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Mountain Biking Etiquette: 11 Unspoken Trail Riding Rules

By Mark   /  Last updated - November 3, 2022   /  Advice, Blog, Guide, Mountain Bikes

mountain biking trail etiquette rules

Trail riding has gained popularity over the past few years and is enjoyed by beginner and professional mountain bikers alike.

But, because of all the extra bikers, people, cars, and animals on the path, it’s prudent to have some courtesy and etiquette out there—it costs nothing but makes the biking world better!

Following MTB etiquette can improve the experience for all using the trails—from a simple ‘hi’ to giving a helping hand, all this adds up to being a better person.

When in doubt, speak to a fellow biker to get a thorough understanding of how things work on the trail and what mountain biking etiquette they follow.

Below are 11 unwritten rules of mountain biking that are followed by trail riders to make it a safer and more fun sport for everyone.

1. Greet a passer-by 

Don’t be shy and make sure to greet fellow bikers. A little courtesy goes a long way—who knows where a small ‘hello’ could go? Many trail riders have made some amazing friends along the path and end up having intense trail-grinding sessions together. 

three mountain bikers riding on a trail together

It’s a good practice to apologize and thank other cyclists when necessary, even if they aren’t bothered with returning the gesture. A simple nod or wave is also a perfect form of greeting and acknowledging someone on the tracks—this is appropriate MTB trail etiquette. 

In addition to that, make sure to also use bike hand signals when appropriate to signal to other riders that you’re turning, stopping, or slowing down.

2. Stay on the trail

One wouldn’t drive off the road in an urban setting, so why do it on the trails?

Riders are often seen pulling shortcuts and going off the path, ruining the surrounding nature. There’s a reason the trail is the way it is and other bikers with good mountain bike trail etiquette follow it.

While some tracks are man-made and easier to fix, many are formed naturally. The plants, trees, and grass have grown in a way that nature lovers appreciate and by taking shortcuts off the track, you risk ruining it.

3. Leave the trail cleaner than it was

One wouldn’t leave trash lying around their house, so why dump it on the trails? It’s a very shameful habit, but some cyclists empty all their wrappers, bottles, and other waste as they ride along. This pollutes not only the environment but also makes the path less appealing.

coca cola can trash on mountain biking trail

The best way to go about this is to keep the junk and dispose of it in a bin or take it home. An excellent practice to adopt is if something doesn’t belong there, get rid of it. If other riders have been ill-mannered, do a good deed and pick up after them.

4. Sharing is caring

Stopping and checking up on a mountain biker that has trouble along the trail is good mountain biking etiquette and one of the unspoken mountain bike rules.

Sometimes all they might require is some encouragement to get up a treacherous hill. If they have a puncture or call for other mechanical support, assisting them with a spare won’t break the bank, but it gives bonus cyclist points. 

Leaving home with an extra bottle of water or snack can come in handy, but it could also help a fellow rider that needs it more. Random acts of kindness go a long way in life and make the riding community better and more connected.

5. Let it dry 

Many mountain bikers enjoy cycling through muddy trails and water puddles after a heavy downpour of rain. As much as this is fun, it ruins the path and creates ruts that remain etched into it. This makes it uneven, and it becomes a danger to riders as they can easily lose their balance if the wheels get stuck. 

mountain biker riding on a muddy trail

A good way to go about this is to let the path dry and revisit it once it dries up. By doing so, the track is retained and cyclists may enjoy it for more seasons to come. Some bikers could have been using the tracks longer than others so, out of respect, it’s a good mountain bike etiquette to follow.

6. Go prepared

No one likes unprepared riders that keep stopping and whose bicycle keeps breaking down, especially when riding in a group. Before taking the mountain bike on a trail, make sure it’s well-serviced and all the parts work as they’re supposed to—lubricate your mountain bike and tighten the screws and nuts.

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It’s good mountain biking etiquette to be prepared for certain scenarios that could occur, such as punctures and broken components, especially on longer rides. If the path is far away, it’s best to have camping gear and food on board in the event of an emergency, if help isn’t nearby.

7. Stay out of the way 

One of the mountain biking rules that should be followed is to go easy on shared trails, specifically on busier days.

Nobody likes a show-off, so it’s good MTB etiquette to slow down near other riders rather than flying past them at high speed. This leaves a trail of dust which will annoy them and doesn’t make you look cool. 

mountain biker descending on a trail

The best approach to overtaking is by reducing speed close to cyclists and carefully passing them while remembering to say thanks. The same thing applies to riders who are slower—unless it’s a race, let those that are quicker pass and then speed up.

There may not be a written mountain bike path protocol for the right of way and riders usually follow the highway code. However, being the more courteous rider is standard practice. 

8. Wilderness

Almost every mountain biker has a goal of riding in the wilderness alongside wildlife and nature, but remember—this is their natural habitat and there are specific mountain biking rules that apply in such a scenario. If you’re afraid, it’s good to be prepared with special noise devices or sprays that come in handy in the event of an attack. 

Try not to scare or intimidate animals though, as some may end up defending themselves, which is both dangerous for you and morally wrong. It’s very rare to hear of an animal coming into a neighborhood and terrorizing residents, so why do it to them?

9. Avoid certain roads

While riding, you may come across various roads and trails that look fun and could be a shorter course according to the map. As much as it can save time or be an easier path, it’s best to know whether the land is private or public. In the past, rowdy landowners have shot at trespassers, especially when found on grounds with prior warnings that weren’t followed.

Always get permission from the owner to cycle on their property—it’s good MTB trail etiquette to do so because not practicing this may spoil routes for future cyclists. If unsure, stick to the planned route, stay clear of unknown paths, and pay strict attention to road signs. 

10. Follow the law 

Good mountain bike etiquette dictates that riders should adhere to rules at all times, whether on or off-road. Almost every town and country has regulations that apply to all cyclists—even on MTB trails—with some giving out heavy fines and penalties for those that don’t obey them. 

forest mountain biking trail

Always stick to speed and safety guidelines as this affects all the bikers and any other onlookers and property.

On paths that are shared by bikes, horses, and joggers, one wrong move can cause serious harm and damage. Authorities conduct extensive research and recommendations before creating laws, so it’s best to observe them. 

11. Keep the volume down 

No one likes a loudmouth or someone that rides along listening to music at uncomfortable levels. Whether riding solo or in a group, it’s good to respect the surroundings and keep conversations and music low. Use earphones to listen to songs, especially if they are of an adult nature—there could be children present.  

For many people, mountain biking is an escape from the busy and noisy city life and a way to enjoy nature while pushing their bodies to new limits. Most mountain bikers like to enjoy themselves with full focus and concentration, which is why it’s inappropriate (and often illegal) to play loud music in public parks and nature areas.

Conclusion

In short, when something doesn’t feel right or riders are unsure, specialists recommend not to do it and ask for advice from fellow mountain bikers. Also, don’t be too smart and get into scenarios that will be regretted later or cause harm and injury—it’s best to stay safe than be sorry. 

Following the above mountain bike etiquette makes MTB trail riding fun, safer, and more appealing to enthusiasts and those that want to try it out for the first time.

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