Trail Etiquette by Steve Lipsher


I broke a chain once, in the middle of nowhere.

Worse, it was in the middle of a Summit Mountain Challenge mountain-bike race.

A friend and rival of mine, Todd Rankin, came by a couple of moments later, stopped to check on my welfare, then pulled out a chain tool that he carried (and which I learned that day to carry) and lent it to me before heading on his way.

Let me repeat: He stopped to help me out. In the middle of a race.

One of the best things about the mountain-bike community is the camaraderie and espirit de corps that it fosters.

So it puzzles me why some people on recreational rides — not even races, mind you — can be so inconsiderate or unaware of their rudeness.

All it takes is simple: “Hi, how you doing?” with a smile when you pass someone stopped by the trail, to ensure that they aren’t broken down. A pause to inquire about someone you’ve seen just take a tumble. A few extra minutes to lend a tool or help someone fix a flat. These are just common courtesy, and, incredibly, I’ve seen some riders completely ignore their counterparts in those situations.

Believe me, it comes back in spades.

Riders should know other rules of the road — or, in this case, trail — as well.

For instance, the uphill rider has the right of way. Always. If you are going downhill and encounter someone grinding up it, pull off of the trail and stop. Maybe even smile and offer a word of encouragement. Do not keep bombing down the trail and force the uphill rider into the weeds. Do not think that your bars are narrow enough to allow the uphill rider to pass without making some sort of Matrix-like calisthenics. And do not say: “Sucks to be you!”

Another courtesy, when passing either bikers or hikers, is to let them know how many other riders in your party are behind you. This engenders some goodwill among those hikers, especially, who patiently stand off the trail for us to pass.

In early season, or after a rain storm, ride, slowly, through the puddles or walk around them instead of avoiding them and carving a wider trail. In fact, use good judgment about riding in muddy conditions period; more damage is done on one soggy day than the rest of the dry summer, so maybe those are the days to stick to the pavement.

And speaking of pavement, Summit County has some of the best paved bike paths in the entire world. No hyperbole here. But remember that the paths are there for everyone, including the walkers, the runners, the rollerbladers, the skateboarders (especially coming down Ten Mile Canyon from Copper to Frisco), parents walking with prams, parents tugging kids in trailers, parents with kids riding on training wheels, and, above all, people who aren’t as strong as you or as accomplished of a rider as you or as comfortable on a bike as you. Accept this. Remember, you do not own the bike paths and certainly are not alone on them, and they are not the place for you to practice your time-trial or sprint techniques. So cool it, Jens.

Whether on the path or the road, when I encounter riders going in the other direction, I always at least lift some fingers off the bars in a brief wave or give the head flip; at least half the time the other person is too cool to reciprocate, but whatever. I’ll use that as motivation to beat him in the next race.

When passing someone from behind, a simple, conversational-tone “on your left” is sufficient for most bike riders. I like to tell pedestrians and others: “I’m coming up behind you” in a pleasant tone from a short distance back to avoid startling them with my Mission Impossible stealth and my Tour de France speed. No yelling, no brusque voice.

There actually are times when I won’t say anything as I’m approaching some riders: If I see a family riding with little kids who are slightly unstable or weaving a bit, or if I see adults riding bikes for what looks like the first time in years (you can tell, often, by what they’re wearing, what they’re riding and how they’re riding), I find it’s better to slow down and pass cautiously without first saying “on your left,” mainly because when you draw that kind of attention, the reflexive action by those riders is to look to the left, and then involuntarily veer to the left — directly into your path. As I pass those people and have a clear path to safety, I will offer a friendly: “Hi there!” just to avoid seeming like a jerk.

Finally, just being friendly to your other travelers out there can be a huge thing in making biking more enjoyable for everyone. You never know when a Todd Rankin is going to come by to save your race, or a friendly ATVer will help you back to the trailhead after you’ve taco-ed your front wheel, or the the kick-ass Summit County grannie with her grandkids offers you a homemade brownie on the trail.

SteveL500 Steve Lipsher: Extreme Mountain Bike Racer, Local Rider, Writer, Local Celebrity and Summit’s most-eligible bachelor.


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