photo: Jeff Barber

Any opinions expressed in this piece are the author’s own, and may or may not represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.

Mountain biking has recently hit the mainstream following a modern “geometry revolution,” leading to increased numbers of trail users on very capable bicycles, with varying levels of experience in etiquette and bike handling. This has created a landscape where tensions can be high and many trails are rife with littering, fall line ruts, and collapsed berms.

These factors have led to countless arguments, particularly with other trail users, over topics like “conservation” and “land access.” It may be time for us as mountain bikers to relinquish the myopic worldview of defending our personal natural playground, and instead, take steps toward a sustainable platform from which to lead the industry by example. Now is the time for mountain biking to take a step that no other genre of “extreme” outdoor sports has taken before: Using the excitement of a large, impressionable user base to support conservation for the long-term health of the land rather than solely focusing on land access issues.

Early research on the connection between outdoor recreation and environmental concern found only a weak correlation between activity and activism (Dunlap & Heffernan 1975 Journal of Rural Sociology). It goes without saying that leaps and bounds have been made within the outdoors industry to encourage environmental concern over the past four decades; however, much of this concern seems to be focused on climate change and wilderness preservation.

Bikes for sale at Riverbrook bike shop in Hayward, WI. photo: Jeff Barber

The mountain bike industry and its constituents are regularly concerned with changes to trail access, whether a result of land designation changes or additional complications to the term “mechanically advantaged” in the case of e-bikes. The cycling industry has thrived without inspiring environmental activism among the many individuals purchasing new bicycles every year, but maybe a dose of friendly, optional education, could improve trail centers and the environment as a whole for everyone.

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When purchasing a new bicycle, whether directly online or through a brick-and-mortar store, several pieces of material are attached to the frame: A sticker encouraging the use of a helmet, another sticker with safety information, reflectors for nighttime safety, and often a plastic disc inside the cassette to prevent the chain from sucking into the wheel.

These pieces of safety information and equipment are minor nuisances for most of us to remove, but are invaluable to a new user who may be uninformed about safety or traffic laws. Would one more piece of education provided with bike sales be much of an annoyance if it offered similar benefits to our trails and overall enjoyment?

Photo: Fred Stamm

What I suggest is a small, industry standard etiquette booklet attached to the handlebars of every new mountain bike sold. This paper booklet would only need to be a few pages long, explaining both social and environmental rules of etiquette that much of the cycling community already practices. Rules like yielding to uphill traffic, avoiding skids, sticking to established trails, and waiting to ride after it rains may seem like common knowledge, but can go a long way toward making mountain bikers better stewards.

Rather than having uninformed riders learn proper etiquette through trail-side confrontations, providing this information could lead to a cleaner environment, less stress on individuals and trails, and a healthier landscape overall.


Perhaps if we as a community focus on bettering our environment and ourselves as trail stewards rather than demand trail access with little to offer in return, the larger outdoor community may notice the part we play in the great outdoors and grant us wider access to the places we love.

I would love to hear your opinions regarding how to better educate the cycling populace to take care of each other and the environment in the comments below.

# Comments

  • JD

    A good idea if people would read it…..and abide by it. Knowing human nature, that’s a big if.

    • Manwell

      Why is always human nature when talking about Americans?
      The problem is, many Americans have a relatively poor attitude towards nature and conservation in general. Give em a mountain bike and this attitude follows.
      Anyone expecting to turn mountain biking mainstream can expect problems. Of course increasing bike is the industry’s primary focus. It’s a business. I dont expect that to change simply because you hand out a booklet of common sensical etiquette.

  • Phonebem

    It might not be a popular opinion, but I think the only effect this will have is increasing the amount of waste generated with every bike purchase.
    I’d think a better way of providing g the info would be for sites like this to continue loudly beating the drum as well as adding a splash page to trail finding apps (MTB, Project, Trailforks, etc.) with the relevant info.

  • coot271

    Really? No one is going to read it. If the new rider doesn’t already have any sense about them, then an extra lousy booklet will not change anything. Etiquette is learned by doing and using common sense…..SMH!

  • triton189

    Yes it should but it probably won’t happen. I would like to see just basic etiquette posted at main trail heads. This may be more effective. People are gonna be people though.

    • Phonebem

      Totally agree! This would be infinitely more effective than a booklet that will be thrown away with the warning stickers and owner’s manual (that’s about as useful as a generic description of a bike).

  • Hap Proctor

    Wow….. not much faith in the human race shown in the comments. I think older (more mature) first time buyers and probably a higher percentage of women would read it. It’s a good idea that might trickledown to the knucklehead riders.

  • rmap01

    I guess i’m the outlier as I think the idea has merit. We have to start somewhere. The bike purchase is one access point to new riders. This point of sale communication could be further expanded. For example, what if Singletracks worked with the manufacturers as part of the registration process to create a link to the site and possibly even gain access to the registrants’ email? The benefit for the bike purchaser would be that they could access a site that has a list of all trails in the area and could possibly even provide links to their local MTB organization that maintains the trails. If you have their email you could send info related to trail etiquette, skills development, trail advocacy, etc. all of which should be of interest to the purchaser. I realize this may sound a bit pie in the sky but if the upfront effort was made I have little doubt that real progress would be made.

  • Willyjaybob

    No question, YES! I’ve thought this for years… Although a booklet may be too much. Perhaps a basic 2 sided card with the basics and a website listed to visit for more info–or even directions to app like this one, or MTB Project, Trailforks, etc. I believe that most people will do what’s right when given the option and that the MTB community in particular, bonds us in a pretty special way when we’re out there on the trails. Being proactive is always preferable to complaining when things don’t look the way we’d want them to–while we’ve done nothing to make things better.

  • BBCcom

    I agree that most people are going to set aside all the reading materials that come with the bike. Not that they are rebels, but they just want to ride, and think they are able. I think the most important thing that can be done for the MTB?EMTB community is to have each shop where they are sold to put on a regular ride, possibly weekly or even more, if they have the demand. Selling a bike to someone, making sure they have the right helmet, etc. is done at the shop. But then, invite the buyer to go riding with the shop…all levels, beginners included, easy MTB ride. Then take them on a nice ride and explain about uphill has right-of-way, but try to get out of the way, warning upcoming slower bikers or hikers with “on your left” or “on your right”, depending on the space open….lots of tips that will stick can be given to beginning riders, with will make them more environmentally and legally responsible (and safer) as they go riding….

  • troutwest66

    As a sort of new MTB owner and rider any education will help. I enjoy reading the literature that comes with things I buy, new bike, new gun, new truck, etc. Shops can encourage etiquette and offer simple classes or resources to look up. Sometimes it is simple and unintended ignorance on the trails.

  • matthew.krupp

    Seems like there are a lot of good ideas here. The booklet would reach some but many would discard and just want to ride (sounds like me). General rules posted next to trail maps at trail heads would be another tool that would reach a few more that may read it if it is right there quick and easy with a few basic rules. Putting in on websites and trail finder apps another good idea. When I first started educating myself I got a lot of info from MTB videos and articles like on this site. I think the local bike shop selling the bike has the most direct line with the customer. I am not sure how to motivate the salesperson to talk to the customer about general rules and courtesies but I think that is way to make sure the customer has to at least process it. Once again the information has to be a few bits of easily digestible information. Maybe all of us as a community could also learn how to confront those breaking the rules in a respectful way and educating them or reminding them. Then what do you do when their response is not respectful? The answer should be remain respectful and move on and hope maybe they change. Can’t force people to do the right thing.

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