Valley Trail Riders Trail Etiquette

Updated October 6, 2007

As a member or guest of our club, the opportunity for a group ride comes up often. To make these rides as trouble free and fun as possible, there are some critical conventions of trail etiquette that need to be understood and observed during the ride.

EQUIPMENT/GEAR – It is assumed that everyone’s bike has been maintained at home, is reasonably quiet, and will go 40-50 miles without needing gas.  A fanny pack with tools, parts, and a snack can be useful.

PECKING ORDER – Every group ride should have a Ride Leader, Sweep rider, and everyone else in between. The Leader leads the group and makes the decisions on which trails to turn on. The Sweep is the last rider in the group and is responsible for running the head count when regroupings occur. It is critical that the Sweep rider know their role and that there is no member of the group behind them. The rest of the group will work out positions based on speed. These positions will change during the ride as riders warm-up, burn out, or lose interest. If you are not sure of your level, etiquette suggests that starting in the back and waiting for an invitation to move up in line will never offend anyone. Passing a stopped rider unless signaled to do so is also a bad practice as they may be needing help, waiting for dust to settle, waiting for oncoming riders, or waiting for foot or horse traffic.

If one or more riders pass the Ride Leader on the trail, as one might in a difficult trail section, they should wait in a safe location for the Ride Leader to get back in front of the group. If a rider wants to take over the Ride Leader position and ride in front, they should communicate this with the current Ride Leader so that the group understands the new pecking order and who is leading the group. Never just assume that by taking over the lead position, without any discussion, you are the new Ride Leader. You will be, in effect, leaving the group and will be on your own (see next section on Dividing The Group). As the direction a group takes may be dynamic, you may not know what path the Ride Leader, and thus the group, is ultimately going to take.

DIVIDING THE GROUP – Sometimes on a ride it is necessary for the group to split up, with one or more riders leaving the main group. This could be for any number of reasons. For example, the group may be too large for the conditions, riders may need to return to camp early or some riders may want to go on a shorter, longer, slower or faster ride than the main group is planning to do. When riders want or need to separate from the main group, they should communicate this with the rest of the group that is behind them and the Sweep rider before departing. No one should leave a group ride without discussing this with the Sweep rider.

MAIN ROAD RULE – On any trail ride you will pass a large number of trail options. Everyone is spared from having to regroup at all intersections by always staying on the trail that maintains the immediate direction of travel and trail size. For example: if you are on a small single track trail and it crosses a fire road, cross the fire road and continue on the single track. If you are uncertain which trail at an intersection is the MAIN ROAD, then stay put for the next rider or sweep rider before making a decision.

RELAYING (Trail Tag) – When the Ride Leader does turn off on a side trail, each rider must wait their turn at the trail change for the next rider. The waiting rider is the TAGGED RIDER and is free to continue on ONLY when the next rider signals that he sees both him and the new trail. The rider that has just arrived, and signaled, now waits at the turn as the TAGGED RIDER until the next rider signals him. This continues on through the group until the last rider or sweep arrives. This procedure will allow everyone to continue at their own pace and keep the group spread out and as dust free as possible.

If you need a break for repairs, bladder relief, injury, or rest, raise your hand in the STOP (hand raised, palm forward) position to the tagged rider that is waiting for you at the next intersection. He, in turn, should wait for you and find out what the reason for stopping is. At that point, you jointly decide if the tagged rider should wait with you or proceed ahead to the next intersection so that he can signal the next tagged rider and inform him of the problem. If you are not able to signal the tagged rider about your need to stop and he continues on, you should follow our rules and wait at that intersection.

LOST RIDER (Stay put!!) – If you are the tagged rider and the next rider does not make it, just stay put. Either the Sweep, or another rider behind you in the group, will catch up with you to let you know what has happened or someone ahead of you will return to help. If you try to go forward to tell the group, and the next rider comes by while you are gone, they will miss the turn.

YOU ARE LOST (Go Back) – If you feel that you have become separated from the group because you missed the tagged rider or broke the main road rule, you have to help us find you. If you think you missed a tagged rider (they didn’t wait for you) go back to the last tagged turn you were seen at. If you think you got off the main road, go back to the last tagged turn you were seen at. In both cases, once the group figures out we are missing someone, we will send someone back along the route to find them. Therefore, you must stay on the route. If you are searching any trails other than the route, there is a good chance you will be missed by the searchers. (Hope you brought matches and a space blanket.)

ONCOMING RIDERS – Always be aware of how many riders in your group are behind you. If you meet an oncoming rider, indicate to him how many riders are behind you by raising a hand with the correct number of fingers extended. If you are the last rider (Sweep), raise a closed fist. If he shows you that there are riders behind him, you have to decide where to pull over and let them by or to proceed cautiously.

REGROUPING – The Ride Leader should occasionally stop and wait for the entire group to collect. He can then judge the mechanical and physical needs of the riders behind him. We should not be stopping so often that it detracts from the ride but we do want to let riders catch their wind, change riding sequence, or make needed repairs if they have to.

HORSES, HIKERS, AND BICYCISTS – We will occasionally come across other users of the trails. We should make every effort to leave a positive impression of our club and motorcyclists in general. There is nothing wrong with showing the courtesy of pulling to the side and shutting off our engines until they pass. If we are passing them, make it as quiet and dust free as possible.

LEAVE NO RIDER BEHIND – At a grouping, the Ride Leader should check with each rider before starting down the trail. Each rider should signal in return that they are ready to go. We don’t want to be 5 miles down the trail wondering where Mike is and he is lost, wondering which way we went. Just waiting the extra moments to confirm that everyone is ready to go is a lot better than spending the afternoon looking for a separated rider.

For a printable version of the Trail Etiquette page (without frames) click here.