trail day, fear not — there are plenty of other opportunities over the next few months to step up. Check the Summit Fat Tire Society website at http://www.summitfattire.org for dates.
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