Passing Along the Lost Art of Bike Etiquette


By Mike Newberry

Let’s talk about riding bikes!

Trail etiquette is important. Pay attention to trail signage. Photo by Dave Iltis

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a curious thing….more and more people are getting on bikes. On one hand, that’s a great thing. On the other, my experience is this…even though people are riding, they’re missing something about riding. Bear with me while I spew forth….

When I entered the road racing scene in Florida in the mid-80’s, I was lucky enough to be taken under the wing of some pretty talented and gracious people. What was handed down to me so many years ago now became a part of the way I ride a bike. Once I moved to Utah, some 20 years ago, and started riding mountain bikes with some of the guys I knew and worked with (that only rode mountain bikes), I again was lucky to have learned from some of the best riders in the State. Those lessons taught have stayed with me today.

Over and above the how to train, what/when to eat, what to wear, how to speak in the vernacular of “bike”, etc., etc., ad nauseam….I was taught bike etiquette. If you don’t think handing down knowledge is an important subject, I challenge any of you to explain the sequence of negotiating a 4-way stop. See where I’m going with this?

Extending bike etiquette on the trail is, like the road group ride, a lost art practiced by only a few these days. With mountain bike season in full swing (climate change aside), I’d like to offer a few rules or “suggestions” (“…some people call it Kaiser blade, I call it a Sling blade…”) to pass down from one rider to others.

Ride bikes and be nice to people

With more and more people entering the sport of mountain bike riding and getting on the local trails, there is a great chance that you may encounter someone else using that trail. I’ve noticed a growing angst between some of said trail users….not unfounded might I add. What I initially loved about riding on trails is that the people partaking in this activity are, for the most part, pretty pleasant. We were outside, on dirt, and listening to the birds chirp (not horns honking) when you didn’t have the sound of your heart in your ears during a climb.

“Suggestion” 1 – Be mindful of who has the right of way. Read those Yield signs at the trailhead. In general, uphill travel has the right of way. This may come as a surprise to some of you but it’s a damn sight easier to, when stopped, continue downhill than up. This goes for runners, riders, equestrians and hikers (and drivers!). Obviously, this pertains to XC trails (not DH trails).

“Suggestion” 2 – When traveling downhill and encountering an uphill traveler, slow down/stop/pull over and allow that fellow traveler to pass unfettered. Maybe even offer some encouragement to that person grinding up that climb be it on foot or bike.

What this does is a) un-complicate matters for the less initiated (i.e., novice) rider and b) keep single track, single. Riding past while going downhill creates a situation where one or both riders divert off trail into the sage brush doing one thing, widening the trail. One thing to love about riding single track is just that, it’s a tiny ribbon of dirt and should stay that way.

Another, sometimes unexpected, occurrence is c) the possibility of collision which may lead to unkind words/actions. Let’s “use the sense God gave a goat” here and say this…don’t Strava the Dry Creek descent on a Friday at 5pm during peak riding season….it’s just not that important.

“Suggestion” 3 – When approaching a slower rider while climbing and need/want to pass, give them some notice before you climb up their backside. The popularity of bells have come, gone and come back again. They’re a pretty benign tool for alerting your presence to others. Your voice is too. Offering a friendly “mind if I go around?” might go a long way. As the passer, wait until there is a good spot to make the pass then pass quickly. As the passee…give ‘em a break and pull over if you feel so inclined.

This brings up another point. I’m all for everyone getting in touch with their “inner TGR movie” but don’t be pissed when you’re riding/running with your ear buds in and someone, after numerous (and possibly loud) attempts to get your attention, passes you because you couldn’t hear them. Just my opinion, but iPods aren’t meant for trail riding….it’s dangerous. Also, all that wire dangling down just ready to snag a tree limb….think about it. Ditto for boom box backpacks….might be awesome in the “stunt ditch” but I like my peace and quiet. That’s why I ride in the woods. I’ll catch some flak about this but I really don’t care.

“Suggestion” 4 – With the Park City, Uintas and American Fork areas allowing multi-use, you will encounter equestrians (that’s a fancy word for horse riders). What to do? Stop and move to the downhill side of the trail until the horse(s) pass. Appearing smaller to the horse will create a less threatening situation for that animal and, ultimately, a safer situation for the horseman/woman. Oh, don’t mistake a mule for a horse.…mule owners don’t like that.

“Suggestion” 5 – Be prepared. I sometimes ride with a fellow that for a “normal” ride packs enough gear for an emergency night out….for him and me. I’m not suggesting that but at least have the required items, tools and basic knowledge to fix a flat/chain to get you back to your car. Youtube is chalk full of how to videos on this subject. Watch them.

“Suggestion” 6 – Pack it out. Food/energy gel wrappers should be secured before setting off to the next way point. If you see trash on the trail, stop and pick it up….nuff said.

Ride bikes and be nice to the trail

Spring and Summer brings everyone out of the woodwork ready to ride. Springtime (and Fall) are also “shoulder” seasons meaning trails are or will be muddy. This isn’t the North Shore of BC where riding muddy trails is the norm. Try to rein in your desire to get on your bike until the trails are ready for riding. Riding on muddy trails creates ruts. Ruts then channel early season run off and create the potential for erosion and long term degradation of the trail. When encountering a muddy spot, don’t ride through or around the puddle but portage your bike (i.e., walk, carrying your bike) around. Try riding a new trail where things dry out early.

Another potential problem with riding muddy trails and, in particular, riding on the type of soil found in and around this area when its wet is that it’s sticky. This clay-like material will bog your bike down so much that you’ll end up walking out. The potential for ruining frame paint or, worse yet, carbon and breaking drivetrain parts is very high.

I’ve always tried to “pay it forward” for all the lessons taught to me from my fellow cyclists. I hope you glean something from this as we all want to enjoy our rides and our rides together with friends.


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