Yesterday on a ride I had what I thought was a unique trail encounter. After thinking on it, maybe it wasn’t so unique. It’s disappointing when there are riders among us that don’t play well with others, much less agree on anything. Perhaps that’s why we have so few legal trails?
It seems trail etiquette ain’t what it used to be. Here’s what happened:
I’m flowing a section of trail at a moderate pace with a few friends behind me. Not cranking hard on the pedals, but maintaining a nice state of flow. Pumping through an berm, I use my exit speed to carry momentum up the next ascent.
This is where I encounter a group of riders. The lead rider clearly isn’t comfortable with my velocity as I float up the hill towards him, and barks out at me to slow down. The sight lines in this section are completely clear and I’ve already prepared to decelerate, and I come to a complete stop about 10 feet away from him.
Although my group only consists of three riders, I get the sense he wants us to offer his larger group the right of way although we’re in the middle of a climb. Perhaps this scenario is unique to him because he’s leading a group of less skilled riders in a group ride situation, but as someone that makes an effort to be courteous, I don’t appreciate someone yelling at me on the trail when I haven’t actually done anything offensive. In fact, this is probably the first time someone’s yelled at me for going too fast uphill. (Plus that negative energy totally killed any good vibe I was rolling with.)
Traditionally, mountain bike groups have advocated for and preached guidelines to trail behavior called the Rules of the Trail. Say what you want on the failings of the organization that crafted them, but these rules are a pretty solid guideline to not being an ass hat to others when out riding.
In this scenario I’m going to go ahead and call out rule #4: Yield to Others. This rule states “bicyclists traveling downhill should yield to ones headed uphill.” Seems pretty basic.
That said, on a long climb on a flowy section of trail, if I see a rider clearly ripping his way down, I’m more than happy to move out of the way so he can continue tearing it up. It all comes down to being nice, and treating other users the way you want to be treated. Let the man shred.
The other rule I’d like to draw attention to in the context of this situation, is rule #3: Control Your Bicycle. There’s nothing here regarding how fast one should go. Instead, this rule references riding in control and within your limits. My limits and bike control are significantly higher than the average Joe, and I’ve worked hard to get to this point. No where in this context does it say, “go really slow when you see other people headed in your general direction. ” Seriously, people.
A few weeks ago I was in a group ride setting and having a good time just being mellow and shooting the shit. (well, that and some photos here and there) It was a “B” rated group, which has a moderate pace, suitable for conversing on the climbs. I could certainly join the “A” group, but if I want to hammer and go for Strava times, I’m generally on my hardtail and riding solo, or purposely riding with my regular group of hammer head buddies.
That said, mellow doesn’t mean I want to ride my brakes down the hill. The not-so-fun side of group rides is that newer riders don’t seem to understand I don’t want to follow their slow asses down the hill. So I’m going to go ahead and call out a second reference to rule #4: Yield to Others. This one applies to descending too. Like all the rules, it comes down to not being a dick to others on the trail. If I’m riding and someone comes up on me, they’re going faster than me. I’m going to let them by, because I try not to be a dick. This isn’t a race. And even if it was, I’d still let the dude by and let him lead.
That’s not what happened. Strava guy apparently thought he was the hotness, although he’s going slower than me, and forcing me to brake constantly. Several requests to pass are ignored. Dude is now impeding on my experience and riding like an asshole.
So I wait, and when the trail opens, call out my intentions to pass. (for the record I pass slower riders all the time when riding and always make an effort to leave 3 feet of space as a courtesy) When he hears me coming, he decides to stomp on the pedals, accelerate and block me again. However, I’ve already committed and we contact, shoulder to shoulder. He freaks out, loses control of his bike and drags me down with him. A second later he jumps up and begins to scream at me, completely losing his shit as riders pull up behind us. His rant continues for a good 30 seconds as he curses louder and louder, getting in my face. I hold my ground and halfway expect a punch to be thrown. I’ll either block it or take it on my helmet, but I’m not about to let this guy assault me. Several riders jump in between us, telling him to calm down.
It’s a hell of a scene.
Eventually the guy calms down a bit. I apologize for my part in it and try my best to be polite about the situation. “Are you hurt?” I ask, offering to take the blame. Other than dirt, he doesn’t have a scratch on him, but he may have peed himself a little. Apparently he had his first hard crash a few months ago, and is holding on to some issues. No biggie— we’ve all been there. My brother and girlfriend know very well to keep their distance when I hit the ground hard. For my part, I’m mostly embarrassed I didn’t execute a clean pass— it isn’t like me. That doesn’t matter; it reflects poorly on me anyway you spin it, but his crappy riding tactics aren’t mentioned either.
Sadly, this seems to be a common scenario I hear from my lady Inga as well as other skilled female riders, who are regularly blocked from passing by men with seemingly small reproductive organs. (Minus the drama filled confrontation for the most part.) I hear about this from them all the time, so let’s just put this out there:
YOU ARE BEING A DICK.
Seriously dudes, think about it. That shit’s weak.
Drifting vs. Skidding
My final thought for today, is in regards to a classic conflict that streams from the online forums of the webs of the internets: drifting vs. skidding.
Skidding. Although skidding is fun, it’s well documented that locking your wheels on dirt can cause increased rates of erosion.
This one falls under both Rule #2: Leave No Trace, and #3: Control Your Bicycle. If you’re riding and have to skid to decelerate in a straight line— especially using just your rear tire— you are generally seen as doing it wrong. It’s either that, or you’re riding a fixed gear in the dirt, and well, you’re still generally seen as doing it wrong. (hah)
It can tear up the tread, cause braking bumps, and in a worst case scenario, channelizing of the tread. The reason we’re concerned about this, is that we’ve now created a path for water to follow, and unless it is addressed, can cause a significant amount of damage to the trail.
User based erosion is a by product of trail use. All users have an effect on the trail, and as responsible trail users, we should strive to minimize our impact. However, yelling at people on the trail is not helpful in regards to educating these users. And let’s face it, talking smack about other trail users on online forums isn’t exactly productive either.
Especially if they’re also dirt motorcyclists, because they are generally seen as horrible people that only care about “tearing it up”, “shredding”, and “having fun.”
Drifting. A lot of folks on these previously mentioned online forums love to attack riders that ride “too fast” and aggressively, especially when they have a style that includes moments when their tires break traction and “drift” across the surface of the trail.
Like skidding, drifting is fun. Like, super-duper fun. It takes far more bike handling mojo to drift a turn and remain in control versus slowing down and going like, really slow. Worst of all, it totally makes for sucky Strava times. However, it can be an effective means of cornering at high speeds, especially when you don’t have an insloped turn to carve or you take a poor entrance line. Depending on the trail surface, drifting turns can contribute heavily to user based erosion. Fortunately for those of us that enjoy fine tuning their skills, trails covered in layer of leaves, pine needles and other organic material are super fun to drift, and cause a minimal amount of erosion.
That said, don’t let the online trail police get you. These are the riders that have taken it upon themselves to call out when you do wrong. You have been identified and classified as 1. A newbie, 2. A Skid-kiddie, or 3. [This example has been left blank: Insert derogatory term of choice here.]
Watch carefully for the trail police, lest you receive a verbal assault and possible citations in the form of negative vibes, a massive bummer, and bad ju-ju. These “trail police”, also known as “trail Nazis”, can be identified by photos of their hard tail bikes in “Post your ride” threads, possessing oversized 29″ wheels, and their claim of being experienced riders. However, they likely do not have the bike skills required to drift, as they don’t ever engage in the practice. In addition, often their bar ends, 25″ handlebars, “ergonomic grips” and stem length in excess of 110mm minimize leverage as well as their ability to control the bike. They can often be found recovering from injuries as a result of their lack of actual riding skill, IE, “falling over.”
I was once called out as “one of them” after I posted a comment on a video edit on YouTube that featured riders on the Tamarancho Flow Trail Endor. In the edit, the riders were locking their rear brake to set up late in a low entrance line of a bermed turn. Having spent many hours of physical labor helping to compact these turns using a vibra-plate and impact hammer, I was a bit sensitive to this.
Dude was right though. Somehow I had strayed from the path, and crossed that line. Shame overcame me, and upon reflection, I became aware that I indeed had violated the most important of rules: “Don’t be a dick.”
In fact, I find this to be the most important rule, and in a follow up comment, apologized and invited the riders to join the next trail building party.
It’s far better to get along. After all, we’re all in this to have fun.