Mountain Bike Trail Safety

Trail Safety

If Mountain Biking isn’t new to you, you will know that it’s a wonderful way to improve and develop fitness and skills while enjoying the best of what nature has to offer in your area. If you are a new rider or considering taking up MTB, my bias from years of experience says, get out there and do it, it’s an amazing sport.

I’m not going to focus on bikes within this post, but you can check out a few of those posts by clicking the category links at the bottom of this page.

There is an MTB forum I follow and most of the people there know what they’re about when it comes to MTB in terms of fitness, equipment and trail etiquette. They are polite, a lot of fun and it must be said that many have a wonderful sense of humor too. Knowledge and experience are shared freely, and they have respect for all other riders.

Trail Etiquette

It’s surprising at how even experienced riders are unaware of some aspects of trail etiquette. But, why is it necessary in the first place? Simple answer: to avoid unnecessary crashes and injuries to other people out on the trail. They may not always be Mountain Bikers too so; we all have certain responsibilities over and above looking after self and our beloved bikes.

Even on trails marked for mountain bikers, we inevitably come across people walking, riding horses. . . Not so long ago, I charged into a fast and winding downhill section of trail with thick forest on either side of the bumpy 2-meter wide trail. Zipping out of a bend, I saw three people ahead of me walking up the trail and the only evasive action open was to squeeze the brakes hard and get over into the bushes on my right. It turned out that they were out of area ramblers and unaware that they were on a mountain bike trail.

Even though I should have called out at the top of the hill, I had never seen anybody in two years of riding that section, so the thought didn’t occur. Now I call out on every descent and nobody has ever responded. Better to sing to the trees rather than somebody hurt.

If I see another rider on the trail and need to pass, I always call out as per local etiquette; right, right, right or left, left, left. So long as I remember that I live in France and use à droit or à gauche it works, and everybody knows what’s happening. Meeting horseback riders out on the trails too is common so be aware and approach slowly to avoid spooking the horses. It’s always worth asking the riders if it’s safe to pass.

Being nice to other trail users is easy and it makes friends. Even those of the furry variety and two foxes in separate locations have become curious rather than wary because I slow down if I see them.

Think about the environment too. There are plenty of people out there who complain about rambler traffic damaging the environment so stay on the trails or at the very least away from areas that don’t permit mountain bikes. Even on official trails, difficulties can arise as I discovered on a superb singletrack through a forest.Two Way Traffic

A new landowner decided he didn’t want mountain bikes to use his section of the forest and he installed a barbed wire fence across the narrow trail. His dangerous action was unfortunate but his right to deny access.

In wilderness areas, some people like to hunt yet, they are bound by strict rules. One of these is that they must mark public areas like mountain bike trails with signs and tape to say that they are active. Straying into a hunting area can be extremely dangerous, even life-threatening as was discovered by a now deceased rider. What really happened has been a matter for the courts but the fact that it happened at all is warning enough.

Meeting Other Riders

Most of the official trails in my local area are publicized on signs and free route maps that can be downloaded or picked up from local tourist offices. Without exception, all the routes are shown with direction of travel arrows and many riders follow them in this way, especially those who aren’t familiar with the trails, even though it’s not a rule to do so. I like to follow the trails in both directions because they present different challenges and that often means I’m going to meet riders coming toward me, especially at the weekends and holidays.

Who Has the Right of Way?

If a rider is climbing toward me, they have the right of way. That’s easy.

Trail Etiquette

It’s a bit more negotiable on a singletrack and more a question of who can find the best place to stop to allow the other to pass. Goodwill breeds goodwill so polite and helpful is always the best policy.

The Bottom Line

Just Ride Hard, Ride Fair, Nobody Hurt

Comments and Questions

Yours are always welcome and so long as it’s on topic, there’s no such thing as a bad question and you will always get a prompt response.

Read More

There are some terrific books out there that deal with MTB etiquette and more. I highly recommend this one from Paul Molenberg.

Let's Mountain Bike

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