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Trail Etiquette Tips from An Old Burnout

In other words, how to not be an A-hole on the trail

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*Editor’s note: The following article contains colorful language. Consider yourself warned.


During a conversation with a friend a couple weeks ago, the notion of behavioral de-evolution came up. We were talking about trail etiquette, and how it seems these days as if it no longer really exists. People are, by and large, turning into assholes out on the trail.

As the old saying goes, opinions are like assholes; everyone’s got one. Well, this asshole here is of the opinion that shit is indeed getting weird out on the trails. Covid-19 has caused an explosion of new users EVERYWHERE, the ebike has arrived in full force, mapping technology has made bold explorers out of the tamest suburbanites, and other technologies have turned many of us into self-absorbed douchebags.

Given the increase in recreational use of public lands, it’s fair to assume that more people than ever are competing for access to this finite resource. There are more hikers, more equestrians, more trail runners, more dog walkers, more trail running and dog walking off-road baby stroller pushing hyper-zealous parents, more people. Period. Being crowded is something that Americans have never done very well (cue up “Don’t fence me in” on the gramophone and remember fondly the range wars of yesteryear …). We wear entitlement like a birthright. We are bad at sharing. And, it seems, rather than learn to share (invoking that dreaded word ‘compromise’) we are much more proficient at trying to evict other use groups and engaging in cultural turf wars. But that does not mean we should not try to better ourselves.

To that end, even though it will almost certainly fall on deaf ears, or ears that are wearing earbuds, or ears that can’t hear because some jerk is running their portable speaker too loud three feet away, I have compiled a short list of trail etiquette suggestions for these confusing times. These are mostly germane to mountain biking, but the general message applies to all of us. Not that I expect anyone to listen. See above. Why am I bothering to enlist in this almost certainly futile attempt at social enlightenment? Good question. I’m an optimist. An asshole, but an optimist. Who died and put me in charge? Nobody. But, I’m just sitting here, punching away at the glowing screen, waiting for my dropper post to bleed itself, so assembling a list seems like as good a use of my time as any right now. I’ve got the time to kill and the ax to grind. Here are some tips on how not to be an asshole on the trail:

We wear entitlement like a birthright. We are bad at sharing.

Rule 1: Don’t be an asshole.

Assholes are genderless, just like opinions. So, anyone can be one. Don’t be one. It’s that simple. Or, it should be that simple. The easiest way to avoid being an asshole out on the trail, is to not be an asshole out on the trail. In an ideal world, this shouldn’t have to be spelled out any further, but it’s not an ideal world, is it? Not by a long-fucking-shot.

Oh, word of warning. There might be some profanity.

Rule 2: Yield to climbing traffic.

Unless you’re in a bike park, that age-old custom of giving the climbing rider the right of way still deserves to be honored. Climbing is hard. Descending, not so much. Strava doesn’t change that. Ebikes don’t change that. A million little turdfaces being shuttled by their parent-enablers doesn’t change that. “I didn’t want to mess up my flow” is not an acceptable excuse. Pull over for people coming up the trail. Actually stop, get to the side, and wait for them to pass. At least make the effort. Many uphillers will hear you coming and will already be pulled over when you get to them. When this happens, slow down, thank them profusely, and tell them if there’s anyone else in your group behind you. If you just blow past, you’re being an asshole.

Rule 3: Say hi.

Yeah, that’s right. Say hi. To everyone. It’s not that hard. Just wave, nod, or say hi. You know who generally doesn’t say hi back? Pinché mountain bikers. Everyone else, even hikers who don’t like me being in their sacred space, can manage some sort of greeting. Mountain bikers generally exude an air of being too damn cool to say hi. If you say hi, good for you. If you don’t, you know who and what you are.

Rule 4: You are not your Strava stats.

Racing is awesome. I encourage everyone who ever has slung a leg over a bike to toe the line at some point and understand the transcendent pain and beauty that can come from entering that arena. Strava is not the same as racing. Nor should people treat Strava segments with same unleashed tunnel vision that they get to throw down on a closed course. Strava is a tool. It can make you a better athlete, a better racer. But Strava is not racing. Treating public trails like personal racecourses? That’s what assholes do.

Rule 5: Don’t be an asshole.

Maybe if I repeat it often enough someone will hear it.

Rule 6: Keep singletrack single.

First coined as a phrase out on the 18 road trails north of Fruita, this applies everywhere. Don’t make cheater lines to go around mudholes or jumps or things that scare you. Don’t blow out corners. Don’t bypass switchbacks. Don’t create a braided riverbed of trail entrances and exits. Just. Stay. On. The. Damn. Trail… Please.

Rule 7: Don’t blow up the spot.

This is probably the most futile don’t-be-an-asshole request ever, but it must be said. If you are being shown some secret goods somewhere, shut the devices down and keep that secret secret. This is contentious and weird, because if we are talking about public lands, we are talking about non-sanctioned trails, and with that comes all sorts of legal, political and social baggage. But “social trails” have existed since long before mountain bikes came along, and have often eventually been assimilated into bigger picture trail plans, so it is naïve to assume that they aren’t going to continue to be built on the down-low. IF you are privy to that down-low, keep it that way. No Strava. No Instagram posts and map locations. No photos. Resist the urge to participate in the ongoing social media experiment in cultural narcissism. Do Not Be An Asshole.

Rule 8: Your music sucks.

And that shitty little Bluetooth speaker that you’re pumping it through makes it suck more. I don’t want to hear it. Neither does anyone else. The only people who would assume that everyone else would be stoked to listen to their rolling personal jukebox would be sociopaths or narcissists. Sociopaths and narcissists are also known as assholes. They’re everywhere these days. Try not to add to the pile.

Rule 5: Don’t be an asshole. Maybe If I repeat it often enough someone will hear it.

Rule 9: Just because you’re on an ebike…

That doesn’t mean you have to be an asshole. People who are not on ebikes really don’t appreciate getting spun up on from behind and then passed in tight singletrack. It’s startling. People who are not on ebikes might also not have a ton of available breath to have a conversation with you about how awesome your new ebike is while you tire buzz them up a climb. Riding an ebike is fine and good. But there’s not a lot of room for self-righteousness there. Mountain bikers already have an excess of that. A little humility and respect goes a long way here.

Rule 10: “Charlie, attempt to be cool…”

Nobody gets my movie references, so this line isn’t worth explaining, but it’s from a gem of a movie called “Something Wild” starring Melanie Griffith and Jeff Daniels that’s worth the watch. The phrase used to be our code for telling people to try and be a little bit discreet when getting naked in the parking lot as they transitioned from Lycra to civilian clothes. The parking lot superman act is a lot less common these days, but the sentiment still pertains. We may think what we are doing is cool, contagious fun. The rest of the world may not see it the same way. Try to bear that in mind when congregating (should congregating ever be a thing again) in large groups at trailheads.

Charlie, attempt to be cool. Don’t be an asshole.

Photos: Anthony Smith