The idea of ‘trail etiquette’ in the group I regularly ride came about a few years ago, with the advent of Welsh trail centres like Coed-y-Brenin and Afan Forest providing these fantastic mountain-bike trails to ride, abundant with singletrack, rocks, roots and other obstacles. They were, and rightly still are, hugely popular, brilliant to ride, until… you came up behind a slower group of riders.
Singletrack is just that: wide enough for one bike, and so overtaking isn’t really on, unless you’re of the elbows-out school of rider, determined to barge anyone in your way into the undergrowth as you plough on past. Which is exactly the type of tactics we dubbed ‘trail etiquette’, that unwillingness to wait until they slow to let you pass or stop yourselves to allow them the chance to get further ahead.
Having ridden in a few events I’ve heard these lycra-clad, super-fit shop-rider dudes yelling ‘RIDER!’ as they steam up behind you and barrel past, while these days you sometimes hear people shouting ‘STRAVA!’ as if they’re on an Olympic qualifying run on the local trails, desperate that no other pesky trail user dare attempt to slow them down! It’s one thing while in a race, but when out riding for fun… well, it’s a bit much.
Trail Etiquette in the Wild
Recently, I was returning to Fairholmes car park, having ridden one of the Peak District’s Cut Gate path, dawdling along the track beside Howden Reservoir, waiting for our bunch to regroup, when a couple of younger guys came past. They were evidently riding the three reservoirs circuit and came to a gate ahead of me. They stopped, opened it, passing through as I arrived behind them, for me to be met with the thud of said gate slamming shut against my front tyre as they let go of it and set off. It’s not difficult to hold a gate open for someone right behind you, is it? Simple trail etiquette.
So, mildly annoyed by this, I set off in pursuit, ‘Grrring’ inside my head, determinedly catching and then overtaking them triumphantly only to soon reach the next gate. An opportunity to stop and ostentatiously hold the gate open for the whippersnappers, aiming to make a point – trail etiquette is important.
The first guy sailed through the gate and onward with not a word, no sign of acknowledgement or appreciation of my kindness. The second guy came through, possibly suffering with the pace his mate was setting, gasping something along the lines of, “Don’t want… stop… trying… keep… momentum…” as he awkwardly twisted and turned through the gate and set off.
I think my eyebrows had travelled several inches north as I stood feeling closer to apoplexy following this affront to my generosity, I set off once more in pursuit, trying to think up a suitably disparaging comment about trail etiquette to throw their way. I watched as they nearly mowed down a family with a pushchair, weaving between terrified walkers out for a pleasant stroll, then caught them and said… well, nothing! I put the energy of my rage through my legs and sped off ahead, thinking that trail etiquette dictates that you should avoid getting into a row (or maybe I was a bit scared).
Be Nice Say Hi
However, it does remind me that there has been a fair amount of discussion about this type of thing in recent months. As mountain bikers I do feel we have a responsibility to represent ourselves positively towards other users of our great outdoors.
There’s a brilliant awareness campaign that’s been developed between Cycling UK and the British Horse Society, labelled Be Nice Say Hi, which is aimed at improving relationships between the different users – when a cyclist encounters a horse and rider, the idea is to call out a greeting to make them aware of the bike’s presence, before passing by safe and wide.
The same can be said for when meeting walkers. Personally, I would much rather slow right down and call out a friendly hello, rather than offer the somewhat impersonal ‘ding-ding’ of a cycling bell.
Up or Down?
There has also been debate about who should give way – the biker descending or the biker climbing. It always used to be that someone climbing would get precedence but with technological and geometrical advances making mountain bikes far more adept at gaining and maintaining speed there are some that feel the descender should have right of way.
This was also experienced by us as we climbed back up Mickleden Edge on that Cut Gate ride, with a group of riders coming down in the opposite direction making no attempt to slow down or stop as we huffed and puffed our way up.
When meeting up we commented on it, but shrugged our shoulders and carried on. But just out of basic politeness and camaraderie with a fellow biker, it would be nice to see consideration given to both parties – slow down, be nice, say hi!
Striking a Balance
I think it just comes down to common sense and being aware of other users. Generally speaking, we’re all out to get our fix of the outdoors, whether that’s relaxing and taking in the beautiful surroundings or gaining an adrenaline rush by pushing ourselves on challenging terrain.
Rather than looking at it from the point of view of three separate and opposed groups of people, horse riders, bikers and walkers, it would be nice to think that we can co-exist happily in the environment we all love to be in, where some basic trail etiquette leads to harmony.
Where do you stand on Trail Etiquette? Try this simple quiz
1. You’re hammering down a particularly gnarly descent, when you see some walkers coming up the trail. Do you:
a) Maintain speed, as they’re bound to leap out of the way
b) Slow down a little, call out to them that a bike is approaching, assuming they’ll move to the side
c) Slow right down as you approach them, say hello, chat briefly about the weather/trail conditions/strange animal you saw back there…
2. On a well-used trail centre section, you approach behind clearly slower riders ahead. Do you:
a) Bellow, ‘Strava!’ at the top of your voice and force them off the trail as you barge past
b) Catch up as quickly as possible and buzz their back tyres until they pull over/fall off
c) Stop, give them time to get a good gap so that you can pass them at the end of the section on the fire road
3. A dad and his lad are setting off downhill ahead of you. Do you:
a) Race down behind them, catching up as quickly as possible, before showing them who the king of the hill is by weaving between them at speed
b) Catch up and pass, making some superfluous comments of encouragement as you go by
c) Wait until they reach the bottom before descending at your own pace, offering some inspirational words of wisdom to the youngster when you arrive
4. An unrewarding, but necessary canal towpath bridleway links singletrack sections of your route. With regard to other users, do you:
a) Blast along as fast as possible, hoping to scare walkers into nearly falling into the water
b) Call out ‘bike on your left/right’ while you maintain speed – why should you slow down!
c) Slow down as you approach others on the tow-path, speak to them if approaching from behind to make them aware of you, and pass carefully
5. You reach a gate and some other trail users are approaching ahead. Do you:
a) Get through as quickly as possible, ensuring the gate is properly fastened before zooming off, with a sneering look towards those approaching
b) Call to them to ask if it’s okay that you leave it off the latch for them, before carrying on
c) Hold the gate open for them until they’ve passed through, before carefully closing the gate behind you
How did you get on?
Mostly As: The term ‘etiquette’ is not one you are particularly familiar with, is it? Maybe you could think less about smashing your best Strava time and give a little more consideration to others on the trail.
Mostly Bs: You have a reasonable awareness of others on the trail, with the occasional lapse where you accidentally scare the bejesus out of some poor, unsuspecting walker – focus!
Mostly Cs: You are the epitome of etiquette, probably standing holding gates open for hours on end while you should be riding – maybe just occasionally, you could be a little more selfish!