I recently noticed a new addition to the staid, standard trail markers dotting my local trail system. Below the usual icons for bikers and hikers, difficulty ratings, and directional arrows, there was a square showing a waving emoji-style hand with the words “Be Nice, Say Hi!” in a friendly, bubbly font. While the message itself seems pretty straightforward, I wanted to learn more about the campaign. Could trail etiquette really be boiled down to just four words?
Erik Hillard has been involved in trail advocacy in California for many years now. Growing up, Hillard and friends rode their bikes on trails that weren’t exactly bike-legal, and he learned early on that he could generally get away with riding the trails as long as he was extra nice to the hikers he encountered. Later, while handling social media for the Mount Wilson Bicycling Association (MWBA), Hillard says he noticed a drawback to the language associated with trail usage, particularly the triangle-shaped “share the trail” graphic most bikers are now familiar with.
“I don’t feel like I could come up with a better graphic to communicate that bikes need to slow down or yield to hikers and horses etc, than that triangle. Graphically, it is a successful way of communicating that. But it’s not fun. It’s not something that like, people really want to talk about.”
Like it or not, the mountain bike community has been talking about trail etiquette almost since the beginning of our sport, and the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) is generally seen as an authority on the topic. Over the years they’ve established six rules of the trail “to promote responsible and courteous conduct on shared-use trails” that are widely recognized and practiced by mountain bikers around the world.
“Something that I’ve kind of been pushing for the last four years is no longer saying trail etiquette, but saying trail courtesy,” Hillard says. “I really strongly feel that changing our language from trail etiquette to trail courtesy is a big positive move. In a lot of ways people don’t like to be told what to do. And etiquette means rules.”
So, instead of a laundry list of rules, Hillard struck upon the simple idea of being nice, and saying hi to others on the trail. He had seen and heard of similar messaging being used by a trail group in Sheffield, England and also by another individual in the Bay Area, and decided to help spread the gospel. The first part of the phrase — be nice — is essentially the golden rule that says to treat others the way we want to be treated ourselves. The second half — saying hi — is an even more practical call to action. As Hillard sees it, there are two things that happen when trail users — mountain bikers, but also hikers and equestrians — take a moment to greet one another.
“Saying hello required me to slow down a little bit. I would make eye contact and it really changed the interaction. By saying hello and ‘have a nice day’ or, you know, ‘beautiful day out,’ or you know, ‘gorgeous horse,’ whatever, just […] making the effort to have a little bit of personal communication. [It] just softens the whole interaction.
“I also see that it makes the other trail users recognize me as a human, right? [They may think] ‘oh, here comes the mountain biker guy with all the Stormtrooper kind of stuff.'” Hilard argues that it’s easy for mountain bikers wearing full-face helmets and goggles to be perceived as different, even inhuman, leading to interpersonal communication barriers.
To be clear, the campaign isn’t just targeted at mountain bikers. Everyone is encouraged to be nice and say hi. Hillard says he’s seen a lot of interest from equestrian groups as well as bikers. So far he’s printed about 5,000 of the stickers, which are showing up at trail systems all over the USA. Trail groups can request the stickers for free, while individuals can purchase them. Embroidered patches and vinyl cutouts are available for purchase as well, and all of the proceeds go toward covering the cost of distributing more free stickers. Hillard notes it’s important to gain permission before placing a sticker on a trail sign, or on public or private property.
At a high level, mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding all have one thing in common: they are recreational activities. People use trails for recreation, which at its core, is about having fun and enjoying oneself. Being nice and saying hi seems to be a good reminder of this, and I’ve found it’s nearly impossible to do without cracking a smile.
When I mention to Hillard that the whole idea feels very “California” to me, he says; “Yeah man, just chill out and say hello and everything will be fine. It’s definitely a very California concept.”
Editor’s note: Some quotes have been edited lightly for clarity. For more info and to order stickers, visit benicesayhi.org.
Fantastically simple and effective. Thanks!
There’s a very interesting discussion to be had about perceived trail conflicts, how easy it is to keep other trail users from meeting their goals in visiting nature, speed differentials, phenomenological experience, etc, …but it really does boil down to “be kind, say hi.”
I always pull over, stop, say hi and let any rider, hiker, vehicle, logging truck, etc. pass. It’s not hard, I’m on a bike and it’s plain and simple courteous.
I’m out to have fun in nature not impose my ego or fight with someone.
Good stuff, Jeff! Spread the word! Bottom-line to me is just show respect to others, whether on the trail or just in life. Something we’re lacking these days.
I say “Hi there” or “How’s it going” to everyone I see on the trail. I usually don’t get anything in return, or even worse I get suspicious looks. If a rider comes up fast on me and I pull over, I will say, “Hi there have a great ride”, or if I’m in a really good mindset say “go get it!” or “You got it!”. Again, 9 times out of 10 I don’t even get a head nod or eye-contact.
It’s not a difficult thing, being nice or polite. I just don’t think people know how.
When I moved from the southeast to Colorado I noticed people didn’t return my trail greetings as often there. I wonder if it’s a regional or cultural thing?
We seem to be more courteous to like minded people when we feel that we share a sort of weirdness. So in the south where the dominant culture is more sedentary we recognize other trail users as fellow travelers to be embraced. But in Colorado where trail usage and fitness are a core part of the area’s identity there’s nothing special to connect two trail users.
I think the behavior of outdoors people has actually gotten better in the past few decades (as opposed to that on social media) at least where I live. I came into mountain biking after a climbing/running background. 30 years or so ago Smithsonian magazine had an article on the “Vulgarians”, a group of climbers from New England who prided themselves on behaving obnoxiously – climbing in the nude just to shock people, waiting above the door of a restaurant to pee on members of the Appalachian mountain club as they exited, overturning the car of the AMC president (except they chose the wrong car) etc – I’m not making this up. There were actual fights over bolting routes. Routes were named for their crudity, often referring to anatomic parts. All that has largely disappeared, at least from my local climbing scene. I spend a lot of time on heavily travelled multi-use trails around Helena Montana and have had essentially no bad encounters. (However, a year ago some hikers objected to a one-day Enduro event that would block off a few miles of trails to hiking for one day – there are 80 miles of trails right around Helena, so not every user is happy). Kudos to everyone bending over backwards to make courteous behavior the norm on the trails.
I always greet hikers and other riders, though I am starting to get tired of the dogs off-leash. Most dogs are good and will stay away from something bigger and faster than they are. I encountered an off-leash labordoodle today… ugh… those dogs are too dumb to know what is coming at them and just freeze. They should not be off-leash.
Being friendly is always part of a good trail riding experience. I would add that courtesy should include a nod to those who groom the trails. And this means treating the trails well. Perhaps “No Skidding” signs would be a welcome addition at the start of downhill sections. Competent braking techniques go a long way toward keeping our trails rideable and hikeable.
I give a shout out to all trail users. With fellow bikers and hikers it is normally is just a thanks and have a great ride/hike in passing. With horse back riders I always stop and chat them up as they approach (Long live cowgirls!!!!). Additionally, I check out the condition of their horses and tack. I try to go out of my way to be pleasant and make everyone at ease. That said, I have to praise the bike riders in the Cincinnati, Ohio area. There are several trails on both sides of the Ohio river and during my seven week stay in the area last summer/fall every rider I met on the trails would yield the trail and stop for a friendly conversation. I was very impressed.
Being nice and saying hi has turned into personal satisfaction for me instead of depending on a reciprocal greeting or acknowledgement. I just feel better when I’m friendly to other trail users and in life.
I’m like the.bler. I stop for everybody I can. The hikers definitely appreciate it. Sadly, I got a comment the other day from a hiker who was very grateful that I stopped for him and his wife. He said, you are the first biker today to stop for us. He was being super nice, but it was a sad indictment on our local biking community. I often stop for other bikers when they’re going downhill, and I’m going up. Far more times than not, there is no thank you offered. My new “tactic” is to say “You’re welcome” when there is no thanks given. Any act of trail courtesy should receive a response of “Thank you.” Is that not just common courtesy.