10 things you should never do on a trail

The good mountain biker's guide to trail etiquette

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Don’t be THAT mountain biker when you’re out riding. You know the one. They drop litter, cut up other riders, block the exit to the trail, nab everyone else’s spare inner tube because they never have their own, and generally act like an idiot. No one likes that rider. Here’s how to make sure that rider isn’t you. 

1. Don’t drop litter

If you managed to carry it out with you, you can carry it back with you. This holds true for gel wrappers, cereal bar packets, drinks cans, punctured inner tubes and broken chains. 

Litter looks terrible, can damage the environment and harm wildlife, and leaving it behind is just lazy and inconsiderate. Put it in your bag, then put it in the bin or recycling when you get back home or to the trail head. 

We hate to break it to you, but litter picking trail pixies don’t exist. If you brought it with you, you can take it back home
FLPA / Mike Lane / Getty Images

2. Don’t ride it when it’s closed

If the trail is closed, chances are it’s for a reason, and that reason is mostly likely for your own safety, or to conserve the trail. 

Trails get closed for all sorts of reasons. If there’s been a storm and there are trees down, or part of the trail has washed away, it might be closed because it’s not safe for people to ride. On the other hand if it’s a freshly built trail or is having maintenance work done on it, if you ride it you risk trashing the hard work that’s gone into building and maintaining it. 

3. Don’t cut corners

Those beautifully constructed corners were built for a reason. They’ve been lovingly created by the trail builder to help you climb easier, flow quickly down around swooping berms, or get technical. Cut the corner, and you miss all of that. You’ll also end up eroding land around the trail and causing damage to the local environment. 

Strava gets perhaps an unfair rap in this, the accusation being that the people cutting corners are looking to shave milliseconds off their segment times to get QOMs or KOMs. Whether or not this is the case, it has led to the development of a new term: stravassholes. Basically, don’t be one. 

Don’t be a stravasshole

4. Stop and block it

Crashed? Got a mechanical? Punctured? Yes, it sucks and fixing it will take a bit of time, but for the sake of everyone’s safety move your bike off the trail and to the side while you fix it. This also holds true if you just fancy a little rest or want a closer look at a feature. Try not to block the trail because if another rider comes flying down it you don’t really want to be in the way. 

5. Don’t block the entrance or exit to it

We realise that this is similar to Number 4, but really, the number of times we’ve come flying out of an amazing trail section to almost crash into the middle of a group of riders who’ve parked up across the exit. Likewise, we get that it’s nice to have chat with your mates on a ride, but do you really need to do it across the start of the trail section? Move it slightly to one side and everyone will be happy. 

6. Don’t put up obstacles or add your own features (kinda)

We love a good trail feature, especially when properly constructed
Phil Hall / Immediate Media Co

Okay so the trail might not be as exciting as you’d like, but unless you’ve got permission, know what you’re doing, and have the right tools, don’t start putting up your own obstacles. If the trail is a popular one and you’re doing it without permission, you’re trashing the work of another trail builder and quite possible messing up the trail for other people who ride there. 

Of course, this mostly applies to popular trails in trail centres or shared paths, and there are exceptions and plenty of places where you can get your trail building fix. There are many areas where trail building is permitted, though there may be local rules about what can be built, where, and how big the features can be. 

7. Don’t be rude

Remember that rider that came charging up behind you, nearly face planted into the back of your rear wheel, then whipped past on a narrow section of trail nearly taking the skin off your elbow? Not nice, was it? 

Chances are you’ll encounter other people on the trail and how you interact with them says a lot about you as a person. If you’re faster than them? Slow down a bit and let them know you’re behind them in a nice way, then overtake when it’s wide enough to do so safely, or when they let you past. If you’re the person in front, find a safe spot to pull in and let the faster rider past. If it’s not a race, then the few seconds it takes not to be an idiot are worth it. 

The same is true for walkers and horse riders on multi-purpose trails. Slow down, let them know you’re coming, and you could even try eye contact and a friendly hello. Hell, even ask them how their walk or ride is going! We guarantee you’ll all leave the situation feeling like better people for it. 

8. Don’t steal everyone else’s spares and tools

Once or twice can be forgiven, but you really don’t want to be the person that’s alway scrounging inner tubes, pumps and snacks off everyone else. You’ll get a reputation. There’s also every chance that one day you won’t be able to get the part you need, most likely when you are about as far from your end point as it’s possible to be, and you’ll be faced with a long walk back. And it will probably rain. That, my friend, is called karma. 

Get into the habit of bringing out everything you need when you ride. 

9. Don’t light fires, damage the environment or break the countryside code

While a mid-ride barbecue might be tempting on a summer’s day, or a little bonfire to warm yourself up on a cold morning might seem like a great idea, don’t. Just don’t. You risk starting a wildfire, potentially destroying swathes of delicate forest or grassland, not to mention threatening wildlife, homes and businesses. 

No amount of tasty burger is worth burning your local trails to a crisp. It won’t make you particularly popular either…
Tim Hawkins / Getty Images

Also make sure you shut any gates behind you to stop wild stock getting out, and keep your trail dog on a leash if you are passing animals and there’s a risk it’ll go for them. 

Most national parks and wildlife reserves will have a general code of conduct that you should stick to. Breaking the rules doesn’t just mean you’re a bit of a idiot, it also runs the risk of annoying or alienating landowners and other trail users, with whom it’s actually pretty important mountain bikers cultivate a good relationship with. 

So next time you get the munchies, hold off on the barbecue until you’re in an approved picnic area and check they’re allowed. Though to be fair we would be seriously impressed if you had ridden out into the wilderness with a disposable barbecue and a pack of sausages on your pack. 

10. Don’t forget to have fun!

Now the serious stuff is out of the way, really mountain biking is all about having fun. A short list of very simple rules that are easy to follow equals more fun and enjoyment for everyone. 

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Get out there, rip down those trails, enjoy being outside, and ride to your heart’s content. 

The most important commandment of all — have FUN!
Phil Hall / Immediate Media Co