Etiquette, manners, protocol, or whatever you want to call it, it's equally important on the trail as it is at the Queen's dining table. Still, it can be confusing to know what's frowned upon and what's not in the heat of a feisty descent. For those who aren't already in the know, you're in the perfect place; here are the dos and don'ts of trail riding.
To the uninitiated, trail etiquette is a mostly unwritten collection of rules designed to make everyone's time on the trails as pleasant, hassle-free, and as safe as possible. Whether considering the environment around you or looking out for fellow cyclists, trail etiquette is important to follow. It's not just to be a good, conscientious rider but to help rowdy, rough, and ready mountain bikers look better in the eyes of other trail users and landowners.
Though, due to their widely unwritten nature, it's easy for newer riders (and even some more experienced riders) to not be aware of what's expected. So, we've made things easy by compiling what you should and shouldn't be doing while out on your mountain bike ride.
Suppose you choose not to follow any trail etiquette. In that case, that could lead to your favourite riding spot being shut down in an absolute worst-case scenario. Not to mention that you may get a pretty low reputation amongst the mountain bike community. Hence, it's always best to keep these rules in the back of your mind and deploy them if and when they're necessary.
Do - Always wear a helmet
Although wearing a helmet is not a legal requirement in the UK, you'll find that most bike parks enforce a strict "no helmet, no ride" policy. Neglecting to wear a helmet not only puts you in danger, but it hands the responsibility of your life upon others around you, be it other trail users and/or the emergency services.
Even when cycling uphill or to the parking machine from your car, your helmet should be firmly planted on your head, as even the seemingly silliest of crashes can have massive consequences.
Helmets can get mighty pricey, but they can also be picked up for as little as £30, so there's absolutely no excuse for wearing one when you're out on the bike.
Don’t - Ride the trail the wrong way
While the climbs can look much more fun as a descent, don't be tempted to ride a trail the wrong way. Riding a trail in the wrong direction puts yourself and other riders in a significant level of danger.
Once on your bike, take extra care to scout trail signs that indicate the right of way. If a trail is closed for any reason, follow the diversion signs instead. If, for any reason, you need to backtrack on your ride, get off your bike and walk to the side of the trail, but not on it.
Do - Help out when you can
We've all been there, sat at the trailside with a mechanical, and you've only gone and forgotten a much-needed tool. It doesn't cost anything to give a quick "are you ok?" to someone who may be in a similar situation.
Even if you haven't got anything that could help, you've shown some much-deserved solidarity within the mountain bike community. Something so simple could also help someone massively, especially if someone is hurt and needs medical attention.
Do - Prepare yourself with some good First Aid know-how
Crashing is part and parcel of mountain biking and more often than not, it's a good laugh. However, as we all know, crashing can lead to very serious injury and if you don't know what you're doing with First Aid, you're going to have a very serious situation on your hands especially if you're far from home.
At the very least, grab a book and swat up or better yet, you can sign up to a First Aid course where you'll learn the ins and outs first hand. You'll even get a qualification.
It's also very important to carry a First Aid kit on you on those rides where you will venture far from the car but it's worth keeping one in your car at all times.
Don’t - Leave a trace
The only trace you should leave is the imprints of your tyre tread in the dirt.
Don't be one of those people who devours a gel only to lob the wrapper to the side of the trail. Our trails and forests are there for everyone. No one wants to see your discarded rubbish tarnishing the lovely views and atmosphere that the countryside offers. Better still, if you have space in your bag, why not pick up that stray bottle that someone else has left behind.
You can read more about how you can help keep our trails clean with the fantastic guys and girls at Trash Free Trails.
Do - Keep faff to a minimum
When you go out with your mates for a ride, that's exactly what everyone wants to do. Ride.
Once in a while, a bit of faffage makes for an ideal time to sit and have a bit of a chat, but it can get boring rather quickly, and you'll soon become the least favourite of the riding group. If you're going for a group ride, the least you can do is be prepared and on time!
Don't - Block the trail
Stopping on any part of the trail gets dangerous very quickly for both yourself and your fellow riders.
If you have to stop, get to trailside as soon as you can. This way, both you and other riders are far less likely to get hurt by oncoming riders. If you're riding with someone who has had a crash severe enough that they cannot move from the trail, grab your bike, flip it and stand it a few metres up the trail. This should tell others that there's something very wrong and stop them from hurtling through, making the situation worse.
Do - Give space to other trail users
I've touched on this in other points here, but our forests aren't there just for us mountain bikers or gravel riders. Other groups, such as ramblers and horse riders have equal shares to enjoy our countryside.
With horses especially, take the time to slow down and make yourself known regardless of where you are on the trail. While it's a tonne of fun pinning it down a fire road at the speed of sound, it can be incredibly startling to horses and walkers. The former could even lead to injury to yourself, the horse or the rider.
Something that some will consider a little dorky but is actually almost invaluable is a bell. Several brands have mountain bike specific bells, such as Granite Designs with the Cricket bell.
Don’t – Rely on your mates for tools and spares
There's nothing to be ashamed of if you've forgotten a multitool and you've turned to your riding buddy to borrow theirs. However, if you make this a theme, it'll quickly get tiring.
Before slinging your kit in the car or leaving the house, take a minute to double-check that you've got everything that you need for your ride.
Do - Let riders pass
Another situation that all riders have experienced is having the sound of an approaching rider's freehub quickly creep up behind you. If you find yourself in this position, find a spot to safely pull over and let the rider by.
On the flip side, if you're the one quickly approaching a rider ahead, either make yourself known by calling out "rider" or a direction like "on the left/right", so the rider ahead knows which direction you're overtaking on. Alternatively, you could also just chill at a steady pace behind while leaving plenty of room so as not to intimidate them, which may cause them to rush and fall off.
Don't - Go around puddles
Unfortunately, mountain biking causes erosion to our lovely landscape, and (while we've all done it) riding around a puddle only makes the problem worse by unnecessarily widening the trail.
Apart from damp feet, there's little harm in blasting through a puddle, so why not? Puddles make for great manual and bunny hop practise if you're really worried about damp piggies.
Do – Skid... But responsibly
There are no two ways about it; skids are fun. However, skids can be massively damaging to the trails we know and love.
Believe it or not, trails aren't maintained by fairies. There's a person or group of people behind the work. Schralping corners too often will wreck a trail, ruining the fun for other riders and ruining the hard work put into building that trail. Skid responsibly.
Don't - Ride closed trails
While it can be massively tempting to duck under the tape and be one of the very first to ride a brand new trail or freshly groomed section, just don't.
The reason why the new trail is closed off is that it's just not ready to ride. It could still be worked on, or it might need a few days or weeks to dry up, ready for the influx of hungry trail riders to enjoy. If you do give into temptation, the trail will likely remain closed for longer, as trail builders repair any premature damage.
Do - Give back to your trails but responsibly
If you can't let go of a skid here and there, then you're the perfect candidate to offset some damage and put some time back into those trails.
Many larger trail centres hold dig days that you can volunteer to help maintain, improve and dig trails. Official dig days are a fantastic way to learn how to build trails and make new riding mates.
If there aren't any official dig days at your local spot, avoid running into the forest and swinging a shovel around alone or without consulting an official person first. Commonly, a trail centre or a collection of natural trails will have a Facebook or social media group attached to it. Any queries about the trails should be asked here before you go digging.
Don’t - Block the trail
upsidedown bikes on trail upside down bikes mtb hannah collingridge.jpg, by Jessica Strange
Stopping and staying at any part of the trail can get very dangerous very quickly for both yourself and your fellow riders.
If you have to stop, get trailside as soon as you can, this way both you and other riders are far less likely to get hurt. This is also a great way of letting others know that you might need a bit of help.
If you're riding with someone who has had a crash serious enough that they cannot move from the trail grab your bike, flip it and stand it a few metres up the trail. This should tell others that there's something very wrong and stop them from hurtling through, making the situation worse.
Don’t - Be a d*ck
This point is a great way to outline trail etiquette in general, and all it takes is a pinch of common sense.
Say hi to other riders as they pass, yes, even roadies, along with any other trail user. The sound of freehubs and the sight of folk on bikes kitted to the nines can be fairly intimidating to a group of humble ramblers. A quick nod, good afternoon, or a hi can help those people feel a little more at ease, and it'll only help mountain bikers be looked upon in a good light.
Also, if you see anyone on the wrong side of the unwritten trail etiquette rules, refrain from running up to that person shouting and swearing. Politely tell them where they've gone wrong with a smile, that way, that person will learn from their mistake and won't be put off riding thereafter.
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