Over the last decade, trail systems across the world have experienced a significant increase in use by cyclists. While there are mixed feelings on mountain bikes, the reality is mountain biking is steadily increasing in popularity with no sign of slowing down.
As with all outdoor recreational activities, proper safety and proper trail use should be two of the user’s core concerns. Mountain biking can be a rewarding sport. It can also be dangerous if the user disregards proper safety and proper bike/trail use.
Safety is always the first thing every rider should consider before getting on their bike. Falling is unavoidable, so be prepared for it. The first place to start is making sure that you have all the proper safety gear. When I go out to ride, I always bring:
Additional safety gear can include items like full-face helmets, wrist guards, spine protection, neck protection, and first-aid kits. Gear up to match the level of performance and risk for your level of riding.
Always come to the trail fully prepared. Here are a few of the ways I plan ahead:
Always make sure you are using your bike and the trails you ride them on properly. Most mountain biking occurs on multi-use trails that are shared with hikers, horses, and various other outdoor users. There are certain rules of the trail that riders must follow when riding on shared trails to avoid endangering themselves and other trail users. Getting to know the “rules of the trail” helps promote enjoyable riding and ensures that bikers, hikers, and equestrians alike will be able to safely use the trails.
There are many versions of the “rules of the trail.” A google search will probably bring up dozens. The International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) has published a list of rules to help encourage safe and responsible riding:
Riding trails that are closed or aren’t approved can put riders at risk and is simply poor etiquette. If a trail is closed, there is usually a good reason for its closure. Closed trails are not maintained. This creates the opportunity for unknown hazards to form. There may be a wildlife preservation program in place that prompted the closure, and riding your bike through a delicate ecosystem destroys it.
Additionally, riding in areas protected as a State or Federal Wilderness areas is illegal. Just because you can hike there does not mean you can bike there. So don’t.
Bikes nowadays are of such high quality that they can make an amateur rider feel as confident as a professional. The key here is to ALWAYS know your limits and make sure you are riding within them.
Furthermore, some trials have posted speed limits. If a speed limit is posted, follow it. I understand how easy (and fun) it is to get these big bikes up to speed but maintaining a pace at or below the speed limits ensures that all trail users will be safe and that mountain bikes will be allowed on the trails.
This is one of the most important rules. Hikers, bikers, and equestrians will encounter each other on the trial. Understanding how to properly encounter each other is critical to maintaining safe trail use. It is important to consult the local rules specific to the trail system you are riding.
Here are some of the most common rules:
Always make sure to keep the wilderness as pristine as when you arrived. Practicing “Leave No Trace” principles ensures that the wilderness will remain clean for generations of users ahead of you.