Mountain Biking Trail Tips

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 mountain biking etiquette and trail use.

Gear Up Smart

Safety is always the first thing every rider should consider before mountain biking. 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:

  • A properly fitting helmet that is appropriate for the type of riding I will be doing
    • Click here to view the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) guide on how to properly fit a helmet.
  • Eye protection (yes, eye protection. A piece of gravel thrown in your eye can ruin your day very quickly)
  • Gloves
  • Knee pads
  • Elbow pads

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 Plan Ahead

Always come to the trail fully prepared. Here are a few of the ways I plan ahead:

  • Bring sufficient amounts of food and water for your trip. Carry the 10 essentials. This can be difficult while on the bike, but it is prudent to bring appropriate supplies for the duration and difficulty of your ride. I will usually bring my 10 essentials in the car with me, so I know they are at the trailhead if needed.
  • Familiarize yourself with bike maintenance and always carry a multi-tool. Flat tires and minor mechanical issues will occur.
  • Always utilize resources like trail books, online trail catalogs, or your local land managers. I use an app called Trailforks. You can download it to your phone and download your routes if you do not have a paper map.
  • Regardless of whether your ride is 1 mile or 100 miles, let someone know where you will be riding and when they can expect you home.

Use Trails Correctly

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 mountain 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:

Only ride open trails

Mountain biking 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 mountain biking 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.

Maintain control of your bicycle

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 biking will be allowed on the trails.

Always yield appropriately

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 anticipate other trail users as you enter corners
  • Always yield to non-bike trail users
    • Mountain bikers must yield to horses and foot traffic
  • Always yield to riders headed uphill
    • Riding uphill requires more focus on the ground immediately below you, which results in riders often not looking as far ahead of themselves as riders traveling downhill would.
    • Additionally, it is much harder for riders traveling uphill to start again once they’ve stopped. Yielding to the uphill traveling rider is safer and is also the courteous thing to do.

Respect the Environment

Always make sure to keep the wilderness as pristine as when you arrived. Practicing “Leave No Trace” principles while mountain biking ensures that the wilderness will remain clean for generations of users ahead of you.


If you’re caught in a mountain biking accident, let Epic Law provide the support you need.