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11 Aug, 2015

Let's not get trail rage

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Treat other trail users the same way as you would want them to treat you.

With more and more people taking up mountain biking, it’s no wonder that our trails are becoming more popular. But with more people using trails, there are bound to be conflicts. Raymond Travers asked around and got some idea of how we should treat our trails and other riders on those trails.


I really hope it doesn’t happen.

But, judging from increased incidents on the various trails and races I’ve ridden over the past few years, I think it is happening.

Mountain bikers are becoming more and more apathetic to trail ethics. I fear it will eventually lead to “trail rage”.

So, in an attempt to try and prevent “trail rage”, I have compiled a list of the issues that I think mountain bikers should consider.

Firstly, trails are often run at the boundary between an operation that is profitable and one that isn’t. Most are situated on land that is either rented, or often “loaned” to the bike park operator. In many instances, the trail crosses over land belonging to multiple land owners and each of them will take a percentage of the trail fee.

And, trail operators employ trail cutters and general workers to maintain the trail in peak condition. So running a trail or bike park can become expensive and the least we can do as cyclists wanting to enjoy those trails is to pay the entry fee charged at the gate.

Most of the trail managers or owners complain bitterly about how many people ride their trails without paying and many trails have actually closed down because of this. In particular, this seems to be a problem at Avianto and Richard Beswick has vowed on Facebook that anyone riding the trail without the paper wristband of the day will be thrown off the trail.

I spoke to Wendell Bole from Thaba Trails a while back and we highlighted the following mountain biking ethics and safety issues.

He stressed that direction arrows and markers are very important.

“Go the way the arrow goes!” he said, “as they are there for a reason and basically that reason to have everyone going in the same direction which will avoid head-on collisions.”

Often, cyclists will use trials like Thaba Trails for training and will use the hills for their repeats. They will then come flying down the hill, because they do have the skill to do that, but will then meet a less experienced rider, who is innocently following the trail arrows, head on.

“There are often ‘words’ about that, but clearly the guy going in the wrong direction is the guilty party,” added Wendell.

And then, according to Wendell, some irresponsible riders sometimes change the direction of the boards.

“They will either turn the arrow around, or change its direction or even break it off. This is pure vandalism and if I catch anyone doing this, I will ban them for life from the trail. Never mind the damage it causes but it also spoils everyone else’s ride.”

Bunting tape is often used to mark out race day routes or to close certain sections of the trail for maintenance. But, according to Wendell, this is often also tampered with.

“I find it so annoying that guys go and break the bunting. In the meantime, there could be an event on the next day or a very good reason why that particular section is closed.

Dropping rubbish is another huge annoyance for any trial manager.

“You know what?” questioned Wendell, “when I came into mountain biking I was under the impression that the guys riding with two wheels on the mountain are those who would look after the environment. But I’m afraid the element that just litters wherever they go has crept into the sport.”

Gel packets, sweet packets, discarded inner tubes, used CO2 canisters and other items are often dropped where and when they aren’t needed anymore and, not only is this unattractive for those mountain bikers who enjoy the “getting back to nature”, but many of the bike parks are situated on wildlife reserves which host animals and these items could potentially injure those wild animals if they are ingested.

Wendell also asks that fellow riders have respect for the environment.

“Don’t go and break branches or something,” he said, “and don’t go and break down trees and ride off the trails. I just cannot understand this, riders come to say ride the green or blue trail. The distances are clearly marked, but they still take short cuts?”

There are also environmental reasons why riders shouldn’t take short cuts.

“You know the trail has been built with a purpose. Looking at the environment, having a look at the rain conditions where there is water flow and stuff like that so trails are actually built to minimize soil erosion. If we wanted, we could have built the trail where these short cuts happen, but the trail is built like that on purpose.

It is also good trail etiquette is when riders stop for a drink, or to repair a puncture or to “just chat”, they stop in the middle of the trail.

“This really annoys me terribly,” commented Wendell, “You know, there is normally a big piece of veld on either side of them so they can just get off the track. So, if you’ve got your bike upside down and you are repairing a puncture, for Heaven’s sake you don’t need to do it right there on the trail.”

And now, onto the interesting riding etiquette mentioned in a previous Modern Cyclist magazine. Wendell explains how it should work:

“It’s a case of the guy shouts ‘track!’ which is normally the word that we use. The guy in front will realise that someone behind is going to overtake. So what you do is move off the track. Move to the left or the right and let the guy go past. I mean, what cost is it to you to give him that courtesy?”

Trails are fore everybody and the beginner has as much right as an advanced rider. There is no need to scream and shout, especially when you see the slower rider has an entry level bike.

“Good manners don’t cost anything,” adds Wendell, “and I often come up behind a rider who I see is battling and I give them advice, for example, they will often freewheel with one pedal up and the other pedal down. This will often result in them hitting the pedal that is down, so I tell them the pedals must always be level when you freewheel.”

Listening to music through earphones from small radios, iPods and iPhones is also a problem found on many trails today.

It is actually a rule from the UCI that you are not allowed to listen to any earpiece whatsoever during mountain biking events. You are also not actually allowed cameras, but when riding trials like Thaba Trails, it isn’t too bad, as long as you are only using one earpiece – so that your other ear can hear things – or if your camera is safely mounted on your handle bar.

Although the wearing of safety equipment isn’t really an “ethic” as such, it is still something that results in arguments on trails. Particularly if you are abiding by the rules of that trail and some irresponsible rider rides towards you without a helmet.

It is stressed, re-stressed and stressed again. The concept of “no helmet, no ride” is such an important safety rule that it cannot be mentioned enough. It is also listed on most, if not all, trail rules too.

“To me,” commented Wendell, “it is such a logical thing because when you fall on your head, you won’t just fall. Your head will actually hit the ground after your body hits the ground which is in effect a whiplash. This can actually be more devastating as you can imagine what your brain is doing inside your skull.”

With this in mind, we can definitely advise that you should wear a helmet. And, because of the plethora of helmets on the market, we say “any helmet is better than no helmet” but if you can, try and buy the best helmet you can afford, preferably built to ANSE standard with that European safety standard certificate marked on it.

Gloves are also a safety item. In Wendell’s opinion, full gloves will protect your hands completely, especially when riding through thorn bushes. Glasses also play an important role in personal safety as they prevent sand and other particles from entering your eye.

And although it isn’t necessary to wear full protection like downhill racers do, Wendell had this to say about full body protection:

“I went to the Mountain Bike World Championships in 2010 and there was an elderly gentleman there and he was kitted up with knee pads, shoulder pads, elbow pads, a breast plate and a full-face helmet while riding during the practice day. At the time, I thought to myself that this guy must be an unqualified rider. He ended up winning that year and I later asked him about the protective clothing. His answer was ‘how much does it cost you to come here?’ so I answered ‘plenty’. Then he said ‘here you are now and you are training on a course which you’ve never ridden before. If you make a mistake and fall and break your leg or something, you then go home without actually participating. On race day, take your chances but on the practice days, why risk it?’ so that made a lot of sense to me.”

And finally, Wendell mentioned the fact that some riders choose to abuse others.

“If you abuse another rider or something, which is really not on. Just consider everybody else,” he said, “everybody else has a right to be there and if someone makes a mistake, and we can all make mistakes, you don’t have to scream and shout abuse at him. This just shows your lack of upbringing. So rather be polite.”

And if someone abuses you on the trail, report that rider using his number board to the trail office, it’s that simple.


Quick rules for trail riding

  • Pay your dues;
  • Follow the direction arrows;
  • Leave all signs alone;
  • Do not break any bunting;
  • Do not vandalize anything on the trail;
  • Do not litter;
  • Make sure you don’t leave any CO2 bombs, inner tubes etc behind;
  • Have respect for the environment;
  • Do not break any trees or branches;
  • Do not ride off trail or take short cuts;
  • If you stop, don’t block the trail for any reason;
  • If someone shouts “track” behind you, try and get out of the way;
  • If you see someone ahead of you, try and be as courteous as possible;
  • Show good manners to all other trail users;
  • If you have to listen to music, only use one ear (not applicable to races);
  • Apply the “no helmet, no ride” concept at all times;
  • Use applicable safety equipment;
  • And finally, don’t abuse other trail users.
Raymond Travers

Raymond Travers

Modern Cyclist Editor |

Editor