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Yielding the Trail

Teach your teams to be great trail users with these etiquette tips from the Idaho Interscholastic Cycling League

Photo by Scott Nydam

You’re riding along your favorite trail and see a group of hikers up ahead. The trail is fairly narrow with little room to pass. Do you know who yields the trail?

What if these hikers were actually equestrians riding horses? Do you know what to do when you approach horseback riders? What about other mountain bikers? Who has the right of way on the trail?

The short answer to all of the above questions is mountain bikers yield the trail to everybody, in most cases. 

Let’s start with hikers. When we encounter someone hiking on the trail, regardless of the direction they are traveling in, the hiker(s) have the right of way which means us (the mountain bikers) must yield the trail to them. In many cases, hikers may see you and opt to just move off the trail to let you pass them. Please remember that they don’t have to do this for you since technically WE should be moving off the trail for THEM. When hikers do yield to you, thank them and maybe even give them a “Have a great hike”. Also, make sure you SLOW DOWN as you pass. A good rule of thumb is you should be passing slow enough to where you have time to exchange a greeting and hear what they say back to you. If you can’t hear that, you likely passed too fast. Small gestures of trail kindness like this are contagious and appreciated.

Since horses are often unpredictable and spook easily, they have the right of way over both hikers and mountain bikers. When you approach an equestrian, STOP and ask the rider for instructions. Take extra precautions when approaching a horse from behind by announcing your presence. The rider may ask you to stop, move off the trail, and let them pass, or they may take their horse off trail and let you pass them. Be sure to pass slowly and predictably. Given their size and unpredictable nature, it’s in everyone’s best interest to establish communication with the horse’s rider and follow their instructions. By talking to the rider, it tends to calm the horse and let it know you’re a human and not a predator. 

When you encounter other mountain bikers on the trail, the direction of travel determines who has the right of way. If you are traveling downhill, the rider who is climbing up the hill has the right of way, and vice versa. The exception to this is if the trail is officially designated by land managers as one-way or downhill-only traffic. So what do you do when you meet another mountain biker coming towards you on a flat trail? In this case, much just depends on who chooses to yield first. If you find yourself in a good spot to stop and move off the trail, do it and let the other rider pass. Also, if you’re riding solo and you encounter a larger group, sometimes it’s nice just to be the one who yields first since one person moving off trail is easier and will have far less impact on the surrounding vegetation than a larger group would. 

After all of this discussion about yielding, let’s discuss what yielding the trail looks like. When you yield the trail, the ideal yield is to STOP with tires on the edge of the trail tread, and put one foot down outside the trail tread. Don’t ride off trail in effort to yield. It can cause erosion by killing the surrounding vegetation and it also tends to widen the trail. 

We included a great trail etiquette video below from Ridge to Rivers. Although Ridge to Rivers is Boise based, what’s discussed in the video can be applied to any trail system across the U.S. – there’s even some bonus content about dogs and trail etiquette, for those of us who ride with our four-legged friends outside of practice. By using good common sense and educating yourself about trail etiquette, our trails will be safer and more fun for everybody. Ride on!

About the author

“Yielding the Trail” was originally posted in the Idaho Dirt News by the Idaho Interscholastic Cycling League. It was authored by IICL communications lead, Jill Bradley.

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