Friday, January 1, 2021
A Mountain Bicyclist's Guide to Responsible Riding
Your mountain bike will bring you a great deal of fun and adventure. Woodlands, meadows, rolling hills, woods roads, single and double-tracks; some of these experiences are as close as our local state forests, parks and reservations. Be aware that not all properties are open to mountain biking, but in those that are, remember that you'll be sharing these lands with hikers, runners, equestrians and nature lovers.
It is our responsibility to ensure that our use of the trails does not spoil that of other trail users, or spoil the trails themselves. The actions of a few individuals often speak for a whole group, and mountain bikes are no exception. We ALL must engage in a public relations and education effort to counter and eliminate any negative image which can cause us to be excluded from using public lands. It is quite possible to have fun and be responsible at the same time (without much effort!). Remember that the future of the sport is in YOUR hands.
All Encounters Should be Positive
Remember we not the only folks in the woods. We must go out of our way to make a good impression on everyone we meet. Showing off, doing stunts, or riding fast can tarnish that good impression quickly. Your finely-honed riding skills can look dangerous, crazy and irresponsible to everyone else.
When Encountering Hikers
Hikers have the right of way, so slow down, stop or pull to the side of the trail. Remember that they are there for a quiet, peaceful experience, but say hi, be friendly. When approaching from the rear, slow to their speed, and let them know you're there (before you're right behind them). You cannot imagine how much of a shock it can be to meet up with or be passed by a quiet, swift bicycle. Expect that children or dogs will walk right in front of you as you pass. They are curious.
When Encountering Equestrians (and their Hoofed Friends)
Being surprised by bicycles can be a frightening and unpleasant experience for some equestrians. Give both the horse and the rider a chance to get used to meeting bicycles in the woods. A horse's instinct is to run when confronted with the unfamiliar. Never assume that an equestrian is aware of your presence or in control of the horse. If approaching from the front, ALWAYS stop and let them pass unless the rider indicates otherwise. If from the rear, slow to their speed, and from 50 to 100 feet away, ask if it safe to pass slowly or walk your bike around them. Say hi, be friendly, admire the horses. The spoken word is the first indication to the horse that you are a person and not a threat.
Excessive speed is the single most common complaint that other trail users have about us. Slow down if you don't have absolutely unrestricted vision of the trail ahead. Assume that someone else is just out of sight and be prepared to stop (in control) when you turn the corner. The most important and most difficult thing to remember when riding with your buddies is to save racing for organized races when you know that you'll be the only one involved in a crash. Speed training can be done on the road.
Ride in Small Groups
Whenever possible keep groups smaller than five, for the impression you make is magnified by the group's size. As an individual you should go out of your way to insure that your use of the trails will not spoil the outdoor experience of others. Make sure that everyone in your group feels that way and is willing to comport themselves in a civilized manner. Be sure that socializing while riding doesn't detract attention from the trail ahead.
The most objectionable sign of our presence is a degraded trail. Conservationists love to point to bicycle ruts and use them as a reason or justification for banning use from suitable riding areas, so never ride when and where you will leave ruts. This means carrying your bike across soft spots and walking around mud puddles, so you don't widen them. This means not riding on rainy days, especially during the spring mud season. It is tempting to get out on that first beautiful spring day, but this is a time in New England when the trails are fragile. Some trails are especially soft and wet when thawing. Damage can be done this time of year and can take a lot of time to repair.
Don't hesitate to walk or carry your bike in technical or muddy sections. Learn cyclocross dismounts, mounts and carrying techniques if you are concerned with efficiency. Carry your bike across streams if possible. The silt stirred up can smother water critters and their eggs.
Be careful to not widen trails by riding over vegetation alongside the trail. Stay in the middle of the trail, and don't be too concerned about avoiding rocks. Your mountain bike is designed to go over rough terrain, and sometimes the "line" over rocks is the easier one. Keeping your weight on the saddle or over the rear wheel helps lighten the front of the bike so it will roll over rocks more easily, and with a strategic pull on the handlebars, larger rocks won't be an obstacle.
Don't skid. Don't brake slide. Locking up the brakes in not only an inefficient way to ride but can degrade hills by forming gullies that water funnels down, can rut sensitive trails, and always indicates a lack of control to others. Modulating brakes - both front and back - will prevent skidding and increase control. Slow, even pedal stokes prevent "spinning-out" up hills (which can cause ruts), as well as increasing the chance that you'll make it over the top. Finesse is often more successful than brute strength. Don't be embarrassed to walk or run your bike up or down steep hills.
Keep in mind that a lot of work goes into building and maintaining trails. Go easy on bridges and stone or wood steps. Respect waterbars, which are logs or piles of dirt or rocks placed across trails to prevent erosion. Ride them in such a way that you will not degrade them. This can be done by riding perpendicular to the bar, lifting first the front wheel, then the rear wheel over them. The key to lifting the front wheel is to first push down, then pull up. Use the pedals to lift the rear wheel.
Riding Habits for All Times
- Never take shortcuts or cut corners on tight turns or switchbacks.
- Ride only on existing trails, don't make new ones, including "turn-outs" around fallen logs.
- Respect private property.
- Respect Nordic ski tracks by staying off of snow-covered cross-county ski trails.
- Never litter. Try to pack out more than you bring in.
- Learn to fix a flat, repair a chain, etc. and carry tools that you will need to get yourself out of the woods.
- Wear a helmet.
Make some new friends - get to know the staff in the public land areas in which you ride. Help them manage the area by informing them of fallen trees, large litter sites or illicit behavior. Volunteer for trail maintenance or clean-up days. A day or two a year is a small price to pay for the privilege of riding in the woods. Showing land managers that you are willing to give something back to the land that you use makes a huge impression. When they know they can count on us for assistance, policy makers are likely to decide in our favor.
So, happy trails! but remember, the future of mountain biking is in YOUR hands.