Trail Etiquette by Liz Von Houweling

Liz Von Houweling has written an article for all of us Just in time to capture the month of August and our final trio of IMBCS races, plus the Women’s MTB Clinic sponsored by Zoom Performance and Rasmussen Bike Shop on August 27th. Many of us will be able to enjoy the excellent fall weather conditions for some casual mountain bike rides here in Iowa. Liz has some thoughts on the unwritten rules of mountain biking that are well worth reading and adhering to while you are out on the trails…

Mountain Bike Trail Etiquette

Mountain bikers are a pretty easy going bunch, but there are many unwritten “rules” to follow while out on the trail. Even if you develop an incredible amount of skill and fitness, the surest way to lose respect from your fellow riders is to not adhere to proper etiquette.

Respect trail closures. When a trail is “closed,” that means that you should NOT ride it! Riding on soft and muddy trails can leaves ruts and destroy the trail. Stay on the existing singletrack even if it means going THROUGH the mud. Leave no trace—if you’re leaving tire tracks behind you, the trail is not ready to be ridden.

Yield appropriately. In general, downhill riders should yield to uphill riders unless the trail is clearly marked as directional. Riding uphill against gravity is hard! Be polite, as the downhill rider, and yield. As the uphill rider, say “thank you!” There may be times where it’s easier and more convenient for the uphill rider to stop, due to speeds being significantly slower. However, always assume the uphill rider has the right of way, unless otherwise communicated.


Control your bike. Try to anticipate oncoming riders around corners. Do not ride the trail like it is a race when there is 2-way traffic. Always ride within your limits. This is for the safety of others and yourself. KOM/QOM hunting is not an excuse to ignore this rule!

Strive to make each pass safe and courteous. Let other trail users know you are approaching and voice your desire to pass. Say something like “on your left up ahead after the bridge” so that they know when and where to move in order to safely let you by. This becomes increasingly important during races when there are a variety of distances and abilities on the course at the same time.

Never stop in the middle of the trail. If you need to stop, move your bike and yourself well off to the side of the trail to allow fellow riders safe passage around you.

Leave a safe distance between yourself and the rider in front of you. This varies depending on the person, but the idea is to allow yourself more time to react in the event of something happening in front of you. Generally, a couple bike lengths is sufficient.

Be prepared. Carry everything you may need such as food, water, repair kits, tools, vest (cold weather/wind/rain), etc. Be ready for anything. Mountain biking can be in remote and/or hard to access areas.

Help a fellow rider. While everyone SHOULD be prepared, there may be times that a rider is in need of assistance. If you see someone on the side of the trail who appears hurt, has a mechanical, etc., stop to offer aid. That may be you next time around!

Liz Van Houweling
Zoom Performance Level 1 Coach
USA Cycling Level 3 Certified
ACSM Certified Personal Trainer