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Mountain Bikers: How to Preserve Your Access to Public Trails

From Self Propulsion News, published by Self Propulsion, a bike shop at 1212 Washington Ave., Golden CO 80401.

Interview by Portia Masterson
Self Propulsion Bike Shop

Map of Colorado

Devora Peterson is a high-mileage trail rider. An advocate and educator for responsible trail use, she is active with Team Evergreen, Front Range Mountain Bikers Association, and the Jefferson County Open Space (JCOS) Trail Users Task Force. She shared some of her experience in a recent interview with Self-Propulsion:

Self-Propulsion: Devora, you've been in on discussions with the JCOS Task Force. Have they been able to find agreement?

Devora Peterson: Believe it or not, there are some guidelines that have been publicly accepted. Recently the concept of what it means to yield has been a topic in local mountain bike groups. JeffCo Open Space has posted yield signs at each trail head, depicted in a brown triangular sign with three trail-user icons. Mountain bikers are to yield to hikers, joggers, and equestrians. Hikers and joggers yield to equestrians, and equestrians generally have the right of way.

S-P: It seems like "yield" is a hard concept for trail users to understand.

D.P.: Yes, if you poll several people in each user group, you will get a different definition of yielding. "Yield" means to slow down, establish communication, and be prepared to stop, according to the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) in Boulder. Tim Blumenthal of IMBA says, "What happens next depends on the situation. There is not a set of rules, just common sense and courtesy."

S-P: What are the key principles to follow on public trails?

D.P.: Safety and respect are the two principles that guide trail etiquette in current literature on trail use. All trail users should do everything possible to assure that their fellow trail users have an enjoyable experience. That's respect. All trail users should walk or ride in a way that does not harm their fellow trail users. That's safety.

S-P: Please describe how cyclists should approach hikers on the trail.

D.P.: The appropriate first move is to slow to a walking pace. The natural tendency of most hikers is to step aside when faster-moving bikes are approaching. Cyclists often take advantage of this, and roll by, barely exchanging a word. In some cases, this works fine, but overall, it does nothing to improve communication and foster mutual respect. Verbal contact should be made with a "Hello, Good morning," or "Thank you." Stay away from phrases such as "On your left," which indicate you have the right of way.

S-P: Steep trails seem to pose special problems. How can hikers help out?

D.P.: Hikers who are walking down hill can do mountain bikers a favor by stepping aside on a narrow trail to let the climbing cyclist continue. Dismounting is difficult for bikers because remounting and regaining traction may be impossible. Mountain bikers who are descending may not want to give up their rhythm and speed to slow to a walking pace and yield to climbing hikers, but it's worth doing so for safety and respect&emdash; and for keeping the trails open! After yielding, a descending cyclist can quickly regain rhythm.

S-P: Many trail users have limited experience with horses. How can we be safe?

D.P.: When bikers approach horseback riders, either from the front or behind, the first thing they should do is slow to a walking pace. Then, they should establish vocal contact with the horseback rider and ask for instructions. In most cases, safe passing is best assured when cyclists dismount and step to the uphill side of the trail. On wide paths and with experienced horses, bicyclists may be able to pedal by at walking speed.

Caution and respect are the guidelines. When mountain bikers aren't able to get clear instructions from a rider, the best move is to dismount and step aside to let the horse pass. In a matter of seconds, cyclists are able to remount and regain their rhythm. Most equestrians will tell you that horses don't recognize bikers as human because of their helmet, glasses and movement. Verbal contact from the start is a major priority.

NOTE: Spokesmen for the Colorado Horsemen's Council report that it is also important to know that a bow tied in a horse's tail means that he likes to kick.

S-P: What does riding "under control" mean?

D.P.: Knowing the trail you are riding on makes it easier to make wise choices in yield situation. Nothing can sour the image of mountain bikers faster than a sudden face-to-face encounter with a group of hikers or equestrians when the cyclist approaches from around a corner at a high speed with no way to stop.

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