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.
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.
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!”.