Five Trail Etiquette Essentials To Be a Mountain Biker
When I was first introduced to the wondrous world of mountain bikes, a few unspoken rules were quickly learned. The speed at which these were acquired was the result of mountain bikers being viewed as outlaws back then, forced to tread carefully while scrutinizing eyes watched. We wouldn’t dare step out of line, giving someone the chance to jump down our throats, and they would for even the slightest slip-up.
The increase in riders over the last decade has seen some less desirable commonalities rise to the top. The cost of bikes has gone down in that time, like we always told ourselves it would, when it was a more ‘mainstream’ sport. Oh wait, that never happened… The increased popularity of our sport has brought some positives, MTB is accepted in many communities around the world and even seen as an economic driver in some places. But growth never comes without some pain. I've been reminding myself about the details of trail etiquette lately and thought it was time for a refresher for both new and experienced riders.
Probably even the greenest among you may be somewhat familiar with these rules, but you may not realize how specific and vital these rules are.
Stop In the Middle of The Trail
This is just common sense. When you’re riding and having a good time, even the most experienced can slip up, forgetting to shut everything down in the middle of the trail. Don’t get caught up in what everyone else is doing and forget about ‘getting in someone’s way.’ Focus on yourself and the fun you’re having, you deserve it. If you’re with friends, even better; stop and high-five, followed by a chat centre trail before moving on. Whenever you can, stop with your bike across the direction of traffic and to really earn brownie points among fellow riders, stop in front of a feature. They’ll thank you for it.
While stopped on the trail ignore any rider that comes down toward you (we’ll touch on this more below). If unable to ignore them, whatever happens, do not apologize. Everyone is out to have a good time so don’t let the passersby ruin your fun. At most, reluctantly move aside while making as little eye contact possible, don't even think to say hello. This brings us directly to the next point…
Avoid Jovial Greetings
It used to be easy to distinguish the newbies from the established riders but these days it’s getting harder. More experienced riders were grumpy pieces of work that barely grunt a greeting but now some of them appear happy, even showing their pearly whites from time to time. Newer riders used to smile and wave over-enthusiastically but have been seen avoiding eye contact more often.
Getting to the point; never make contact with another rider on the trail. No greetings of any kind are acceptable with riders outside your group and certainly no eye contact. You should take offence when receiving a greeting from a compromised rider and in an ideal world, you’ll ignore them. Returning greetings or stopping to chat with a rider should only be acceptable if you know them. When this happens, slowly come to a stop – in the middle of the trail (see point one) and quietly bicker about conditions, visiting riders, or any number of subjects. Be careful not to crack a smile and have a random catch it – it will only add to the current confusion among riders.
Make Your Own Lines
For years, riders have been bound by the constraints of a thin line through the forest; the ‘singletrack.’ This strategy was misguided and for years has robbed riders of their freedom. Mountain bike pioneers used to ride their clunkers down wide open roads and terrain – at minimum a doubletrack. The closest modern mountain bikers have come to our free-thinking predecessors was four-cross with some tracks under the forest canopy. But with its demise, our freedom took a back seat. Modern downhill racing has been slow to adopt the ride-free mentality, and don’t even mention cross-country. Thankfully, enduro has pushed us in the right direction of a free future with the ‘French line’ and riders everywhere are catching on. Strava has been incredibly helpful too and is perhaps the most persuasive at getting riders to go wherever they want.
The wide-open slopes that some freeriders ski their bikes down shows they get it too, and why wouldn’t they? They’re ‘free’ riders. But this mentality is needed beneath the canopy. Sparse forest floors are the perfect candidate for lines in every direction but truly surfing the loam is hard. Create new ’trails’ off existing ones and where possible, perfectly "T" into a pre-existing trail. It's absolutely fine to have the sharp merge done at speed and where possible send riders uphill onto another existing line. Forget about merging smoothly or slowing the rider before the junction.
While sparse forest floors are ideal, don't let dense undergrowth stop you. The determined will always find a line. If a full new ‘trail’ seems too hard, start with a small line around a feature or between two corners you don’t like, and go from there. Which brings us to our next point…
Ride Everything, Even if it Means Avoiding some Features
We’ve all been there. You’re ripping down a trail having a great time until you hit a difficult, technical feature. Riders of all levels encounter this scenario. It’s one of the worst things about mountain biking but it appears newer riders are going about this the right way. Rather than ruin your flow and potentially harm your fun, find a way to ride around the feature that’s troubling you.
In many situations, it’s easy to do. As stated above, start a new way around the tricky part so you can ride the trail without having to dismount, anywhere. Remember, everyone is out in the woods to have fun and ride their bike, not to walk. Some trail builders forget this and try to confine riders to a chosen feature. Don’t feel bad about correcting them, they may even thank you for the effort taken to establish another line they didn’t have the forethought to create.
Strive to be a Loamhound
Skiing had this character trait dialled decades ago but mountain biking is finally getting there. Everyone loves a powderhound and with the number of new trails being built, in part thanks to people following the Make Your Own Line rule, more opportunities are available. Whatever you do, find a way to access trails that are hidden and share it with all your ‘friends' on social media. Better yet, make sure to track your rides with something mainstream like Strava and doublecheck that your privacy setting is "Everyone." It will be an immense help to all.
If successful, more riders will be able to find more trails and the builders will create more lines to keep the cycle going. Some riders are so good at this they find and ride new trails before the builder has opened them. What’s that? No way, why would the builder be upset? You’re helping them establish the best line and they’ll have less digging to do because of all the traffic. To help the most, make sure you create a frenzy around the new trail, sending groups of riders in search of it. This is the fastest way to establish new lines and the quicker it’s blown, the sooner everyone can stop riding it and move onto whatever's the latest and greatest.
Bonus: Ride Down Multi-Direction Trails Fast & Don’t Give Way
In some locations, multi-direction trails work as main arteries to and from trailheads. A rider, striving to be the best mountain biker they can be, must go as fast as possible down everything, all the time, even if it’s a shared-use or multi-directional trail. Pin it down trails like these, even if there’s no Strava time to chase.
If someone gets in the way and especially if they’re coming uphill toward you, keep it pointed and stay focused on the trail beyond them. Rather than call 'trail,' 'track' or even 'Strava,' motion the direction you will pass. Remember they need to stop on the trail if they’re doing things right, so you may need to create that new line to pass. Do this a few times and you're on the way to creating a new trail that's easily found so it can be blown out quickly. And whatever you do, don’t thank them as you go by.
And if you follow these rules, you can be a real mountain biker!