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Miss Manners for Mountain Biking

By Karen Kefauver
October 16, 2015
Link to Sentinel Article

Ondrej Cink of Czech Republic competes in in a race in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Unless you're on a closed course, manners are as important to carry with you while mountain biking as a spare tube. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

Ondrej Cink of Czech Republic competes in in a race in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Unless you're on a closed course, manners are as important to carry with you while mountain biking as a spare tube. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

A few weeks ago, my friend and I were riding our mountain bikes, huffing and puffing up a winding singletrack trail in Santa Cruz. Suddenly, a cyclist came flying around the corner. He could see and hear us, but didn’t slow down. Terrified, we jumped off our bikes and scrambled out of his way. He passed within inches of us.

“Mountain biking is a downhill sport,” he shouted as he sped by.

I was shaken by the close encounter and stunned by his righteous attitude. There was no time to deliver a few choice words, much less reply, “It’s also an uphill sport!”

Sadly, many frequent trail users — hikers, bikers and equestrians — have a “scary cyclist” story to share. Those rotten eggs spoil things for everyone and tend to be more memorable than friendly riders.

Calling out how many are in your party - a tandem counts as one -- to people you pass is common courtesy when mountain biking in a group. (David Royal - Monterey Herald file)

Calling out how many are in your party - a tandem counts as one -- to people you pass is common courtesy when mountain biking in a group. (David Royal - Monterey Herald file) 

On the bright side, there are plenty of considerate, friendly and safe mountain bikers on the trails. Let’s grow those ranks with tips for safer mountain biking on multi-use trails: ­

Use your words, consider a bell >> It’s no fun getting startled on the trail. Avoid the stealth approach. Speak up with a friendly hello as soon as you are within earshot. Also ring your bell 10 to 20 feet in advance.

“Slow down, smile and say hi,” said Jessica Klodnicki, executive vice president and general manager of cycling helmet and apparel maker BRG Sports. “Whether you are on a bike, a horse, or on your feet; if we all do this, it makes enjoyment on the trail a lot easier, safer and fun for everyone.”

Here’s the lingo:

• “On your left” or “On your right.” Say this when you are behind someone and wanting to pass them on the trail. Don’t wait until the last minute and murmur in their ear; give plenty of notice. Remember it’s not a command: “Get out of my way!” It’s a combined alert and statement of intention to pass. Cyclists need to use this with other cyclists, too, not just hikers. Even well-intentioned people often step the wrong way, so approach slowly.

• “Rider back” or “Rider up.” When you know there’s a rider behind you, or ahead of you, inform other cyclists in your group so they can be prepared to stop or yield.

• “Three of us.” If you are leading a group of riders, inform anyone you encounter on the trail how many cyclists are in your party so they can be on the lookout. If you are solo, say that, too. If you say, “Just me,” in an especially forlorn tone, perhaps you can gain a riding buddy.

Yield to climbing riders >> Going downhill fast is a great feeling. But the trails are not racetracks.

It seems obvious but the right of way on a trail belongs to those climbing uphill. So if you are bombing down, you are the one who has to slow down and move over. Even if you think you are the Master of the Descent, other people and animals can topple you if you hit them.

But this respect should go both ways.

“Are cyclists the only ones who need better etiquette?” Roxy Lo, co-owner/partner at Ibis Cycles asked. “I suggest we reinvigorate basic respect for everyone using the trails. Some people who never ride horses wouldn’t know what to do when encountering them on trails. Some people who don’t bike have no idea what it means when someone calls out to them to try to pass.”

• If you spot a horse, slow down, stop, greet the equestrian and ask for instructions on how to best pass. Remember, all forms of wildlife have the right of way.

Do not wear headphones >> This is my pet peeve. Earbuds block all safety messages (not to mention the sounds of nature). It is dangerous to tune out your surroundings when you are sharing the trail. If you can’t ride without music, use the exercise bike at the gym instead. If you believe your headphones are part of your body, have the music on low and leave one ear uncovered.

Wear protective gear >> That means a helmet. During my 20 years of cycling and being a staunch helmet advocate, I’ve heard every excuse why not to wear a helmet, including, “I’m going a short distance,” “I’m a really good rider,” and “I get helmet hair.”

It doesn’t matter. Protect your brains — and spare your riding buddies the mess — in case you crash or someone crashes into you. Also consider buying “body armor,” including a full face helmet, elbow pads and knee pads for added protection.

Join the conversation >> When I posted online that I was writing this column, dozens of people, including non-cyclists, immediately commented on what would improve their trail experience.

I’d like to hear your comments, too. Send over your take on trail etiquette to in the comments section of this story at santacruzsentinel.com/sports or by email at sports@santacruzsentinel.com.

For more trail safely guidelines for mountain bikers visit the International Mountain Biking Association’s site: mba.com/about/rules-trail.

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