Tell me if this has ever happened to you during a group ride. You’re cruising along and the guy in front of you yells out “low branch!” every time there’s something you need to duck for along the trail. Or he yells out “bridge!” to tell you there’s a 3-foot-wide wooden structure spanning a dry creek bed 18-inches below grade. On a recent ride I even heard someone yell out “log!” which caused me to grind my teeth in frustration – what’s up with all the spoilers?

Yes, calling out obstacles on the mountain bike trail can be both courteous and helpful. For example, there may be unexpected problems ahead (say a newly fallen tree) or even a rider who is stopping abruptly (stopping!). Sometimes it’s a good idea to call out directions at a fork in the trail to keep the group together (right!).


Still, the whole idea of calling out warnings on the trail seems like a road biking thing to me, like when guys silently point at loose man hole covers or crumbling asphalt for others to avoid. The difference is, we’re mountain bikers – we expect – nay, enjoy – the bumps in the road! Here are three reasons I can do without trail spoilers.

1. I don’t want to know what’s coming up. For me, mountain biking is all about encountering the unexpected and when there are no more surprises left on the trail that usually means it’s time for me to find new dirt. I love the adrenaline rush I get from reacting quickly and making split-second decision making so when I know what’s coming up, that takes some of the fun out of biking for me.

2. Trail warnings break your concentration. I typically focus on picking lines 10-yards ahead of my wheel so to take a mental break to think about what’s coming up beyond that can be dangerous. Ok, so it’s not really that dangerous but it definitely harshes the flow. Do not harsh the flow.

3. Conditions change and everyone is ultimately responsible for themselves. On a recent night ride our group was turning left off a curvy, paved road and after looking both ways I called out “clear” and leaned into the turn. Just as I crossed the yellow line I saw headlights coming around the bend and while I had plenty of time, I realized the guys behind me wouldn’t make it. If they had simply listened to me without looking they would have been hit, long before I could follow up with a “car up.” The point is, even if someone calls out an obstacle, it’s still up to the individual rider to evaluate the situation and make the right decision.

I get that we’re “trying to have a a society here” and I understand that the riders who call stuff out are really trying to be helpful. Just next time – call out “spoiler alert!” before you tell me what’s coming so I can at least cover my ears.

# Comments

  • 49637

    if i’m in a group i’ll let them know whats coming to a degree when we stop for a rest, regroup ect…. but not while riding unless its something dangerous …. snake, rider down

  • ckdake

    I might say the exception to this is in ‘paceline’ situations on the trails: when people are riding so close and its so dark/overgrown/fast/etc that those further back in the line don’t have the advantage of seeing what’s coming up. We probably shouldn’t be riding that close together, but that eye-level sharpened dead tree branch is looking for some trouble causing.

    I’m still trying to figure out the best brief way to say “I’m going to bail on this and you’re right behind me and I know you’re going to make it so when I pull off to the side at the last minute, go right ahead and do a back flip over that 4ft diameter log.”

  • trek7k

    Ha! I wasn’t thinking about you when I wrote this ckdake, though I’m going to be watching you from now on. 🙂

    Spoilers are certainly more appropriate at night, though still, it’s night riding – stuff is gonna surprise the crap out of everyone from time to time. “Stopping” is probably my favorite trail alert, followed closely by “Shit!” (translation: I’m about to fall off my bike.). That one always gets me on the brakes right away.

    Oh, and I forgot – Bees! Let’s definitely keep calling those out.

  • 49637

    i only call out stuff for my newb friends that are with me. Just bc i can clear logs, creek crossings with steep in and outs, or rock gardens doesnt mean they can. I want their experience to be good, so i call out when Im ahead so they dont crash or feel overwhelmed by hitting it too quickly or being too fatigued to be paying attention.

  • mtbgreg1

    Yeah calling out stuff like snakes is definitely a good thing! But I agree, calling out every rock and root is overkill. Although when I was tailing the bike park manager at Crested Butte, I appreciated it when he let me know when there was a 12 foot drop coming up that I might want to bypass around…

  • 49637

    On coming riders I call out. Mostly the closing rate can be pretty fast. Give them a heads up with a ‘rider up” call. I also will say how many follow me if any. As for obstacals, only if I am riding with a new rider.

  • 49637

    I have told riders starting down, as a joke, “Be careful, there’s some rocks in the trail!” To my dismay, they take me seriously and say “Oh, OK, thanks for the warning.”
    The sissy groomed trails nowadays just don’t have many rocks…..

  • 49637

    I know it’s probably wrong of me to say this, but I’m going to say it anyway. I don’t think riders should call out (especially SHOUT OUT!) oncoming obstacles, or even oncoming riders. Trek7k makes a good point about each rider being responsible for reacting to the obstacles as they approach them. When I’m climbing the trails in my area, enjoying nature, nothing annoys me more than to have a pack of riders zip past me, each shouting “RIDER UP!!!”. Also I don’t really care how many more people are behind you. There could be 1, 10, or 100. You don’t really know, so please don’t give me that useless information.

  • 49637

    I think calling trail issues with a “heads up” is fine just as “rider back” or “rider up” to indicate slower, faster or oncoming riders. If you are too close to the rider in front warning is no good so your bikes make that crashing sound and a high pitched holy s**t will suffice for the riders further back. If that is too distracting just put in headphones with the music turned up and keep lots of bactine in your Camel Back. Just saying. Later,

  • 49637

    Anyone remember the old Micro Machines commercials witht he really fast talking guy? Thats what it would sound like calling out every obstacle on some trails 🙂

  • maddslacker

    I usually only call out something that is unusual for that trail, such as animals (horses, deer, cows) or a wrecked rider sprawled across the trail or something like a washed out bridge or a gate closed that’s usually open…stuff like that.

  • Jared13

    I ride solo 😀 (mostly cause I have no friends that ride….yet ;))
    I agree with the “Stopping” and any expletive comment for falling. Those are two things I wouldn’t expect on a trail if I rode with a group.

    I’m assuming “Rider up” means a rider is up ahead and “Rider back” means someone is approaching the group from the rear?

  • mtbgreg1

    @Jared13, yes. This is basically roadie lingo (“car up”, and “car back”). On the road it’s super useful (and just plain common-sense-safety) to let everyone know when vehicles are approaching and from what direction.

  • 49637

    Nice article and I would agree… but my wife is legally blind, less than 20/400 vision, so I do call out. Have had people stop and bitch me out for it – you know, she’s visually impaired, not dead… and her being able to mountain bike is more important than letting someone be surprised by an hazard.

  • seenvic

    I tend to call out stuff that surprised me.

    Logs on the trail…not so much. Unless it is new and around a blind corner.

    The stuff head high is always called out by me. I’ve been knocked silly and off the bike simply for having my head down and I didn’t see what the rider in front of me ducked under.

    I ride on occasion with a group who call out everything, everytime. Same ride, same logs, same call outs. It is a bit much.

    If I pass a rider head on and he says “2 back”, I know there are 2 more riders with him coming my way. I find this useful info.

    I’d say somewhere in the middle is the answer for me. Somewhere b/n call out everything and call out nothing. Probably a little closer to the call out less side.

  • Fitch

    A big part of this is how experienced your ride partners are. Most of my ride buddies are a little behind me in experience/ technical ability, so they really appreciate knowing there’s a log or rock garden or bridge ahead.

    When riding with better riders, though, I use less warnings. It’s all relative for me.

  • 49637

    I typically only call out things that would be dangerous for the level of rider(s) I’m with. With a beginner group that has a hard time keeping the rubber on the down side, I call out a lot. When I ride with more advanced riders, well… there on their own unless it is wild life on the trail and we are going fast.

    I do ride with groups of 15-20 a lot and if your in the open or all real close I don’t say much about how many are in the group but if we’re in the trees and spread out I will let them know.

    What ever you decide to do will be wrong for someone, so just do what is considerate trail etiquette.

  • 49637

    just sounds a little high strung to me…sometimes its fun when there is a good lip to be told to peddle faster since you cant see the hit around the corner…

    when it comes down to it, sounds like this article should be more about how to pick your riding partner, which apparently, you dont need one cuz youre such a badass

  • trek7k

    Thanks for all the comments. This was meant to be a bit of humor but apparently I need to work on my delivery a bit. 🙂 Maybe I can get some tips from Luke_E…

  • bikecowboy

    Dang! I have to throw my 2 cents in now! Even though you meant to be light with this I still agree. I ride alone mostly and it drives me crazy when I meet a group on the trail and the everyone starts calling out like I’m taking up the whole trail or something. Most of the time I’m already off the side of the trail waiting on them. It seems to me that most riders look at the ground right in front of them. I’ve done some shop rides and nobody ever yelled for anything. I say keep looking foward, don’t follow too closely, and use your skills to have fun.

  • 49637

    i agree, but if you don’t like it, why not just tell them to stop. or ride alone.

    i often ride alone or small groups, but generally the only calling out of obstacles is generally accompanied with an expletive. for example, “f’n tree”, if someone gets tagged by a tree suddenly jumping into the trail and taking a bite out of their shoulder.

    they do that at night you know.

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