Conflicts on the Trail

A little while ago, Shuwen and I went for a walk at the Del Mar Mesa Preserve on a Sunday morning – I usually only go to this place on weekdays and enjoy the solitude, but on Sunday the trails are busy, and the majority of trail users are mountain bikers.

On most trails that I know, the established trail etiquette is that bikers yield to pedestrians, and all yield to equestrians. At least in theory. Now as a hiker, I am not particularly interested in getting the right of way – but I certainly wish that the mountain bikers would at least act in a manner that would express a thorough awareness for the fact that they are sharing the trail with others. Most of the time unfortunately, they act more like they’re owning the trail. Or at least it feels that way.

The problem is that they’re fast and the handle bars of their bikes easily occupy the entire width of a single track trail. There’s no room on the tunnel-like trails through the old growth chaparral. On the wider trails atop the mesa, larger groups of riders, with their helmets and their heavy rock music blaring from a speaker are simply intimidating.

I don’t want to get run into, and I don’t want to cause a mountain biker to crash when they try to avoid me as they go downhill too fast while I’m around a corner and they could not see me. As a result, it’s no joy hiking on one of the narrow, winding paths to and from Deer Canyon to the mesa: most of the time, we found ourselves more or less jumping out of the way and dragging little Toni on her leash off of the trail when we heard bikers approaching.

All that is not isolated to the Del Mar Mesa of course – when I run at Lake Hodges on weekends, I find myself in the same situation: as a runner, I’m the one who’s getting out of the way as quickly as possible when I hear or see a mountain biker approaching.

It seems to be standard courtesy to shout “coming up on your left!” and “there’s three more behind me!” as they pass. Maybe they shout “hiker up!” to their fellow riders as they approach. That’s not enough. It does seem to say “watch out” to the hikers – but it doesn’t seem to imply “slow down” for the riders.

I’d like to raise some awareness. What if one of us was listening to music with headphones? Or simply deaf? What if there was a little kid around the corner, or a big, slow old dog? Would these riders expect them to jump out of the way just like we did?

I understand that going downhill on a narrow trail is both fun and a challenge, and I don’t want to ruin anyone’s fun, but ultimately, this reckless behavior will result in more regulations on the trails – and I have no doubt that those who behave this way now are the very people who will then complain about the regulations.

Hear my plea, dear mountain bikers: when there’s people on the trail ahead of you, please, slow down considerably and approach with caution. Think about how it feels for those who share the trail with you. Thanks!

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5 thoughts on “Conflicts on the Trail”

  1. I have had similar encounters on trails near me. It is a multi-use trail system for sure, and many of the deeper areas into the woods are via “mountain bike trails.” Since I am trying to minimize my impacts in many of these areas and stick to established trails, I often leave my gear just to the side of the trail. I have had a few close calls of either people almost running my bag or me over.

  2. A universal problem on shared trails it seems. I use to walk on a shared single-track daily. No matter what the “rules” for right-of-way and yielding it seems to fall upon those most in control of their means of transport to ultimately yield…meaning those on foot. I’ve found some mountain bikers to be very considerate and courteous while others seem to make a sport of seeing how close to and how much fear they can strike in the heart of a hiker. In the latter case the ultimate goal might be to discourage hikers from using “their” trail. It boils down to a human equation…a certain percentage of people in any activity are going to be asses. That you can always count on.

  3. Love the crayfish capture Alex.

    Yeah, it sounds like the trail is really not suitable for walking/biking if it’s that narrow. When the scenario you describe happens, and it will, someone will address it.

    At mission trails most of the trails are wide and the bikers there have always been “safer” in areas likely to be more congested. They know at some point, things open up and they can move out wide open.

  4. So glad to see this post! I’ve been narrowly missed more than once by kamikaze riders , not to mention the very real damage over time to the trails through erosion, chipped, scarred and broken rocks, (or even spray paint to mark hazards) terrible hack jobs on trimming back the chaparral to widen trails….

    I wish they would designate certain trails or even certain days only to trail riders and it wouldn’t feel so much like a game of ‘frogger’ .

  5. Very well stated! Unfortunately, there are many mountain bikers who seem to believe that any “trail” belongs to them, and all others should simply get out of their way. I’m sure there are mountain bikers who are responsible and understanding, but they seem to be in the minority.


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