PSA: Uphill Traffic Doesn’t Always Have The Right Of Way

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PSA: Uphill Traffic Doesn’t Always Have The Right Of Way

Close your eyes for a moment and envision this: You’re cruising down a super fun and flowy trail on your mountain bike – totally in the zone, totally enjoying the moment. You revel in the feeling of weightlessness and flow. You briefly take your eyes off the trail ahead of you and gaze to your left at the amazing scenery – it is stunning. The dirt beneath your tires is tacky and fast and you feel one with your bike. Life is good. You think to yourself, “this is why I love mountain biking.” Brown pow.

And then you see it: a biker coming up the trail in the opposite direction. As you both grow nearer to each other – you still having the run of your life, he grinding up the climb – you get that sinking feeling in your stomach. You know… “this guy isn’t going to pull off the trail and let me roll on by”. You’re 20 feet from each other and nope – he’s not even slowing his pedal strokes. So you pull on the brakes, halting your flow and digging your tires into the soft shoulder, and come to a stop. He doesn’t even look up or say thank you as he huffs on by.

Ok, ok, ok… this is an extreme case, but it has happened to me and it makes me so angry and annoyed that mountain biker’s almost always assume that uphill traffic has the right of way! Even on fast, flowy descents.

So where did this notion come from? I’m assuming from IMBA who’s Rules Of The Trail state “Bicyclists traveling downhill should yield to ones headed uphill, unless the trail is clearly signed for one-way or downhill-only traffic. Strive to make each pass a safe and courteous one.”

I agree that each pass should be safe and courteous – absolutely. But I don’t agree that downhill traffic should always yield to uphill traffic.

I believe that:


What does that mean? Let’s break it down a bit. (Note- these are my opinions for biker-to-biker traffic. I almost always yield to hikers).

1. Fast and flowy descents

Yield to: downhill traffic

If you see a biker coming down a fast and flowy descent, move over. Let them keep their flow and just take a little breather. It won’t kill you. Remind yourself that when it’s you coming down that same trail, you’d rather have uphill traffic yield to you so that you can enjoy every bermed turn and fun tabletop. Right? Right,



Doesn’t that look fun and fast?


2. Technical climbs & descents

Yield to: it depends

This one really depends on which rider makes it to the crutch of the techncial climb or descent first. Say you’re on the descent and you come to a tricky rock garden. There’s already a biker attempting to clean it on the up. Step aside and cheer them on. And vice versa. If you see a rider already dropping into a rock garden as you climb up a section of trail, give them a kudos as they (hopefully) pass you by you in one piece.



Yield to whoever is on the technical section first

3. On flats

Yield to: party with fewest riders

My rule of thumb for passing people on flat stretches is to yield to the party with fewer riders in the group. If I’m in a group of five we should yield to a party of two. Larger parties tend to have more stretch between riders, so it’s only fair to pull over and let two or three people pass.



I would definitely yield to smaller groups riding with this pack

4. Mellow Descents

Yield to: uphill traffic

Sure, if it’s a mellow descent and you see a rider really working hard to beat his uphill Strava time then sure, pull over. Most mountain bikers aren’t assholes. But don’t get me wrong – if it’s a fun, fast, flowy descent I WILL give you the stinkeye if you make me pull on the brakes because you think that uphill traffic always has the right of way.



I would yield to this rider. The trail is mellow and it looks like he’s working hard


What are your thoughts? Should uphill bike traffic always have the right of way?


  1. A lot of enduro-types seem incredulous about this, but XC is still enormously popular (I’d wager the majority of riders globally, if not the US), and for us XCers, the uphill is a huge part of the fun.

    A lot of the time, if I’m climbing a technical steep, putting a foot down is not an option. At best, it will be impossible to get restarted, at worst, I will fall. That’s why the old IMBA rule exists.

    Unfortunately, ebikes have made this conflict worse, since ebikers often have no concept of what it takes to get up a 15% section of rooty singletrack on muscle power alone.

    But, of course, common sense rules supreme. Once, a rider yelled at me and forced me off the trail on the last 30 meters of a singletrack descent, where it was very difficult to stop. She could have easily waited 5 seconds before starting the trail, and there would have been no problem, but she decided to righteously assert “the rule” instead. Super frustrating.

    1. Yeah, unfortunately “right of way” isn’t so cut and dry anymore. I definitely agree that uphill traffic has the right way the majority of the time, but as you mentioned, some people take that to the extreme.

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