Krista Houghton
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Rules of the trail in the days of  eMTBs, COVID-19 and trail apps

Trail etiquette has been around since trails were first created. Trail apps, electric mountain bikes, the COVID-19 pandemic, and other factors have brought a flood of new users to our trails. The problem is it seems very few people actually know and even less follow the long established “rules of the trail.” For the safety of everyone, it is important people are familiar with this topic before they hit the trail.

Let’s start with the most important rule: right of way. We’ve all seen the “Trail Courtesy” sign pictured above. It clearly illustrates that bikes yield to equestrians and hikers; hikers yield to equestrians; equestrians yield to no one.

Another sign you may encounter – “Rules of the Trail” – reminds users of another very important rule: to keep right and pass on the left, and warn before passing. Hikers, this is for you too. I’ve encountered so many new and young hikers that simply freeze when a bike approaches.  

It’s just like driving, pass on the left and if encountering each other in opposite directions, stay right.

To add another layer, it’s commonly accepted that the person going uphill has the right of way; this comes from the “rules of the road.”

Keep in mind that these rules are meant as guidelines, but they are not black and white — each situation calls for the best decision in regards to safety. 

For example, a common situation on multi-use trails involves mountain bikers riding downhill and encountering hikers on the uphill. Yes, the rules are to yield to the person going uphill and bikes yield to hikers. However, sometimes the safest and easiest solution is a cooperative effort between users, with the rider slowing down considerably and the hiker moving off trail.

Even though it may be easier for a hiker to yield to a biker,
the biker should never expect a hiker to yield.

When encountering equestrians on the trail, bikers and hikers alike should always stop and move off trail, below the horse when possible. All users need to yield to horses.

Even if it means stepping  into poison oak,
bikers and hikers yield to horses, period.

Many new developed trails are in fact now one way only, and even specific to only bikers or only hikers and horses. This seems to be the best solution to avoid sometimes dangerous encounters. 

In a group? Single file, please! It’s not cool or safe for hikers, bikers or horse riders to be on the trail side by side.  

And music … please don’t share your music on the trail. Most trail users go outside to hear nature, not your music, no matter how bumpin’ it is.

Rolling with the changes  

The advent of electric mountain bikes (eMTBs) and safety measures due to COVID-19 have introduced some additional etiquette to keep in mind while out on the trails.

If you ride an eMTB, you know that semi-guilty feeling as you approach fellow bikers on a climb. Best advice, power down and politely ask to pass on the next safe section. Say something like “Hello, could I pass on the left at your next convenience?”

Naturally, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the way we recreate outdoors. It’s important to be respectful and safe by keeping at least six feet away from those not in your own household, and to wear your mask when passing others. It’s really quite easy and simple.

Stay 6 feet apart and wear a mask to pass.

Also, this should go without saying, but it’s a particularly bad time for “snot rockets” — blow your nose into a tissue or hankie, not on the trail!

Please share these rules with your children and friends that are new to the sport. The outdoors is a wonderful place to unwind and forget the stresses of the world, so it is the responsibility of each of us to respect one another and the rules.