Who yields to whom? Mountain biking expert shares simple trail etiquette

Bikers ride along a fire road in this undated image, location not specified | Image from Pixabay, St. George News

SOUTHERN UTAH — Trails unselfishly take mountain bikers into the vastness of beauty that comes from desert and mountains that surround us. But, since trails are only a pencil-width in comparison to the world around them, they face problems when filling up quickly – not only with mountain bikers but with hikers, trail runners and in some areas equestrians.

In this photo from 2016, riders competed in the 6th Annual True Grit Epic mountain bike race in St. George and Santa Clara, Utah, Mar. 12, 2016 | Photo by Don Gilman, St. George News

All trail users are looking to get away from it all and enjoy a lovely day doing the thing that makes them happy. You might think that with everyone out doing great things there would be no conflicts; but, as in all of life, the way we treat each other directly affects our attitudes.

In other words, a friendly greeting and an “after you” can go a long way.

Conflicts are rare in the Southern Utah area, but as news of the great riding it offers spreads literally around the world, those pencil-thin trails can get pretty busy, especially on holidays or when the good weather kicks in. Recently, a couple of area trails have become one-way to minimize problems. The price of fame.

People all have their own agendas but a few simple rules established by the International Mountain Bike Association can curb problems.

As the fastest moving form of trail user, mountain bikes should yield to both hikers and horses; although, hikers will often “pull over” when bikes approach since it’s so easy for them to get started again down the trail once the bikes have passed. Cyclists are encouraged to thank them when they do.

Mountain biking aficianado Jay Bartlett descends a Southern Utah trail, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Jay Bartlett, St. George News

Speaking of “getting started,” when mountain bikers meet going in opposite directions on a trail, the uphill rider has the right of way. This is because it is generally harder to get a bike started when climbing … that darn gravity. Now, it is OK to be like those friendly hikers and give the go to the downhill rider if you can see they are digging their flow or if you’re ready to take a breather. If the trail is narrow, you should come to a stop and pull your bike to the side. Avoid riding off the trail and tamping in another line, also called “braiding.” Keep the skinny trails skinny.

When encountering horses, extra care needs to be taken. Horses are prey animals, so a bike flying towards them can be mistaken for a mountain lion or bear, and a spooked horse can be a very dangerous thing. Scrub your speed well in advance of getting close to them. Talk to the horse riders as you come up from behind so you can discuss getting around. Don’t worry, they are usually quite friendly unless you cause their horse to buck them off. If you’re meeting head to head: Stop, dismount and pull your bike off the trail. Again, talk to the horse rider.

A mountain biker on a trail in Southern Utah, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Bicycles Unlimited, St. George News

There is a bit of subversion that comes with being a mountain biker. Most don’t really love the idea of rules, since biking at its essence is anything you want it to be, but if you follow these “simple guidelines,” conflicts will be small, fun will be big and the off-road world will continue to be the wonderful, happy place it is meant to be.

Written by JAY BARTLETT.

About the author

The Bicycles Unlimited webpage describes Bartlett this way:

For nearly a decade, Jay has been building and repairing bikes at Bicycles Unlimited and is known for keeping gears shifting smoothly and wheels spinning true. An avid rider for more than 20 years, he knows the ins and outs of most local trails, and his recommendations for trail riding are published in a regular column in St. George Health & Wellness Magazine. In recent years, Jay has taken up road cycling as well, logging thousands of miles.

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3 Comments

  • Travis March 29, 2018 at 11:41 am

    We, as hikers, always yield to the bikers.

    • Bender March 29, 2018 at 2:26 pm

      That ain’t right Travis. Bikes yield to you. I keep meeting the bikers you yield to and they are now expecting me (a hiker) to yield to them. Let’s keep them honest so they don’t get too d@mn3d cocky and then run down our toddlers and pets. Mtn Bikers – slow down and greet me when you approach and I will generally gladly return your greeting and step aside.

  • comments March 29, 2018 at 12:36 pm

    your biggest problems are gonna come up on non-restricted trails, and by that I’m talking about sharing trails with motorized vehicles. Not sure why you didn’t cover that

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