A tongue-in-cheek guide

Video: Trail Etiquette With Chaz – Transition Bikes

Roadies have the velominati bible of pedalling protocol (it’s here if you dare), but how do mountain bikers know how to behave on the trail? Here’s our guide to staying the right side of the law:

1. Faffing is inevitable

Trail centre rider mechanic

Nowhere does time disappear faster than in the trailhead car park. Some faffing is acceptable, nay, unavoidable, but don’t let it stray beyond a strict half an hour. Keep groups to single figures if you don’t want to waste half the day, and if you have a serial faffer in your riding group (every group has one) always arrange to meet half an hour before you actually turn up.

2. Give way to the uphill rider

Here in the UK, most mtb trails are one-way, but on rights of way, it’s polite to slow down and give priority to the uphill rider. Yes, that sucks if you’re enjoying the descent, but when the shoe’s on the other foot, there’s nothing worse than having a group of riders force you into the weeds as they blow by at mach 10.

3. Trail trash

Leave only tracks, take only memories. Notable exceptions to this rule seem to include punctured inner tubes, energy gel sachets, Lucozade Sport bottles and Presta valve caps, as they are obviously all biodegradable.

4. Puddles

Excuses too wet


Most people try to avoid puddles. What they don’t realise is they are making the trail wider, and missing the opportunity to soak their best mate behind.

5. Skidding

Drift Track

Unfortunately, the phrase ‘skids are for kids’ doesn’t really work, as mountain bikers are, by their very nature, big kids messing around on bikes. Still, try to avoid locking up the back wheel on sensitive trails, and save them all up for some really, really big skids when you hit a fire road. Extra cool points if you pull an imaginary handbrake while slewing it sideways into the car park at the end of a ride.

6. We’re all among friends


It’s common courtesy to nod at fellow riders you meet on the trail. A cheery ‘morning’ is also acceptable, but smiling or waving will just mark you out as a lunatic. Be sure to precede your gesture with a glance at their bike, as this will tell you all you need to know about their status in the “pecking order”.

7. A friend in need

Fix a mountain bike puncture

Being benevolent wins you karma points and is guaranteed to reduce the number of punctures you suffer. Even better if you actually have the knowledge and skills to help the situation, rather than hanging around awkwardly suggesting things like, “try stuffing it with grass”, or “a collarbone only takes six weeks to heal”.

8. Respect the architects

Make trails legal

Don’t cut corners, roll over jumps, skid around berms or stand on landings. If you want to become a trail critic, get your hands dirty first.

9. Don’t be a wheel size bore


There’s a time and a place for discussing wheel sizes, and that’s late at night on an internet forum.

10. Goggles & open face

Only wear goggles with an open-face helmet if you are a) super-fast and skilful, or b) work for a mountain bike magazine, in which case people will expect you to be a bit of a tool.

So there you have it , our complete guide to mountain bike trail etiquette. Let us know if there’s anything you’d add in the comments below.

  • Marky

    All the gear no idea is fine if you are friendly 🙂

  • Marky

    Exactly, + I always stop or pop off the trail and back on if I’m on my own and a group are going the other way… There is often room to pass on most trails as well.

    Should also add don’t start a feature in the opposite direction when a rider is “mid feature” (happened to me on the landing of a drop off from the side of a rock slab the other day)… Gravity is a rule you can’t opt out of, no matter what the IMBA tells new riders about uphill right of way.

    Also if you are on a double track, don’t enter a piece of single track if there is someone 10m from the end of the single track coming the other way.. the IMBA has a lot to answer for 🙂

  • David

    Strava Super Heroes also need to show a little more respect and less condescending to ” Weekend Warrriors “. Yes they take up space, but without MTB being an inclusive and accessible activity, there would be no viable trail centres or local grants. We all start somewhere. PS.. I’m not defending the “All the Gear , No Idea” fraternity!

  • Mark

    How about the Surrey hills residents and future access to the trails there MBR?

  • Thom Dawson

    Right of way depends on the trail. I’d argue that most of us care more for the decent than the climb and most of us would be thankful for the rest to let some riders rip by on their descent. Too many riders in the way on our trails when descending, it’s not an xc race lads – once you’ve earned your turns it’d be nice to be able to actually make them. Depends on the trail but keep your head up and be ready to move over at all times. Otherwise pretty much spot on, feel like being sick every time I have to pick up an energy gel packet.