Trail Etiquette: A Confession and an Apology

I have a confession and apology to make: I was the jerk on the trail today. While I had a pleasant ride, the unlucky few to encounter me likely had a less than enjoyable experience. And for that, I apologize.

I may look nice, but watch out! Catch me on the wrong day and I may just run you off the trail.
I may look nice, but watch out! Catch me on the wrong day and I may just run you off the trail.

I apologize for cutting off the guy for going too slow on the descent. For buzzing the guy going in the opposite direction on a stretch of trail that I thought was wide enough for both of us, though clearly not for him. For slamming on my brakes and coming up on hikers entirely too fast. For the near miss while coming in hot on the blind corner that I clearly should have been more cautious on.

I promise I don’t typically ride like that. I’m usually a good steward of trail etiquette. But it happens to the best of us. We get caught up in the moment. The thrill of the downhill and tantalizing carrot in the form of a 3-foot kicker blocks our mental capacity to show compassion for others on the trail. The ebb and flow of the trail are like sweet nectar for our souls, and a change in momentum by either slowing or stopping can seemingly ruin the entire ride.

However, it’s no excuse. There are proper protocols for trail riding and sharing the trails with others. We all make mistakes. Sometimes it’s as simple as underestimating our speed. Unfortunately with mountain biking, very rarely will you run into those that you’ve wronged later on to properly apologize.

The effect of poor trail etiquette, however, can leave permanent scars on others, both figuratively and literally. This is particularly true for those outside of the biking community. A poor encounter with a single mountain biker, even if it’s as simple as coming up too fast on a hiker and frightening them, can leave them thinking that all mountain bikers are reckless. While there are several articles on proper trail etiquette, the real testament is when the rubber hits the dirt.

On most days (aside from today, that is), I try to go out of my way and thank hikers and other mountain bikers that yield to me, usually while going unnecessarily slow. This is particularly true when all published protocol says that they, in fact, have the right of way. Ultimately, the enjoyment experienced on trails shared by many parties is a collective effort, quite like all aspects of life. And days like today are ones where I have to slow down and remind myself of that. Missing a jump or not cleaning a technical descent doesn’t make the 1,000 feet of climbing null and void (though it might feel like it). The purpose of mountain biking is multi-faceted. While those facets may change from day-to-day, and even year-to-year, the fundamentals remain the same: having fun. And a ride that elicits guilt at the end is never fun.

A sweet jump can cloud even the best judgement.
A sweet jump can cloud even the best judgement.

May your trails be comprised of hero dirt, the wind at your back, blue skies above, and may you share the trails with friendlier riders than I was today!

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