During the pandemic the popularity of mountain biking has exploded. And with the flood of new users, trail usage has increased dramatically. The combination of lots of new riders and congested trails can result in conflicts, in some cases resulting in trail closures or exclusion of mountain bikes. Here’s a recent example.
Want to be a good trail citizen? Here’s a quick list of tips on how.
The first thing to know is that the great majority of trails in the Santa Fe area are not actually mountain bike trails. Many of them have been in use long before there even were mountain bikes. Most trails are multi-use trails, meaning that they are open to all users, but some may have restrictions. For instance, wilderness designated areas don’t allow any mechanized equipment, which includes mountain bikes. National Forest trails and most city maintained trails don’t allow ebikes. Some trails don’t allow equestrian use. Bike parks, think Angel Fire, are bike only. And areas like Glorieta Camps and La Tierra are mostly multi-use, but have some dedicated one way bike trails. Step one is to know the rules where you’re riding.
A good example of a multi-use trail is the Winsor Trail. It’s roots go back to pre-Columbian times and was used by early settlers to move goods from the Pecos Valley to Santa Fe. Today it’s a popular destination for hiking, horseback riding, as well as mountain biking. As one of the most popular trails in the area there’s a lot of opportunity for conflict, but following some basic trail use etiquette can make a big difference.
Since multi-use trails have a mix of competing users there are some basic rules about how to share. In general, slower traffic has the right of way, leaving bikes at the bottom of the list. Since there is a mix of users it’s important for mountain bikers to ride at a speed that allows for the unexpected. Riding fast is fine if you’re descending on an open trail with no one in sight, but if you are approaching a blind corner you need to be going slowly enough to deal with an unexpected hiker, child, or dog.
When meeting other users head on it’s best to slow down and base your response on the situation. If the trail is wide and you’re approaching an individual or small group, just slowing down and hugging the shoulder is usually fine. For large groups, or those with children or dogs it’s probably safer to pull over and let them pass. For horses it’s best to get off the trail, on the low side if possible, and wait for advice from the riders. If you’re approaching another mountain biker on a narrow trail the uphill rider has the right of way.
When overtaking others the first step is to make them aware with a bell or announcement, and then wait for an opportunity to pass. You should always pass at a safe speed, meaning slowly enough so that if something unexpected happens you can stop in time to avoid a collision. So on a narrow trail, not much faster than a walking pace when passing hikers. Want to go fast? Save your high speed runs for MTB specific one way trails or areas where there is a clear line of sight.
Historic trails like the Winsor evolved over time with little thought to sustainability and can be prone to erosion. Modern trail design practices limit grades, use regular grade reversals to shed water, and shape the trail surface to avoid collecting water. A well designed trail may require very little maintenance even with heavy traffic.
Here are a few tips that can help to keep our trails in top shape:
- Don’t ride on mud trails. Unfortunately this hasn’t been much of a problem lately, but if your tires are leaving a deep rut or picking up lots of mud it’s time to head for drier ground. And if you come across a puddle on an otherwise ridable trail it’s best to stay in the track and ride through it rather than going around and widening the trail.
- Don’t cut corners. It may be tempting to take a shortcut, but heading straight downhill or shortening a switchback can create opportunities for erosion. Stay on the track.
- Don’t ‘fix’ obstructions (also known as sanitizing). Some urban hiking trails are intended to be smooth gravel paths, but many times mountain biking single track is intentionally left in a more natural state, and many mountain bikers enjoy the challenge of riding difficult sections.
- Don’t build trails without permission. It may be tempting to head off into the forest and start building, but well built trails take planning, skill, and require approval from the landowner. Click here to see how we do it at SFFTS. Want to build? We’ll have lots of volunteer opportunities this spring.
Santa Fe is fortunate to have lots of options for outdoor activities, and mountain biking is a great way to enjoy our trails. Please keep other users in mind and share the trail with courtesy, respect and love.