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An Expanded Trail Etiquette Guide PDF Print E-mail

Respect. It's a simple word and everyone understands what it means. This section was to be about trail etiquette but what it's really about is respect. For the trail, for other users and for yourself. Here's SDMBA's guidelines to respect on the trail.

1) Respect The Trail

2) Respect Other Trail Users

3) Respect Fellow Mtn. Bikers

4) Respect Yourself 

Respect the Trail

Our trails are valuable assets to the entire community. Treat the trails well and there will be no reasons for Land Managers to close the trails to bikers. This is an article about etiquette so there are some "dos" and "don'ts" here. We know you're a big, tough mountain biker so you won't have your feelings hurt by us sometimes sounding like your Mom.

Respect other's private property. Someone owns every piece of land in San Diego County. There is no "vacant" land anywhere. If the land you are riding on is not publicly owned then you are trespassing on private property. Imagine how you'd feel if someone rode through your back yard without permission.

Please don't ride on closed trails. Whether it is to protect the environment or for rider safety, a closed trail is off limits for a reason. Riding closed trails is not only illegal; it gives all mountain bikers a bad reputation.

Avoid building illegal trails. The only land you can build trail on without permission is your own. Unless you are on a SDMBA or other authorized trail crew working with a land manager's consent the trails you are building are illegal. We'd love to have you join one of our regularly scheduled trail work crews. Your love of dirt and skill with a pick-maddox will be much appreciated and sometimes we even build new trail.

Do not intentionally ride off trail. Excuse us for sounding like your Mother, but this is a biggy. Nothing burns Land Manager's muffins as much as people going off trail so...stay on the trail. Ride only on existing trails, don't make new ones, including "turn-outs" around fallen logs. Never take shortcuts or cut corners on tight turns or switch backs. Keep trails narrow. Make it a game to stay directly in the center of the trail at all times. Take corners carefully to avoid blowing off line. Stay off trailside plants. Ride over rocks, logs and waterbars instead of around them. If you come upon something blocking the trail, a downed limb or small slide, that can be easily moved, by all means, stop and do your share to keep the trail in shape

Restrain from damaging trail features. Go easy on bridges and stone or wood steps. Respect waterbars, which are logs or piles of dirt or rocks placed across trails to prevent erosion. Ride them in such a way that you will not degrade them

Don't skid or brake slide. Do you know what a "skidiot" is. Not very nice sounding is it? You certainly don't want to be called this on the trail. Locking up the brakes can degrade hills by forming gullies that water funnels down, can rut sensitive trails, and always indicates a lack of control to others. Modulating brakes - both front and back - will prevent skidding and increase control. Slow, even pedal stokes prevent "spinning-out" up hills (which can cause ruts), as well as increasing the chance that you'll make it over the top. Finesse is often more successful than b brute strength. Don't be embarrassed to walk or run your bike up or down steep hills.

Say no to mud. Riding when the trail is muddy can cause tremendous damage. If the trail is muddy or blocked, don't ride around the problem. You'll only widen the trail in the process (a big negative in the eyes of land managers, who hold the key to our trail access). Instead, dismount and walk. This slight inconvenience will preserve the trail for all. Find trails in your town that are durable and drain well and ride these when it's wet. Never ride when and where you will leave ruts. This means not riding on rainy days, especially during the spring mud season. Mud and grit can really do a number on your bike's components. If you have to ride after a storm consider a road bike.

Use your legs. Don't hesitate to walk or carry your bike in technical or muddy sections. Carry your bike through streams. The silt stirred up can smother water critters and their eggs. The cross-ruts can also divert the stream to create a puddle. Try hiking your favorite trail for a change. Notice your reaction to bikers.

Explore. Get out your maps and guidebooks to find new trails to ride. You'll help reduce crowding on popular trails.

Respect the wildlife and the environment. Be sensitive to the trail and its surroundings by riding quietly and trying not to scare animals.

Mom again. Never litter. Be sure to carry out all your trash. Try to pack out more than you bring in. When riding, if you spot some debris, especially bike refuse (reflector, tube, energy-bar wrapper, etc.), pick it up and take it home.

Smell the roses. Consider stopping occasionally and enjoying a scenic overlook or shade tree to remind yourself why it's so important to respect trails and ride softly. If your viewpoint is off the trial, please walk your bike.

Respect the trailhead. Keep that thumping car stereo turned down, and resist the urge to imitate the Duke boys slinging gravel as you peel out in your quest for post-ride pizza and brews. Don't litter. If you're in a residential area, keep your voices down, especially before that 7:00 a.m. ride.

Respect Other Trail Users

Many trails around San Diego are multi-use trails. We share these with hikers, runners, nature lovers and equestrian (horse) riders. All encounters should be positive. Remember we are the new folks in the woods. We must go out of our way to make a good impression on everyone we meet. Showing off, doing stunts, or riding fast can tarnish that good impression quickly. Your finely honed riding skills can look dangerous, crazy and irresponsible to everyone else. If all of us (realistically, most of us) can improve the way we pass hikers and equestrians, land managers will hear fewer complaints. Fewer complaint will mean fewer trail closures. It's that simple.

Right of way-bikers yield to all. Yielding, by SDMBA's definition, means "slow down, communicate with the people you meet, be prepared to stop, and pass safely." Yielding protocol is designed to promote safety. In an abrupt meeting between cyclist and hiker, the foot traveler is more vulnerable. In any trail gathering, the person sitting six feet off the ground atop a horse has a long way to fall if the pass doesn't go well. Bikers should always yield to pedestrians and horses. Most equestrians or hikers don't mind you passing them, if you are courteous and announce your intentions.

Walking remains the simplest trail activity. It is quiet, generally (though not always) has the lowest impact, and is available to all able-bodied people. Its tradition is long and established. Walkers were on the trail first...and in our system of values, that matters.

When encountering hikers. Hikers have the right of way, so slow down, stop or pull to the side of the trail. Remember that they are there for a quiet, peaceful experience, but say hi, be friendly. When approaching from the rear, slow to their speed, and let them know you're there (before you're right behind them). You cannot imagine how much of a shock it can be to meet up with or be passed by a quiet, swift bicycle. Expect that children or dogs will walk right in front of you as you pass. They are curious.

Here's the reality of a typical on-the-trail passing situation: two or three mountain bikers approach two hikers, the mountain bikers say "hi," the hikers step gracefully to the side, and the mountain bikers roll smoothly through...and everyone is basically content. The yield came when the mountain bikers slowed down, looked at the hikers, said "hi" and read the situation to decide if dismounts were necessary. In most cases, they're not...but in a few-particularly when meeting horses-they are essential.

When approaching a pedestrian, slow down, announce that you are there and which side you plan to pass on. Allow plenty of room. If the trail is narrow or the hiker seems nervous, you should stop and pass on foot.

Ring your bell. Bells are becoming a symbol of trail courtesy. Hikers and equestrians say they hear a bell and associate the sound with a bicyclist who is trying to be considerate. Bells are a great way to let your fellow trail users know that you're approaching. Just be careful not to ring yours too close to horses or hikers. A "bear bell" is great too because you don't have to actually make it ring. It rings as you ride along and makes a louder noise when riding on rough terrain. This bell is good when riding in limited visibility situations.

Don't ride fast on popular hiking trails.

When encountering equestrians (and their hoofed friends). Being surprised by bicycles can be a frightening and unpleasant experience for some equestrians. Give both the horse and the rider a chance to get used to meeting bicycles in the woods. A horse's instinct is to run when confronted with the unfamiliar. Never assume that an equestrian is aware of your presence or in control of the horse. If approaching from the front, ALWAYS stop and let them pass unless the rider indicates otherwise. If from the rear, slow to their speed, and from 50 to 100 feet away, ask if it safe to pass slowly or walk your bike around them. Say hi, be friendly, and admire the horses. The spoken word is the first indication to the horse that you are a person and not a threat.

While hiker-cyclist conflicts provoke most land access battles, chance encounters between horses and bicycles pose a far greater threat of injury and death. A horse, by design, is a nervous, cautious beast. Mountain bikers are, more or less, risk-takers. When these two very different users meet unexpectedly on the trail, the results are sometimes disastrous.

The only way to calm a spooked horse is to convince it that there is nothing to fear. A trained animal takes its cues from its rider or other horses. A startled horse under a startled rider is a dangerous combination. A startled horse under a calm rider is less so.

Yielding to horses. When approaching a horse, slow down, announce that you are there and ask if it is all right to pass. Offer to stop riding and wait for the horse to pass you.

How to avoid conflict. Approaching a horse and rider suddenly from the rear is the most perilous type of meeting. Popping up in a horse's face will certainly scare the bejeesus out of the animal, but at least the rider can quickly identify the nature of the threat and act accordingly.

A horse is likely to sense a cyclist approaching from the rear before its rider, and will instinctively perceive that cyclist as a threat to its safety. That's why it is vital that you make your presence known to the rider.

No matter which way you approach, it's critical you alert the rider as soon as possible. The best thing to do is to slow to a crawl or stop and ask the rider for instructions. Don't be bashful and don't wait until you get close. Just sing out, "Rider back. May we pass?"

The rider may tell you to pass, or to wait while he or she moves the horse off the trail. The rider may just need to turn the animal around so it can look you over. With a skittish animal or inexperienced rider, you may have to dismount and move off the trail yourself.

Outfit your bike with a bell, even a tiny, tin kitty bell under your seat or a "bear bell." That may give the horse and rider the split-second warning they need to buy time for everybody involved.

But the most important thing is to let the equestrian control the flow of events. The horse needs to know the rider is in charge. Ask the rider for instructions no matter what. They will appreciate it.

Anticipating incidents is the best way to avoid nasty accidents. Keep your eyes open for horse sign on the trail. A 1,200-pound animal shod with steel shoes leaves tracks on everything short of asphalt. Even then, manure piles should alert you that you're sharing the trail with an animal.

If you suspect there's a horse somewhere ahead of you, consider riding elsewhere. If it's your training day, do ride elsewhere. Otherwise, proceed with caution and make noise as you go.

If a horse is crossing a bridge, cyclists should always wait for the horse to finish.

Cyclists should never approach a horse while it is crossing creeks or other water.

When calling to the horse rider to alert them of your presence, remember it is best not to holler or yell excitedly, but to speak calmly. If the cyclist is some distance from the horse, a loud but calm voice should be used. There is nothing wrong with a "Hello, it's really a nice day for riding, isn't?" The more an approaching cyclists talks when passing, the more the horse will realize it is just a human being on a strange looking contraption.

Ride slowly on crowded trails. Just like a busy highway, when trails are crowded you must move slowly to ensure safety for all trail users.

Practice restraint. We know it's fun to blitz trails at warp speed. But, it often leads to losing control, skidding, even crashing. And these actions erode trails. Plus, what if a hiker or equestrian is around the bend? Disaster! Not to mention the ripple effect of the negativity this creates with the startled (perhaps injured) person who's sure to tell every friend about the inconsiderate cretin who nearly flattened him.

Stop and chat. Once per ride, stop and chat with a hiker or horseback rider. We are all part of the trail community and need to get along.

Slow down. Excessive speed is the single most common complaint that other trail users have about us. Slow down if you don't have absolutely unrestricted vision of the trail ahead. Assume that someone else is just out of sight, and be prepared to stop (in control) when you turn the corner. The most important and most difficult thing to remember when riding with your buddies is to save racing for organized races when you know that you'll be the only one involved in a crash. Speed training can be done on the road.

Ride in Small Groups. Whenever possible keep groups smaller than five, for the impression you make is magnified by the group's size. As an individual you should go out of your way to insure that your use of the trails will not spoil the outdoor experience of others. Make sure that everyone in your group feels that way and is willing to comport themselves in a civilized manner. Be sure that socializing while riding doesn't detract attention from the trail ahead. Trade off being "point person", riding ahead of the group to scout out who and what is around the corner.

Make every encounter a good one. Slow down! Let everyone you pass know our intentions well in advance. If you want to pass a horse, establish voice contact with the rider. Be prepared to stop until asked to proceed. Use your bells and above all, use your smiles and show that you care. These things become natural if you put yourself in the place of the other trail user. Remember that good will is contagious. We have been under attack lately and need the affirmation that comes from expressing the good things that happen every day on the trail.

Respect Fellow Mtn. Bikers

Ride busy trails during off-peak hours.

Buy your riding buddy an SDMBA membership.

Keep your groups small - no more than four. You'll minimize your impact and won't disrupt others.

Yielding to other bike riders.

When approaching another rider from the opposite direction, allow enough room to easily pass each other.  If there isn't enough room to pass the downhill rider yields to the uphill rider.  You should stop soon enough and position your bike so there is enough room and time for the uphill rider to continue their assent unhampered.

When approaching another rider from behind, announce that you are there and which side you plan to pass on.

If another rider comes up behind you, offer to let them pass and tell them which side you prefer them to pass on. If necessary pull over to let them by.

When riding in a large group on single track trails, it is a good idea to let the fastest riders start first so there will be less need for passing on the trail. This is especially true on technical uphill or downhill areas. Don't take a "head start" unless you can be easily passed.

Announce your numbers. If you're at the head of a group and meeting other bikers let them know how many are in your group. It's useful for the other person to know when to expect an end to your group especially if they are yielding to you.

Respect Yourself


Don't get lost. Ride with someone who knows the trail well. Have accurate maps of the area. Make sure to leave plenty of time to get back to the trailhead-getting stuck in the dark is no fun.

Know your bike. Learn to fix a flat, repair a chain, etc. and carry tools that you will need to get yourself out of the woods.

Don't ride alone. If you ride alone let someone know where you're riding and when you expect to be back.

Be Prepared. Know your equipment, your ability, the weather, and the area you are riding and prepare accordingly. A well-planned ride will go smoothly for you and your companions.

Get Involved. If you want to make a difference in the San Diego mountain biking community become a member of SDMBA.

Do trail work. Trail maintenance is a good way to give back to the community and help keep the trails available for mountain bikers.  If you would like to get involved you can find out more from San Diego Mountain Bike Association.



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