Mountain biking etiquette – the do's and don'ts of the trails

Be nice say hi stickers
(Image credit: GuyKesTV)

Mountain biking etiquette isn't hard. As in most areas of life, 'don't be a dick' will see you good in pretty much every scenario, while 'don't make people crash' will cover most of the others.

We're all aware by now that there's been a boom in cycling over recent years with more and more folks digging out old mountain bikes and taking to their local trails for some much-needed time outside.

Since there are lots of people with varying amounts of experience sharing the space, it's important that we all respect each other's rights to have fun, and behave in a manner that's respectful and considerate of others.

So whether you're a complete beginner at the bike park, or a seasoned mountain biker who doesn't know how to navigate slower riders, here are our do's and don'ts of mountain biking etiquette.

1. Pass nicely

Call out to slower riders and tell them which side you want to pass on. If they’re not confident, give them time and space before you roar around. If you’ve raced, you’ll know that even the fastest riders are sometimes the nicest riders in this regard.

(Also: if you’re the slower rider, find a safe space to pull across and let them through, even if they’re being annoying.)

  • Do say: "Can I come through on your left when there’s space?"
  • Don't say: "Get back on the green trail"

Two riders on MTBs

Before you try to pass someone, let them know you're there and give them time to pull over  (Image credit: Ar Li/Pixabay)

2. Don't yoyo

You know that rider who kills themselves to get past you, then crawls along blocking your way? Don’t be that rider. 

  • Do say: "She’s faster than me on those climbs, no worries"
  • Don't say: "My 10k rig deserves to dominate this trail even though I can't keep momentum"

3. Say thanks

This shouldn’t be a surprise, but saying thanks to the walker who holds their dog aside, the rider who lets you pass, or the car park dude at the trail center makes the world a better place. You’ll be happier, they’ll be happier, and they’ll feel warmer towards the next rider too.

  • Do say: "huh-huh th phphphph anks huh-huh" (that’s you inching your way up that climb of death and speaking out of your nostrils)
  • Don’t say: ‘Helluvanugly dog’

4. Don't block the trail

Stop in the wrong place and best case scenario you’ll irritate other riders, worst case you’ll cause a massive crash. It totally makes sense to stop and scope tricky features before you ride them, but hoik your bike well off the trail when you do, and stay off the trail itself. 

Also, budge aside when you gather with your pals at the start and end of trail sections so other riders can flow on through if they want to.

If one of your group does crash, head up the trail to a safe place to warn other riders until they’ve moved off.

  • Do say: "I bet riders fly down this section at great speed and with little warning"
  • Don’t say: "This’d be a great place for a snack"

MTB rider pushing up hill

Pushing up trails to have another go at a feature is fine as long as you can see that the trail above you is clear (Image credit: Jamie Dantas/Unsplash)

5. Respect bipeds (and quadrupeds, and families)

While walkers, runners and horse riders are obviously all in awe of your insane handling skills, it's not the best look to screech to a halt in a shower of gravel right behind them on the trail. A friendly greeting from afar and slowing to walking pace as you pass will do very nicely. Doubly so if you’ve accidentally found yourself on paths you perhaps shouldn’t technically be on. You may well encounter some grumpiness not matter how considerate you are, but be super nice anyway and that will hopefully go some way to changing their perception that we're all two-wheeled hoodlums. 

  • Do say: "Hello, lovely morning to be out"
  • Don't say: "If I go past in a blur, they won’t have time to complain"

6. Be discreet on 'gray' trails

How to put this… if you don’t 100 percent have permission to ride somewhere, some landowners may be fine with occasional lone riders out of hours, and some walkers may forgive the odd rider at the crack of dawn. 

But rock up in groups or start digging jumps on private land, and the happy relationship can go south fast. That’s one reason why it can take a lot of trust before even a good pal tells you where their favourite off-piste trails are. 

  • Do say: "I’ll be switching Strava off for this one"
  • Don't say: "Do you reckon we can squeeze the digger in there?"

7. Keep the trails awesome

That doesn’t just mean not dropping litter (don’t drop litter) but also respecting ‘closed’ signs when the maintenance crew are patching things up, and not creating shortcuts or tearing up fragile ground. Check out the work the guys from Trash Free Trails are doing.

  • Do say: "Sign me up for the trail-building crew"
  • Don't say: "That just means closed for everyone else"

MTB etiquette

Tire marks in mud show that riders have been that way, however, it doesn't always mean that you should follow (Image credit: Patrick Hendry/Unsplash)

8. Be self-sufficient

You might be an awesome friend but you’ll be slightly less awesome if you’re always having to scrounge tire repair kits, pumps, tools and snacks from your riding buddies out on the trail. Or if you cut rides short because you’ve forgotten your rain jacket. Or if your idea of routine bike maintenance is waiting 'til something breaks on a ride.

  • Do say: "Want a lump of malt loaf?"
  • Don't say: "Carrying tools just slows me down"

9. Don't be the massive time-waster

We know, things can take longer than planned, and an 8am start often can easily turn into 8.30, but try not to be the one who turns up late, spends ages in the car park fixing something or losing something. Endless stops on the trail because you're putting on/taking off jackets etc, or stopping to east snacks when no one else is having theirs won't help your riding rep either.

  • Do say: "Five minutes early wouldn’t kill me"
  • Don't say: "I reckon I can bleed those brakes while the others get their shoes on"

So there you go. Don’t be a dick. Be at one with other trail users, even grumpy walkers. And be awesome to your friends. You have just mastered mountain bike etiquette.

Sean Fishpool
Freelance writer

Sean has old school cycle touring in his blood, with a coast to coast USA ride and a number of month-long European tours in his very relaxed palmares. Also an enthusiastic midpack club cyclocross and XC racer, he loves his role as a junior cycle coach on the Kent/Sussex borders, and likes to squeeze in a one-day unsupported 100-miler on the South Downs Way at least once a year. Triathlon and adventure racing fit into his meandering cycling past, as does clattering around the Peak District on a rigid Stumpjumper back in the day.

Height: 173cm

Weight: 65kg

Rides: Specialized Chisel Comp; Canyon Inflite CF SLX; Canyon Aeroad; Roberts custom road bike