Why is it that mountain bikers have to fight so hard to keep access to the trails? We organize and form advocacy groups. We put in hours of volunteer labor and we donate our hard earned money. We work diligently to build and maintain positive relationships with local officials and land managers. We do trail maintenance that benefits, not just ourselves, but all trail users.
In spite of this, we are the black sheep of the forests. To hikers, we seem disruptive and dangerously fast. To equestrians, we are viewed with wary trepidation. It’s almost as if we are perceived as the rebel teenagers that must be kept out of the mall lest we ruin it for the real shoppers. I feel that we are simply tolerated and that if the other trail users had their way, we’d be banned for good.
I think that mountain bikers bend over backwards to cater to everyone else’s interests. We hear of riders being restricted from parks and we don’t want it to happen at our local trails. So we go through the lengthy approval processes to get things done legally. We work tirelessly to fix damage from storms and to repair trails destroyed by horses’ hooves. We respect other trail users and try to make all encounters friendly. Now, I am sure that there are mountain bikers who have been less than considerate, and this has sullied the image of our entire group. But we are not all bad apples. I would venture to say that most mountain bikers go out of their way to be considerate.
I can definitely speak for myself. I am always friendly and respectful when I encounter other people on the trails. I slow down and alert hikers of my presence. I pass safely and I always say kind words to them (Thank-you’s and Enjoy your day’s). For horses, I’m even more careful. I don’t fly right up on them from behind, even when they’re on single track that’s marked “Not suitable for equestrian use”. I let the rider know I’m there. I asked about passing instead of just assuming that there’s enough room. I speak continuously as I pass, because I want to keep the horse aware of my presence so as not to startle it. I even go far off gravel roads into the grass, to pass horses that are walking on the road.
Even though I go out of my way to be respectful, I don’t think other trail users like mountain bikers very much. I can see it in the hikers’ eyes. They may be friendly, but that look of serene peacefulness leaves their face once we come into their view. They move way over, much farther than they need to, often stopping and getting completely off the trail. As a rider on a bike, I know they don’t need to give me that much room. But I think they feel they need to. It probably makes them feel safer. I’m left with the feeling that they want to be as far away from me as possible and they just can’t wait until I leave.
Horse riders are even more wary of us. I hear their voices carry across the way. “It’s a biker,” they say. I hear the tone. They may be nice, but it’s a guarded civility. I think they are scared we’ll pass too abruptly and spook the horses. I always come away from this situation feeling like I was way nicer than they were.
Sometimes it all comes to a head and I just get tired of being nice all the time. Taking the higher road is a virtuous goal, but there is an end to my patience.
I’ve been training with a coach since November. My planned fitness peak is almost here. My “A race” (my most important race) is in one week. The race will be held at Fair Hill Park in Maryland. This weekend is the last weekend to train on the course. Riders will be coming out to ride on weekdays, but since most people in working class America have the weekends off, the Saturday and Sunday before the race customarily draws the most mountain bikers. I know of many riders who planned to ride the Fair Hill trails this weekend.
But I just found out that there will be an Equestrian Race at Fair Hill for this entire weekend. The forever accommodating mountain bike riders are being advised to stay away and respect the horse back riders’ event.
Really? When every single mountain biker would have wanted to practice the race loop? It couldn’t be any other weekend, could it?
But we’ll shut up and deal with it, won’t we? Because if we complain too much, we’ll become less desirable to deal with. If we don’t respect the other users of the trails, we won’t get the respect and access we want.
But I’m not keeping my opinion to myself. Sometimes the facts have to be stated. There are inequities in how different trail users are treated. I don’t like it and I won’t apologize for feeling annoyed that this training weekend was taken from me.
Do any other mountain bikers get tired of being at the bottom of the totem pole?