25 Rules of the Trail: Commandments of Mountain Biking

by Robb Sutton

There are certain rules every mountain biker should live by on the trail. It’s run them down…

  1. Pay It Forward – Tubes, quick-links, a helping hand. You’ll need it one day too.
  2. You brought it out…you bring it home – No one likes a litterbug. Keep the trail clean.
  3. Know your role – Fast climber? Get up front. Slow descender? Get in the back.
  4. Bike worth does not equal biking ability – Everyone loves the latest and greatest…but it doesn’t increase skill.
  5. Be Self Sufficient – Always bring what you need…and sometimes more.
  6. Know Basic Bike Maintenance – Be able to fix your own flat…
  7. Treat Other Riders Like You Would Want To Be Treated – No one likes a jackass.
  8. It’s Only A Race If The Other Participants Know They Are Participating – You didn’t beat your friend on the climb if you are the only one that knew it was a race.
  9. If A Rider Catches You…It Doesn’t Mean They Want You To Ride Faster – Move to the side and let the rider by. Also see #3.
  10. Music While Riding Is Great…Unless You Are Oblivious – If you are going to wear earphones while riding, check around you constantly for other riders.
  11. Know Your Abilities – Don’t get too far over your head.
  12. Just Because You Can’t Ride It…Doesn’t Mean Others Can’t – Mountain biking should be a progression. Not all trails can be wide and groomed.
  13. You Have Zero Room To Bitch If You Didn’t Work On The Trail – Try not to be a backseat driver to trail work.
  14. There Is No Cure For UGI – Upgradeitius is a serious disease for which there is no cure.
  15. Beware Of Rider Recommendations – The best bike for a friend may not be the best bike for you. Everyone thinks they are on the best mountain bike on the market.
  16. Don’t Be “That Guy” – You know the one…the guy that brags about his time on local loops and doesn’t ride anywhere else. Enjoy your ride…it isn’t a contest.
  17. In Shape Does Not Equal Technical Ability – You are in shape…awesome…but that does not make you a better rider. It just makes you able to ride longer.
  18. Riding Keeps You Young – Yes…that guy that is twice your age will still drop you.
  19. No One Looks Good In Lycra…Especially Mountain Bikers – Bring a change of clothes…lycra is not “going out” wear.
  20. Mexican Food Is The Perfect After Ride Meal – Don’t know why…it just is.
  21. Diversity Is A Good Thing – Different bikes, different styles, different personalities. It would be dreadfully boring if we were all the same.
  22. Any Holiday Is An Excuse To Ride – Why are we riding today? Because today ends in a y.
  23. Support Those That Support You – Support your local IMBA and local advocacy chapters. They do more than just work on trails.
  24. Online Superstars Type More Than Ride – Time worrying about online arguments is time you could spend on the bike.
  25. Riding Is The Best Therapy – Self explanatory…

Have more rules of the trail? Add them below in the comments.




send it May 23, 2020 - 6:21 pm

Robin most of the time #5 is completely unavoidable
one of the only trails under an hour away from our house is covered in wildlife and spooking them is completely unavoidable

Pittzer June 16, 2011 - 12:56 pm

#1. Don’t ride unless you have health insurance, or at least the ability to pay for your own ambulance ride and surgery.

Rodrigo Langeani April 30, 2011 - 6:42 am

Nice tips, and I agree with most of these rules!
I was impressed with your website, and although I`ve been blogging about endurance sports training, equipment review and injury prevention tips in a while I`ve just discovered your site now!
Congratulations! and nice to ‘meet you’!

Scott Wilkinson April 6, 2011 - 2:43 pm

Good rules! Only two issues…

No.12 is a bit absurd. I’ve never heard anyone say “I can’t ride this, so nobody can.” What No.12 *should* say is: “Just because you CAN ride it doesn’t mean others can.” I’ve experienced this MANY timesโ€”some hotshot expert rider telling a bunch of intermediates “Aww c’monโ€”you can ride this trail!” when the trail is WAY over their heads. (The moral? Experts are usually lousy judges of what’s difficult for a beginner or intermediate.)

I also call BS on No.24 (“Online Superstars Type More Than Ride”). I understand the point of that rule was to call out geeks who DO type more than ride…but I’m a writer who types all day (on Internet forums) while I’m at work…and I ride during my lunch breaks! ๐Ÿ™‚


Bracken April 7, 2011 - 10:01 am

I think on #12, the point is that just because you can’t ride it, doesn’t mean you should ride around obstacles or modify the trail to make it easier. Simply walk what you can’t ride or pick easier trails, until you’re ready.

Jef April 6, 2011 - 10:02 am

Obvious one but relevant in my experience. If you stop to fix a flat or have a chat and a breather, step off the trail and make way. Nothing worse than barrelling down a yet to be mastered run and have to stop while people are picking their bikes and sandwiches up off the flowy bit you’ve been looking forward carving correctly this time around. It happens more than it should, can you tell? ๐Ÿ™‚

Bracken April 6, 2011 - 9:58 am

Great list. Love #9.

I’d add:
Keep your bike well maintained, so you’re not maintaining it on trail or at the trailhead (while your friends wait).

Chris Doubleday April 2, 2011 - 9:46 am

Great list, spot on. One more:

Sometimes you’re the slowest, sometimes you’re the fastest. Accept either role with grace. If you’re the fastest don’t rub the others nose in it. If you’re the slowest, don’t bother making excuses.

Daniel April 1, 2011 - 10:52 am

Great post Rob, I’ll link this too my bike page here soon. Thanks.

and personally I am a big fan of #18!

SIMON SPRAGG March 31, 2011 - 1:58 am

Point 4 is probably correct BUT go buy some RS SEKTORS (U-turn coil 110-150, 20mm axle) these DEFINATLY make riding much more fun and MUCH faster, whatever your ability with these babies you will go much better….unless perhaps you already have Lyrics etc!!!

Terry March 30, 2011 - 6:18 pm

Great rules! #25 is so on point! A good day of trail riding does so much for the soul.

“Upgradeitus?” LOLOL!!! I have that affliction by my bank account keeps it under control.

Yes, I bought a beautiful full suspension bike but it did not make me a Steve Peat-it did help my confidence though.

Mark March 30, 2011 - 3:56 pm

#20—true and the reason is SALT
On the food, chips and Margaritas

tenbsmith March 30, 2011 - 12:50 pm

I might also add, if you come up behind an obvious newb, slow down and give them space. Nothing makes a new rider more uncomfortable than somebody breathing down their neck–this can lead to crashes.

198 March 30, 2011 - 12:51 pm

Absolutely. That goes hand in hand with #7

billy March 30, 2011 - 11:38 am

Number 9 is incorrect. If a rider catches you it is up to them to make a safe and courteous pass. I’m out there training too, I’m just slower.

198 March 30, 2011 - 11:46 am

#9 Refers to the riders that suddenly speed up thinking they are going the speed you want to go. Not just riders looking for a safe place to pass. We normally run into this on local trails. It’s not a training issue…it’s a not letting people pass issue.

Robin March 30, 2011 - 12:04 pm

If someone doesn’t ask first, I generally don’t let them by. Call it out, and pass away! Expect me to just move over, and I may not. For all I know, you like staring at my slow ass. ๐Ÿ™‚

tenbsmith March 30, 2011 - 12:42 pm

I agree with billy & robin’s suggested additions to #9.

198 March 30, 2011 - 12:48 pm

If I have a rider coming up behind me quickly, I make sure I leave room where available for them to pass. I don’t speed up and block the trail. Simple process really…

tenbsmith March 30, 2011 - 12:48 pm

That is, it’s up to the overtaking rider to call for an execute a safe, reasonable pass. It is a little silly for people to speed up when someone comes up behind them, but that’s just human nature to certain degree. At times I’ll speed up when someone is coming behind, that can be a motivator. I’m always happy to make way for someone who calls their pass and side–on your left.

I’m sure there are some people who act like they’re a stock car racer and hold on to the ‘lead’ doggedly. That is pretty sill behavior if you’re not explicitly racing.

regularjoe March 30, 2011 - 3:02 pm

#9 AKA: The speed up and blow up…

SS March 30, 2011 - 11:35 am

Does #24 apply to MTB/Cycling Blog sites readers & operators?

198 March 30, 2011 - 11:47 am

It could. But really more in reference to online trolls.

SS March 30, 2011 - 12:12 pm

So, basically everyone on F88me ๐Ÿ™‚

Robin March 30, 2011 - 8:22 am

You mentioned a few of these, but didn’t specifically mention IMBA’s Rules of the Trail. I thought it was worthwhile to post them here.

Rules of the Trail

IMBA developed the “Rules of the Trail” to promote responsible and courteous conduct on shared-use trails. Keep in mind that conventions for yielding and passing may vary in different locations, or with traffic conditions.

1. Ride Open Trails: Respect trail and road closures โ€” ask a land manager for clarification if you are uncertain about the status of a trail. Do not trespass on private land. Obtain permits or other authorization as required. Be aware that bicycles are not permitted in areas protected as state or federal Wilderness.

2. Leave No Trace: Be sensitive to the dirt beneath you. Wet and muddy trails are more vulnerable to damage than dry ones. When the trail is soft, consider other riding options. This also means staying on existing trails and not creating new ones. Don’t cut switchbacks. Be sure to pack out at least as much as you pack in.

3. Control Your Bicycle: Inattention for even a moment could put yourself and others at risk. Obey all bicycle speed regulations and recommendations, and ride within your limits.

4. Yield Appropriately: Do your utmost to let your fellow trail users know you’re coming โ€” a friendly greeting or bell ring are good methods. Try to anticipate other trail users as you ride around corners. Bicyclists should yield to other non-motorized trail users, unless the trail is clearly signed for bike-only travel. Bicyclists traveling downhill should yield to ones headed uphill, unless the trail is clearly signed for one-way or downhill-only traffic. In general, strive to make each pass a safe and courteous one.

5. Never Scare Animals: Animals are easily startled by an unannounced approach, a sudden movement or a loud noise. Give animals enough room and time to adjust to you. When passing horses, use special care and follow directions from the horseback riders (ask if uncertain). Running cattle and disturbing wildlife are serious offenses.

6. Plan Ahead: Know your equipment, your ability and the area in which you are riding and prepare accordingly. Strive to be self-sufficient: keep your equipment in good repair and carry necessary supplies for changes in weather or other conditions. Always wear a helmet and appropriate safety gear.


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