In most cases where trails are closed to mountain bikes, the reason is often environmental impact or social incompatibility. Environmental impact can be reduced to insignificant levels by proper trail design and by riding responsibly. Likewise, cyclists who ride in control, yield trail, and slow down when passing other trail users pose no more threat to hikers and equestrians than these groups pose to each other.
Some non-bikers have a negative image of mountain biking as the result of an interaction with an unruly cyclist. These interactions are the exception, but the negative image they create far outweighs the slow, steady progress responsible riders have made towards improving our image.
Responsible riding has as much to do with how we are perceived as a group as it does with how we actually behave on the trail. In order for mountain bikes to be a respected and viable member of the outdoor community, it is essential that patrols understand and educate mountain bikers on the importance of respecting the trail, the surrounding area, and other trail users. In other words, follow and actively promote IMBA's shared use concepts:
- Other Visitors - Slow down & communicate when passing.
- The Land and Wildlife - Leave no trace.
- Trail Rules - Be responsible.
Trails: Trail closure to mountain biking is sometimes based on the perception that mountain bikes cause damage to trails. While it is true that particularly steep trails and those with fragile soils may not be appropriate for mountain bikes, many of the trails that are open to hiking are also appropriate for mountain biking. It is important that patrollers observe the following simple rules for low impact riding:
Patrollers should be able to tactfully explain to other mountain bikers why they should follow these rules and the consequences of breaking them. Know which trails are closed to mountain bikes and when. Be familiar with the various causes of trail erosion and proper trail building techniques. This knowledge is an important component of the NMBP's mission to educate our fellow trail users.
The surrounding area: To be respected by other trail-use groups, patrollers must take a pro-active stance on relevant environmental issues, including minimum impact on trails. Learn what the particular environmental concerns are in your riding area. Ask your local land manager to provide this information.
The fragile cryptobiotic crust that covers much of the ground in the Moab, UT area and other parts of the Southwest is good example of this is kind of concern. The Moab Mountain Bike Patrol has done a great job educating riders about the importance of staying on the trail and off nature's delicate soil builders. Take care not to disturb sensitive wildlife habitat.
High speeds, reckless riding, spooking horses, unnerving other trail users - these are the most common accusations leveled at mountain bikers. It comes down to two key points: safety and respect. Patrollers should stress the importance of yielding the trail to other users. Yielding does not necessarily mean stopping. Slowing to a controlled, non-threatening speed and being prepared to stop quickly and smoothly is usually sufficient. Use common sense.
Note: One important exception is passing equestrians. Bikers should always pull over and stop or ask permission before passing horses.
Racers training for competition will want to ride fast. Some trails are appropriate for high-speed riding. Others are not. Patrollers should be prepared to suggest alternative trails where high speed riding is more acceptable.
Awareness of non-recreational land users (like ranchers) may also be an issue. Bikers need to respect crops and livestock.
Finally, do not ride on trails closed to bicycles. For various reasons it is appropriate that some trails are closed to bikes. If you feel a particular trail should be open to biking, talk to your land manager/land owner and work with them to open it.