Rules of the Trail

There’s no doubt about it, the Ash Canyon trails are getting busier and busier.  I see the regulars out there every day, and I’m starting to see many new faces as well.  It’s quite common to see 3 or 4 cars parked at the trailhead.  It’s pretty much a given now that you’re going to meet someone on the trail, so it’s important to know a few Rules of the Trail.

Ash Canyon
Singletrack in Ash Canyon

Who are our trail users?  In addition to mountain bikers, you’re just as likely to see a hiker, and on the rare occasion you may even encounter someone on horseback. Since singletrack is so narrow, there seems to be some confusion over who has the right of way.

Since horses are living creatures, prone to spooking, and quite massive, it only makes sense that horses always have the right of way. Pull off the trail and let them pass, and never sneak up on them from behind. A handlebar mounted bell is a good way to alert horseback riders of your presence before you’re actually right up behind them.

Mountain Bikers yield to horses and hikers.  Even if there is room to pass a hiker, slow down when passing to keep down the dust. Also, hikers tend to scatter unpredictably when surprised by a speeding bike.

Here’s what the IMBA Rules of the Trail say about sharing the trails:

Yield to Others – Do your utmost to let your fellow trail users know you’re coming — a friendly greeting or bell ring are good methods. Try to anticipate other trail users as you ride around corners. Bicyclists should yield to all other trail users, unless the trail is clearly signed for bike-only travel. Bicyclists traveling downhill should yield to ones headed uphill, unless the trail is clearly signed for one-way or downhill-only traffic. Strive to make each pass a safe and courteous one.

The Pirate Code

Of course the above rules are the guidelines you should follow, but you should have some wiggle room; for example, on one recent ride, we had just started our ascent, and we pulled over to let a descending rider finish off his downhill run. He earned it, and it was easy for us to pull over. Instead of finishing his descent though, he pulled off the trail 50 yards uphill of us, and wouldn’t continue until we got back on our bikes and passed him. He told us he always strongly adheres to the IMBA rules.  Both of us kind of lost out on this encounter.

The Pirate Code

I attended a trails class last year, and one of the guys from the Tahoe Rim Trail Association spoke of “The Pirate Code“. He said it’s important to follow the rules of the trail and yield properly to other traffic, but you need to use your best judgment and analyze the situation. You don’t want to make a rider stop in the middle of a gnarly climb, as it will be hard for them to get started again. But what if you’re in the middle of an easy climb, and there is a descending rider getting ready to setup a jump or technical obstacle? Do you follow the letter of the law and screw them up? No! You pull over and let them complete the section. And as they pass, you say hello and exclaim, “What a great day to be out on the trails!”.

13 thoughts on “Rules of the Trail

  1. I agree with all of the above.The bottom line is be respectful of each other and say hello.Alot of trail users have forgot about typical human courtesy .Great post Moser!

  2. Hey Jeff,
    First of all thank you for the many hours you and your friends have put into trails like Ash Canyon. The work you have done is amazing. I have a couple thoughts about this post.

    First I am in agreement with you about following the spirit of the law rather than the letter. That makes total sense. However a few of us who ride Ash Canyon fairly often have been talking about the downhill portion. My thought is that there should be a designated up, and down for the trail. When I am ascending the trail I always use the southernmost trail that parallels the houses near Ash Canyon, and it seems to me that this would make a good “up” portion of the trail. Then people coming down could enjoy the fast turns and dips in the middle section. It seems to me most people I talk to agree that when you are coming down that section you have “earned” you fun. I have been in many situations where things are weird and you don’t know what to do (I’m sure you have too) and I think assigning “up” and “down” to trails would help.

    I assume these trails have names, I am just not familiar with them so I apologize if this sounds confusing. Thanks again for all of your hard work.

    Will Houk

  3. I for one am NOT in favor of instituting usage or directional rules in Ash Canyon ie the TRT (Totally Rad Trail for those “in the know”). I like climbing the twisty tracks for the same reason I like downhilling them and have no desire to start climbing the boring straight route.

    For me it’s just common sense. I don’t climb the Creek on a busy Saturday. I climb it early in the morning or on off hours of poor weather days. That way I don’t risk clogging the run when there are many many more descenders out.

  4. With the amount of traffic and ample line of sight on the lower trails, I don’t think it warrants one way traffic. There is plenty of time to figure things out. Like Lester, I’d rather climb something more interesting. The beauty of all our trails is that they’re fun to ride in either direction, and in a way, doubles the mileage available to ride!

    The Creek Trail on the other hand needs a little work with all this recent precipitation. The bushes and trees are getting thick again, decreasing the line of sight. We can expect more hikers climbing the creek this summer. If you’re hiking, it just makes more sense to do an out and back from the bottom. Trimming needs to be done to increase the line of sight to keep it safe for all trail users.

  5. Well put Moser! Good info for the housekeeping crew. We will be at lower creek tonight at 5:30 to begin manicuring and will welcome all interested in helping.

  6. I find these rules very interesting and I don’t think very many riders know about them. I didn’t. I don’t think I have ever had someone descending a trail yield for me as I was climbing up it and visa versa. I find the one climbing is usually expected to get out of the way if necessary. I try to be courteous and always let others know when I want to pass and thank them as I go by or greet other riders with a hi or a wave. And when others want to pass me or go faster then I do I get out of their way and let them by.

  7. I can see your logic. I enjoy climbing the “TRT” as well (thanks for letting me know the name, unofficial as it may be) I have just stuck to the other trail to stay out of people’s way. This was just something my friends and I had talked about so I thought I’d throw it out there. I’d like to help out with the trails sometimes is there a calendar or something that would let people know when you guys will be out there? I’d come tonight but it’s a little too short of notice.

  8. I think there will be plenty of work left for Saturday. We are just going to be out for a couple hours tonight.

    The help is very much appreciated.

    Yo…Potter my bet is now on Zero traffic for tonight! Just like Monday on Evidence.

  9. Lester, the plan for us this evening is to scout the new KC/AC alignment. Our hands are quite full in regards to the trail alignment that we won’t be able to help with any trail maintenance for a while.

    Thanks Jeff!

  10. Hey Jeff, 7/3/13
    I was out on the trail today and a couple of motorcycles were tearing up the creek trail, ascending. I was going down at a good “clip” and lucky for me I could here them coming. We met at the first set of rocks, not sure the name of it but the steep rocky drop. I told them that they were not supposed to be there, and they replied that there were no signs saying they couldn’t. I took a picture of them, don’t know why, then called the sheriffs office to find out what the rules for that area is. They said they send a car out to investigate. I told them that no one was aggressive but I was pretty sure that motorized vehicles shouldn’t be on the creek trail (in Ash Canyon). Was it all right for me to do that, or was I misinformed about the creek rules? Also, the trail was pretty banged up from the two bikes.

    1. I believe motorized vehicles are only allowed on the main Ash Canyon access road, the dirt road that goes up to Hobart. There are a few NO OHV signs around the area, but if you come in from the other side, you can say you didn’t see the sign. This is a good argument for the city taking ownership of the trails up there, because then it can be enforced better. It’d be an official city trail, and not just a stretch of singletrack that some mountain bikers rode in. You did the right thing! Thanks for the update.

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