The sound startled me to jump aside before I could even see where it came from: the grinding CRSCHHHHH of a tire skidding through gravel when the brake’s been slammed on. The mountain biker was farther away than he sounded, stopping halfway down the next switchback I was headed up. He politely stepped aside for us to jog by at our glacial upward pace, and I thanked him as we passed. But the next rider on the trail wasn’t so polite, nor the next, barely slowing and assuming we’d jump out of the way. Is that how I come across when I’m mountain biking?
A few weeks before, I’d pulled my bike to the side of a trail to let a group of uphill hikers pass when I heard that same CRSCHHHHH from behind me—but this time the rider didn’t stop. Shirtless and helmetless, he didn’t wait for the hikers to pass. He didn’t wait for anything. He blew straight downhill, spitting dust and gravel at the wide-eyed hikers. Straddling my bike, one foot off the trail, I stared after the rider in disbelief. The hikers shook their heads and moved on, and I wanted to say, I’m sorry! We’re not all like that!
How are all of us trail users supposed to get along, when we all want different things? Vernon Felton at BIKE Magazine posted a thoughtful piece recently about a run-in with a woman on horseback, in which he was made to feel like a criminal despite doing nothing wrong or rude. Obviously, rudeness can come from any direction.
When hikers, bikers and horse riders share a trail, we’re always going to have run-ins. We move at different paces. We crave different things from the trail experience. Some of us are mountain bikers in our blood and bones—the only reason we’d hike a trail is to carry our bike over a section we’re unable to ride. And some of us wouldn’t get on a downward-pointed mountain bike for a million dollars. But either way, it only takes one rude person to completely sully your trail experience.
So what do we do? The best advice I’ve heard came from Reverend Chainring during his pre-race sermon to the riders at 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo. The crowd was 100 percent mountain bikers, but with super-fast corporate-sponsored relay teams on the same course as singlespeed soloists and first-time racers, the dynamics were almost as varied as if there had been hikers, runners and horse riders, too. Instead of spelling out 100 different rules for the race, the legendary Reverend Chainring took the stage in front of the charged, dusty, beer-swigging crowd and gave a single commandment: Be Nice.
And maybe that’s all it takes. If our first thought is being considerate to the other person on the trail, we probably won’t have to worry much about who is supposed to yield to whom. Maybe it’s just as simple as asking, Am I being nice?