Mountain Bike Etiquette: How To Be Courteous & Respectful On The Trail

Mountain biker stopped on trail with foot placed on rock for balance facing away from camera.

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Most riders I know practice good mountain bike etiquette on (and off) the trail. As the popularity of mountain biking grows, though, (including new riders on electric mountain bikes!) so does the need for etiquette guidelines to keep everyone safe and happy.

I think we can all agree that mountain biking is a great way to spend time outdoors with friends, get some exercise, and disconnect from our busy lives, but we also need to remember to be good stewards of the land and respectful towards each other.

In this post, I cover some tips to help you make the most of your mountain biking experience while still being respectful of others and to the environment.

The Right of way debate

Let’s get this out of the way first since it’s by far the most contentious, abused, and neglected mountain bike etiquette ‘rule’ out there.

Uphill has the right of way, right?

I’m probably going to get a lot of flack for saying this, but I actually don’t agree with that. I believe that common sense and common courtesy have the right of way.

True, 95% of the time, this does mean that uphill bike traffic should have the right of way. But there are situations where it makes more sense for uphill traffic to pull off to the side of the trail and give way to downhill riders.

For example, consider giving downhill riders the right of way when:

  • You are on a primarily downhill trail and you’re climbing it
  • A downhill rider is already in a technical section of trail and you’re not
  • A large group of downhill riders is coming your way and your group is smaller

Giving the right of way isn’t always a one-size-fits-all situation. Use common sense, be courteous, and let’s all just have fun out on the trails!

Group of women mountain bikers taking a break on the trail in California with tall snow-capped mountains in the background
If you’re in a large group, doesn’t it make sense to yield to smaller groups even if you have the ‘uphill right of way’?

10 Mountain Bike Trail Etiquette ‘Rules’ To Follow

1. Stay In Control

The #1 rule of mountain biking is to stay in control! Sure, there are situations where you might lose control on accident, but those should be few and far between. My biggest pet peeve is seeing some idiot bomb down the trail completely out of control, putting themselves and others in danger.

How can you stay in control? Here are a few tips:

  • Use your brakes
  • Make sure your bike is in great working order
  • Always scope out technical lines and features before hitting them
  • Don’t let your ego overpower your common sense
  • Teach your kids these mountain bike trail etiquette tips

2. Pack Out What You Pack In

Nobody wants to see litter on the trail or at the trailheads. It’s not only gross, but it’s also incredibly disrespectful. This goes for snack wrappers, fruit peels (yes, even those!), beverage cans, toilet paper, wet wipes, and anything else that didn’t already exist there before you came along.

Pack it out and leave only tread marks.

3. Respect Private Property

This is a huge one, especially if you live or are riding on the east coast where much of the mountain bike trail networks are on private property. Again, it comes down to courtesy and respect.

You may remember the situation that happened at the Kingdom Trails in Vermont a few years ago where a few landowners decided they didn’t want their private land to be used by mountain bikers because of some disrespectful behavior that was happening.

Don’t be the person that ruins it for everyone. Be respectful when riding on private property. This includes:

  • Keeping voices down
  • Not swearing (excessively)
  • Not littering
  • Respecting boundary signs and trail closures
  • Being courteous to other riders
  • Not riding when trails are wet
  • Not cutting trails or making your own lines
Group of women mountain bikers stopped on a trail during a skills clinic at the Kingdom Trails in Vermont
Several trails on private land in East Burke, Vermont have been permanently closed to mountain bikers due to disrespectful behavior

4. Respect Trail Closures

Another important mountain bike etiquette rule is to respect trail closures. This may sound like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many people think it’s ok to duck ropes.

If a trail is closed, it’s closed for a reason and you are not special. Don’t ride it.

5. Try Not To Skid

Skidding happens. I skid, you skid, we all skid occasionally. But skidding should not be the goal of cornering or coming to a stop. It’s actually pretty destructive to trails over time.

If you watch the pros ride, you’ll see that they hardly ever skid – instead, they control their speed and have incredible skills when it comes to cornering. Want to improve your cornering skills? Work on not skidding.

Becky on mountain biking preparing to turn around tight corner on trail in high desert of California
Want to be a better mountain biker? Work on not skidding around corners

6. Don’t Cut Trail

People! Don’t cut trails! They’re built the way they are for a reason which could include controlling speed, shedding water, avoiding sensitive areas, or something else entirely.

Cutting trails can exacerbate issues like erosion, hostility amongst trail users, and environmental degradation. It can even result in getting some trails shut down.

So please stay on the trail and don’t make your own.

7. Yield To Hikers, Runners, And Equestrians

Despite my issue with the ‘always yield to uphill bike traffic’ rule, it is very much common courtesy to yield to hikers, runners, and equestrians.

If you see any of these uses on the trails, please pull over and let them pass.

8. Stop Off The Trail

When you stop for anything, whether it be to session a feature, take photos, eat a snack, go to the bathroom (remember to pack out your TP!) it’s important to move your bike, body, and belongings off the trail. You never know who or what is coming around the corner and I’ve seen so many close calls…

This is especially true at bike parks. Do not stop in the middle of the trail. Please and thank you.

Many mountain bikes lined up on the side of a dirt road out of traffic's way with mountain bikers talking a group
Whenever and wherever you stop, be sure to move your bikes and belongings to the side of the trail or road

9. Announce Your Presence To Unsuspecting Trail Users

A lot of hikers and trail runners don’t hear you coming up behind them, whether that’s because they have headphones in, it’s windy out, or they’re lost in their own thoughts.

Before blasting by, make sure you call out to them to get their attention so you don’t give them a heart attack. Some riders like to use bells on their handlebars, I just prefer to use my voice. Either way, announce your presence.

10. Be Prepared

Even if you weren’t a boy scout or girl scout you should know by now that being prepared pays off. While I definitely don’t mind stopping to help someone plug their flat or adjust their seat post height, ideally every rider should have the means to get themselves out of most, if not every, situation they find themselves in.

This means:

  • Telling someone where you’re going
  • Carrying water and snacks
  • Having all the mountain bike pack essentials (and knowing how to use them)
  • Making sure your bike is in great working order
  • Knowing your route, how long it will take, and whether there are bail options if necessary

I hope this post gives you a better understanding of what to expect and how to behave on the trail.

Final thoughts

Mountain bike etiquette really boils down to common sense and kindness. Don’t be destructive, don’t be rude, and remember we’re all out there to have fun!

What are your thoughts on these mountain bike etiquette ‘rules’? Do you agree with the? What would you change or add? Let us know in the comments!

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  1. I’ve been a biker and hope to return. I’m 50 mile + weekly hiker. With 95 % wells all get along great. I watch and yield to those happy downhill runs. But your beginning of a downhill run is the end of my grinder uphill and off it dwindled to a single trek… I’m not diving into the poison Ivy. Get over it. At the top whoever Is there…. Don’t drop in on a single hiker that made it there with your 6 group with 40k in bikes and stupid Lycra and have a reunion. Move on…. Just a little….
    My hugest peeve is don’t jump on the no bike trail just to get a cool shortcut…. It’s pretty in its way Because it’s no bikes…. Don’t use it…. You Have many
    Bent creek and chestnut cove. If you know you know. To my 95 % I love sharing and I’ll be back on my bike soon… smarter

  2. I go out of my way to either stop or slow way down to say hi and be very respectful to kids! Especially when mom or dad has multiple kids on the mountain bike trail. These kids look up to us. We can teach them to be nice to each other. Today I stopped and asked a little boy if he wanted to race, it made his day!!

  3. All great points. I just yield to everyone. I’m out to enjoy myself and cruise, I don’t care about pulling over for a minute or two.

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