The following article was written for YGR By  Reno Toffoli.

In the following article, I will present an unofficial guide to mountain biking trail etiquette. I will admit that when I was younger, there were probably times when I needed an ‘etiquette lesson’ on the trail. In a couple of cases, I received an Instant Karma Etiquette Lesson and ended up looking and feeling like a giant tool. As I’ve gotten older, trail etiquette (or more specifically, the lack thereof), has become one of my biggest frustrations when mountain biking.
The most basic reason for following proper trail etiquette is that it keeps you and other trail users safe. If you want a more self-serving reason, it ensures that mountain bikers will continue to have trail access. Another reason is that it’s just the right thing to do.

Reno racing Send Town Short Track in 2019. Photo by Ryan Korzyniowski

If you’re new to mountain biking, take some time to learn some basic trail etiquette skills; it’s expected of you by other trail users. If you’re an old hand, take some time to review.

A few general rules:
Bikes yield to everyone on the trail! Yielding usually means stopping and stepping aside so that another trail user can get past you. On very wide trails or gravel roads, you may be able to safely yield by riding far to one side…this depends on the specific situation and the type of trail user you are passing (more on that later). Blasting a line off-trail around another user is not yielding.

Yielding always means slowing down as you pass the other trail user. Always. Bikes are loud and intimidating when bombing down trails at high speeds. This freaks people out and makes them angry. They’re not always sure you’re in control and they definitely don’t want to feel threatened or in danger. Slow down when you pass someone, especially when overtaking (coming up behind them).

Announce your presence, especially if you’re overtaking someone. A lot of times, people are in their own little universe when you come up on them. You think they hear you, but they don’t. Having a large, fast moving object suddenly fly by you in your peripheral vision triggers a primal prey/ flight response that freaks people out and them makes them angry. People who think they’re about to be dinner for a saber toothed cat (the primal prey response) also act unpredictably and can jump right in front of you causing all kinds of chaos. Announce your presence at a considerable distance. The faster you’re going, the further away you announce. I usually try to just give a non-confrontational ‘Hello!’ to get their attention. Then I will follow up with something like ‘Can I get by you?’ or “On your left/right.”
Slow down considerably as you pass them. If I’m overtaking someone in a narrow or technical area (especially another cyclist) I will ask them if I can get by when they get a chance. They shouldn’t have to instantly dive off of the trail to let me by.

Judge your ‘subject’ before yielding or overtaking. This is less obvious, but if you’re coming up on someone who looks to be a seasoned cyclist/hiker/trail runner/ or other ‘outdoors-person’ they’re probably going to be aware of what’s going on and know what to do as you pass. They probably won’t be freaked out by you overtaking them and probably won’t do anything unpredictable. If you’re coming up on what looks to be a beginner cyclist who is in way over their head, a school field trip, grandma’s book club, or any other group that doesn’t exactly look like they spend a lot of time on multi-user trails, give them a lot of warning, time, and space. In certain situations (like beginner cyclists) I will waive my right of way if it looks like they will have trouble yielding to me. Just use common sense and put yourself in their shoes.

Acknowledge other trail users as you pass. Nothing is seen as more of a chump move than to just blow past someone without acknowledging them. Say ‘hi’ or ‘thanks’ or smile, or wave or nod your head; anything to acknowledge the other human who is sharing the trail with you. I don’t care how hardcore you think you are or how much of a dork you think they are. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve got the right of way or who’s passing whom. Just say ‘hi’.
It’s also considered good form to let another user know whether you’re by yourself or part of a group so they can be prepared for other riders to pass them soon. A simple ‘one more behind me’ or just ‘one more’ is sufficient. If you’re alone, you can say ‘just me’.

For the love of all that’s holy, don’t stop in the middle of the trail. Especially on descents, especially on blind corners on descents. If you have a mechanical, need to answer the phone, have a snack, or talk with a friend you’re come across, get completely off the trail to do it. If you stop in the middle of the trail, you are risking your good health and the good health of the rider who’s going to plow into you at mach 10 because they can’t see you. Also, other users shouldn’t have to change their line to get around you if you’re stopped. Get off the trail.

Speaking of blind corners. Slow down or announce yourself when traveling through blind areas. A bell is good here but I prefer just a simple “HUP HUP!” as I approach a blind corner. It has saved me from many, many head on collisions. Blue Sky is a perfect example of high-speed blind corners, especially the section between the Rimrock/Coyote Ridge linkup and the Blue Sky trailhead. If you really want to rail it through a section like this, do it at off-peak times. Always look WAY up the trail so you can see what’s coming.

Ok. Now for a few Specific rules as they apply to specific trail users.
Hikers: Hikers fall into different categories. There are the seasoned ones and the ones who are inexperienced and out for a weekend stroll. You have to yield to hikers. That means stopping and letting them by…especially big groups. Everything mentioned in the preceding paragraphs applies to hikers. However, many hikers will give up their right of way to let you by just because it’s easier and gets you out of their hair faster. This doesn’t mean that you should bear down on them and force them to get out of your way. Announce yourself and slow down and if they step aside, continue on. If they don’t, stop and let them pass. I’ve stopped for (and talked to) countless hikers on the trail and most are surprised when I stop. A lot of the ones I’ve talked to will flat out say that it’s easier for them to step aside and let a cyclist by than it is for the cyclist to stop and they prefer it that way. But…interestingly enough, they get upset when they do give up their right of way and you don’t acknowledge it. If a hiker steps aside for you, thank them! If they don’t look like they want to give up their right of way, you have to yield. Simple. Be careful when overtaking kids or dogs…they can be unpredictable, be ready for it.

Speaking of dogs: off-leash dogs are not allowed on any local trails (except some USFS trails). If you hit, injure, or are injured by an off-leash dog, it is not your fault, and a court won’t hold you responsible for ‘damages’ provided you weren’t breaking any laws at the time. You can hold the dog owner responsible for damages to you. Off-leash dogs are a constant issue for local rangers, and they have been cracking down and writing tickets for them.

Trail Runners: I like trail runners. They usually seem to have it together and are pretty easy to get along with on the trail. I treat trail runners like cyclists. Unlike hikers, they’re traveling at high speed (some of them are really fast) they’re in the zone, and they don’t want to stop any more than you want to. They’re also concentrating on picking a line through rocky and technical areas so that they don’t break an ankle. If you are passing a trail runner (going opposite directions) stop and yield to them. Sometimes they will wave you through and give up their right of way but don’t count on it.

If you are overtaking a trail runner, announce your presence, slow down, and ask if you can pass. They will probably have to stop and step off the trail for you to pass and you may have to wait for a suitable passing area. Don’t just blow by them, every trail runner I’ve ever talked to hates that; don’t be a jerk. By the way, if a trail runner is faster than you, let them by. I’ve had my butt kicked by countless trail runners on steep and technical climbs. There will probably come a time that a trail runner is faster than you. Deal with it. Get over yourself, and let them by.

Other mountain bikers: Honestly, most of the issues I have with trail etiquette come from other mountain bikers. You have to yield to the uphill rider! Period! If you are traveling downhill, you have no rights. You yield to everyone and everything. Yielding means stopping and giving the uphill rider space and time to get by. The uphill rider should not have to stop or change their line to get around you. Period. Don’t be the jerk who plays chicken with an uphill rider and ‘yields’ at the last second when you see that you haven’t intimidated them into getting out of your way. If you do that to me, I will call you on it and I’m not going to be very polite about it. If you want a clean run down a descent, wait until it’s clear. If it’s too busy, go somewhere else or ride at a different time.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s going uphill and sometimes nobody is going uphill. In these situations, I generally just yield to the other rider(s) because it’s not that big of a deal. If there’s a big group that’s coming my way, I usually figure it’s easier for one of me to get off the trail than it is for all of them to get off the trail and let me by. If you’re overtaking another mountain biker, slow down, announce yourself, and give them time to find a place to let you pass. They may have to stop and get off their bike and they probably don’t want to do that anymore than you would want to do that. Be patient, it will only take a few seconds to get by them.

Equestrians: See Reno’s article on riding near horses here.

A few exceptions and final thoughts: There are some exceptions to all of this (except with equestrians) and that is that any trail user can waive their right of way at any time, including you. If someone lets you by, great. If not, let them by. Communicate with others on the trail and let them know what your intentions are; a little communication goes a long, long way toward understanding and living with other trail users and ensuring that mountain bikers don’t lose access to trails.
Some exceptions (at least in my book) are that if you are breaking the law, you lose all rights and privileges on the trail. For example: off leash dogs are illegal, they’re also dangerous, unpredictable, and damage the ecosystem of natural areas. Don’t expect me to be real courteous about your off leash dog. Smoking mother nature on the trail? Same deal. Modifying trails to suit your current ability? Don’t get me started. If you see illegal activity, report it to a ranger. Get a description of the person and the activity and call it in. I’ve done this a few times and the rangers are always right on top of it. Another exception is that if you’re wearing headphones and don’t hear me coming, even when I’m behind you and yelling at the top of my lungs to get your attention, I’m probably going to just have to get by you at some point and you’re going to be freaked out and pissed off at me and it’s not my fault. Don’t wear headphones! Listen to your bike, listen to the wind, listen to the outdoors, and be aware of your surroundings so that you aren’t oblivious when someone wants to pass. It’s safer for you and everyone else on the trail.  Editors note: I made this bold because I made this bold.  Also, please don’t wear headphones on the trail, or at least not in both ears.

Happy Riding.