We live on an increasingly crowded planet and trails, whether we hike or ride them, are a refuge from the daily grind. And while these wonderful strips of bare ground in our open spaces help us escape from civilization, it often seems like the rest of civilization is escaping on them at the same time, creating the possibility of less-than-civilized encounters. This is where etiquette comes in. Etiquette isn’t just about holding out your pinky when you take afternoon tea; it has practical application on the trail. Even if you develop all the skill and fitness in the world, without proper etiquette, you can be a detriment to the sport. Before we hit the high points of trail etiquette, let’s look at a few reasons why etiquette is important.
1. The most obvious reason is simply being a good neighbor to other trail users. I could go on at length about everything from civilized behavior to karma, but this one should be self-explanatory.
2. Horses are not allowed on TOMMBA Trails, however, several parking lots are located near places where people ride. If you meet a horse on the road, yield to the horse. If you fail to yield to a horse, guess who wins? 1,400lbs of spooked animal can be a bit dangerous. (see more Horse Etiquette below)
3. Even if you’re not concerned with your safety, trail etiquette is necessary to preserve access to trails and maintain the possibility of gaining access to new trails. Just like so much in life, a split-second decision for a quick moment of fun can have negative long term consequences–not just for yourself, but for all your fellow bikers. Not riding when it would damage the trail, or not ruining a hiker or equestrian’s outing, is a courtesy to your fellow bikers (and yourself) as well as other trail users.
While this sounds preachy, it’s really not meant to be. The good news is that we can fully enjoy the sport and be good trail neighbors at the same time. Even some experienced mountain bikers have never been exposed to proper trail etiquette; for the new rider, they may have no idea there is such a thing. Take the time to share proper trail etiquette with new riders when you can. The single best source of trail etiquette and the basics we should all adhere to is the International Mountain Bike Association. Below are IMBA’s rules of the trail: six easy steps to good multi-user trail relations:
1. Ride Open Trails: Respect trail and road closures — ask a land manager for clarification if you are uncertain about the status of a trail. Do not trespass on private land. Obtain permits or other authorization as required. Be aware that bicycles are not permitted in areas protected as state or federal Wilderness.
2. Leave No Trace: Be sensitive to the dirt beneath you. Wet and muddy trails are more vulnerable to damage than dry ones. When the trail is soft, consider other riding options. This also means staying on existing trails and not creating new ones. Don’t cut switchbacks. Be sure to pack out at least as much as you pack in.
3. Control Your Bicycle: Inattention for even a moment could put yourself and others at risk. Obey all bicycle speed regulations and recommendations, and ride within your limits.
4. Yield Appropriately: Do your utmost to let your fellow trail users know you’re coming — a friendly greeting or bell ring are good methods. Try to anticipate other trail users as you ride around corners. Bicyclists should yield to other non-motorized trail users, unless the trail is clearly signed for bike-only travel. Bicyclists traveling downhill should yield to ones headed uphill, unless the trail is clearly signed for one-way or downhill-only traffic. In general, strive to make each pass a safe and courteous one.
5. Never Scare Animals: Animals are easily startled by an unannounced approach, a sudden movement, or a loud noise. Give animals enough room and time to adjust to you. When passing horses, use special care and follow directions from the horseback riders (ask if uncertain). Running cattle and disturbing wildlife are serious offenses.
6. Plan Ahead: Know your equipment, your ability, and the area in which you are riding, and prepare accordingly. Strive to be self-sufficient: keep your equipment in good repair and carry necessary supplies for changes in weather or other conditions. Always wear a helmet and appropriate safety gear.
What Bikers Need to Know around Horses & Riders
Trail Etiquette to Keep us all Safe
Believe it or not, bikers and hikers must yield to horse riders on many Colorado trails. This rule isn’t some snooty, “we were here first” deal. It’s just common sense. It’s much easier for hikers and bikers to yield to horses than the other way around.
Horses are prey animals. Bikes approach like predators, quickly and silently. Even the best-trained horses can spook, bolt, or jump sideways when they encounter bikers or hikers with big packs. The results can be harmful to all. Think of a moose-vehicle collision. Now, take away the vehicle.
To avoid collisions and flared tempers, take these simple steps:
• Announce yourself: Once you see horse and rider, let them know you’re approaching as soon as you can. No yelling necessary, just a friendly “Hey, how are you?” will do.
• Slow down or Stop: Ask the rider if she’d like you to stop and step off or if slowing down and passing is okay.
• Keep talking: Being friendly and communicative isn’t just nice manners, it lets the horse know you are a person, not a predator.
• Anticipate around corners: Avoid tearing around blind angles. There could be large, dangerous animals around the bend! If you can’t slow down, make noise to alert possible trail riders.
• Take the low road: If you’re on a grade and are trying to move past a horse rider, take the downhill side.
Have fun sharing the trail!