Trail Etiquette 101: Sharing the Trails at Mountain Biking Events

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Sharing the Trails

Etiquette for Mountain Bike Racing and Shared Trails

No matter whether you are competing for the $25,000 in prize money at The 2022 Pikes Peak APEX presented by RockShox, racing to win your age group, or riding to have a great adventure, we want every rider to have a safe and fun experience. It is also important to be good stewards of the area trail systems and good trail citizens. Here is a primer on rider etiquette for mountain bike racing so we can all go hard, race competitively, and still be friends at the end of the day.

Racers vs. Racers

Let’s start with competitors. Pikes Peak APEX courses include everything fromMountain Biking Etiquette wide fire roads to narrow single track and smooth trails to technical rock features. Stage 1 is an individual time trial in Palmer Park and Stages 2-4 are mass start races. Riders will have different strengths and weaknesses and varying familiarity with the trail systems. As a result, all riders should be prepared to pass and be passed by fellow competitors. Here’s what is expected of you as a competitor:

  • Faster racers looking to overtake should make their presence and intention clearly known. This should be done respectfully and with as much forewarning as is practical. Do not assume the leading rider knows you want to get by.
  • Leading riders are not required to yield their position but are not allowed to actively impede another rider’s progress. In practice, there are two basic scenarios to consider. The first is two evenly matched riders battling for position. It is the trailing rider’s responsibility to choose a safe opportunity to pass. The leading rider is not required to give up their position but cannot purposely create a dangerous situation by blocking a pass. In other words, no throwing elbows, cutting each other off, or being a jerk.

The second scenario is an obviously-faster rider coming up behind a significantly-slower rider. The speed differential may be due to different fitness levels, skill levels, or pacing strategies. The trailing rider is still responsible for making their presence known and choosing a safe opportunity to pass. The leading rider is not required to yield their position if they feel they cannot do so safely but should make an effort to yield in a timely manner.

  • Two-way communication makes passes safer and faster. No one wants to crash or cause a crash during a passing situation. Clear communication is the best way for everyone to stay upright. If you catch a rider and want to overtake, make your intention known. If you are being overtaken, acknowledge the other racer’s presence – even if you can’t move out of the way immediately. When you spot a place where you can safely allow the rider to pass, speak up! Tell them what you intend to do or what you want them to do: “I’ll pull right, go around to the left up here.” Or shorten it to “Go now” and make the passing opportunity obvious.

    Similarly, if you are the passing rider and spot your opportunity, let the leading rider know you’re coming by and how. This might not be practical in a heated battle for position but is ideal when passing slower traffic. 
  • Riders being passed should give the passing rider as much room as the conditions and their skill level allows. Ideally, both riders should give each other as much room as possible during their brief encounter. Sometimes this is easier said than done.
  • Racers riding a bicycle have the right of way. Racers who are pushing a bicycle or stopped for any reason should make their best effort to move out of the way so racers on their bicycles can continue unimpeded.
  • Take care of each other. When racers crash, suffer mechanical or medical problems, or simply run out of food or fluids, other racers are almost always the first to know. Fellow racers are also in the best position to render assistance. In an emergency situation, always help your fellow racer—Pikes Peak APEX officials will work with you to make sure lost time is accounted for if you come to the aid of someone in need!

Racers and other Trail Users

The Pikes Peak APEX makes great efforts to inform the outdoor community and other trail users of race dates and courses. However, even with course markings, signage, and marshals, racers may still encounter non-participants on the trails during the race. If they are on the course, there’s a good chance they are unaware you are participating in a competition. As a result, they may be startled by your speed or urgency to pass them. Although we understand your desire to race aggressively, please address other trail users respectfully and pass when there is room to do so safely. If you are in a group, make an effort to inform trail users additional riders are coming. 

There are two special circumstances Pikes Peak APEX racers should be aware of. In addition to runners and hikers, some of the trail systems used in the race are open to motorbikes and horseback riders. Again, Pikes Peak APEX works with regional moto and equestrian clubs to keep them informed of race dates and courses. The Colorado Motorcycle Trail Riders Association (CMTRA) is an important supporter of Pikes Peak APEX; they provide moto support on course and have played a role in trail building and maintenance in the area for decades.

In the unlikely event you encounter a horse, traditional trail right of way guidelines apply. Mountain bikers should yield to horseback riders. In the case of motos, mountain bikes have the right of way and uphill traffic yields to downhill traffic. In practice, however, if you encounter a moto it will likely be on a single track cut into a steep hillside, where the moto has no practical way to move to the side.

Racers and the Environment

The Pikes Peak APEX showcases the unique features of multiple area trail systems, and all racers, volunteers, and staff members play a role in being good stewards of the environment. Here’s some of what we’re doing to minimize environmental impact, and what we expect from you:

  • No littering: We will have trash receptacles at aid stations. Do not drop trash, including food wrappers and peels, on the course.
  • No cutting the course or cutting switchbacks: Racers are expected to stay on established trails. Although signage and tape will be used to mark intersections and select segments of trail, it is infeasible (not to mention unnecessary and wasteful) to tape off entire courses. Cutting the course is not only against the rules and spirit of competition, but it also causes damage to fragile ecosystems and contributes to erosion.
  • Temporary bridges: In cooperation with regional and national officials, Pikes Peak APEX may install temporary bridges over select creeks. If bridges are present, racers are expected to use them to keep bike wheels out of streams so they won’t contaminate other bodies of water downstream or other watersheds that the course crosses.   
  • Course markers and sweepers: Pikes Peak APEX course crews will mark courses the day before each stage. On race days, our crew members will check that course markings are still in place before riders arrive. As the last athletes progress through each stage, course sweepers will remove course markings. Our goal after each stage is for there to be no sign of the event the next day.  
  • Trail work and cleanup days: Pikes Peak APEX, in cooperation with our sponsors, will host designated trail workdays and trail cleanup days outside of the race weekend. Stay tuned for dates, locations, and opportunities to participate.

The Big Picture

Managing the expectations of local officials, residents, and trail users is one of the most challenging aspects to organizing competitions in public spaces. Endurance sports competitions are only sustainable with community support, and that support depends heavily on how the race affects the environment and people in the larger community. We expect all racers to treat each other respectfully in competition, and to extend that respect to other trail users and the environment itself.