A while back, I wrote an article encouraging riders to quit being so serious when they ride. While it’s true that mountain biking should always be fun, there are certain parts of the sport that riders need to take seriously. Here are four aspects of mountain biking that are no laughing matter.
Trail etiquette has been a hot topic in recent months, and it can never be stressed too much. Like it or not, every rider is the face of the sport each time they hit the trails. You might be the only rider that non-riders ever see, and they will use your behavior on a bike, whether good or bad, to make generalizations about all riders.
If you’re on a bike-only trail with a clear line of sight and there’s no one around, let ‘er rip. If not, back off the speed and ride conservatively. The pedestrian you blow off the trail while you’re focused on achieving a new PR might have the power to shut down access to your favorite trail. You don’t want to be the one that ruins all the fun for every other rider in your town.
You also don’t want to ruin the fun for fellow riders by being a jerk to them. Greet them with a smile and a “hello.” Yield to climbers if you’re going downhill. Don’t pass slower riders unless it’s safe for both you and them to do so, and give them a gentle heads-up that you are behind them and want to pass. If you see a rider with mechanical issues, always stop to ask if they need assistance. Encourage newbies when you see them struggling. Mountain biking is more than a sport. It’s a community, and we should all strive to be better members of it.
Risk assessment, management, and avoidance
There seems to be an arms race over the past few years between bike manufactures building more capable trail rigs, and trail builders building gnarlier trails to test the limits of these new trail bikes. Riders, including myself, often take for granted the rides they complete without incident, not giving much thought to the consequences of crashing. The shoulder injury I sustained last year was a wake-up call for me, and I have a different approach to riding now.
Now that I am in my 40s, I don’t feel like I have anything to prove to anyone else but myself. My main goal when riding is to have fun, and to get a great workout. I love the burn of the climbs, and the speed of the flow trails. However, drops and jumps are not part of my rides. I see no benefit risking serious injury for the fleeting reward of clearing jumps.
Every rider is different, but all riders should do their own cost/benefit analysis when it comes to riding trails with serious technical features. What are the risks? Am I prepared to accept the consequences of a crash, including serious bodily injury? Have I done enough to mitigate the risks of a crash, including wearing the proper safety gear, walking the trail to look for any hidden dangers and find places I could bail out if things go wrong? If you don’t ask yourself such questions before riding high-risk trails, you are setting yourself up for disaster.
Riders should never be nonchalant when it comes to maintaining their bikes. A loose bolt or worn-out tire can easily lead to a trip to the ER, or at the very least, a long walk back to the car. Whether you wrench on your rig yourself, or take it to your local bike shop, be diligent about doing regular tune-ups so you can catch minor issues before they become major problems. Additionally, you should always look over your bike before every ride, checking each bolt, gauging your tire pressures, and making sure your suspension sag is set correctly.
If you are riding and hear a funny noise, don’t ignore it. See if you can find the source, or take it to your local bike shop to have them test-ride it in order to determine if there’s a problem. An unusual squeak or rattle is the canary in the coal mine alerting you to a potentially dangerous problem. Being serious about your bike’s maintenance will help you have way more fun on rides because you won’t be worried about whether your bike will make it to the end.
Trail access and trail maintenance
Too often, riders use their local trails without giving any thought to how they were created, or who maintains them. We should never, ever take trail access or trail maintenance for granted. One incident or one individual could lead government officials to shut down a trail. Not only should riders always be on their best behavior when riding, but they should also ensure that their local, state, and federal governments know and appreciate the benefits mountain biking brings to their communities. If we all expect someone else to promote and maintain our local trails, then no one will do it, and we will all lose out. All riders should do their part, whether it’s donating a few dollars to the local trail fund, volunteering for a trail work day, or just telling local officials how much we appreciate and enjoy riding our trails.
Mountain biking isn’t all about fun
While the essence of riding is having fun, there are certain aspects of the sport that riders should never take lightly. All riders should be cognizant of its inherent dangers. So too, riders should always remember that it is a privilege to ride bikes on someone else’s property. Don’t ever take your enjoyment of the sport for granted, but instead be an advocate and ambassador for it to ensure its continued success and growth for generations to come.