What Are The Rules Of Mountain Biking? (MTB Etiquette)

The basic rules of mountain biking are there to help keep everyone happy and safe. Some rules might be common sense and others are worth remembering!

What Are The Rules Of Mountain Biking?

There’s nothing quite like going out on your mountain bike and just enjoying the ride – the open air, the trail ahead, and the freedom that comes with it. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and focus on having fun. However, some basic rules and etiquette should be considered; this will help keep everyone safe, take care of the local environment, and, more importantly, allow everyone to have a good time riding bikes.  

The basic rules and Etiquette of mountain biking are:

  • Always wear a helmet
  • keep your speed under control
  • Never leave rubbish
  • Close gates behind you, respect fences & don’t trespass!
  • Ride within your limits and keep your speed under control
  • let other trail users know you’re coming
  • Pass safely and courteous (dont scare people)

The trails that mountain bikers like to ride are often shared with other users – hikers and horse riders in particular. Since 1988, the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) has published a series of Rules Of The Trail to help everyone enjoy the trails in harmony. 

What Are The Rules Of Mountain Biking
What Are The Rules Of Mountain Biking

1. Who Has The Right Of Way Mountain Biking?

Mountain bikers should be aware of who has right of way on the trails. Whenever they meet another person out on the trails, they should do their best to ensure that the encounter is friendly and courteous. Rules vary from place to place, so it is crucial to make sure that you know each location’s rules and etiquette, although there are general rules that can be observed worldwide.

Pedestrian’s Right Of Way

Mountain Bikers should always make other trail users aware that they are coming. Generally, pedestrians and equestrians have the right of way, so it’s usually expected that mountain bikers will give way to them. If passing other trail users, remember to always pass on the left, and try to make them aware of your presents before passing to avoid surprising them.

Blind Corners

When coming into blind corners, mountain bikers should be aware that there might be other trail users who cannot see. So they should adjust their speed accordingly.

Give Way Uphill

If a mountain biker encounters other riders heading uphill while they are heading downhill, they should give way to them. If the trail is designed to be only one way, or just ridden downhill, then they should make the other user aware of this – in a polite and friendly way.

2. What You Should And Shouldn’t Do When Mountain Biking (10 Tips)

As well as being aware of other trail users, there are also a number of other rules that should be observed when out on the trails:

1. Do Not Block The Trails.

There can be a number of reasons for stopping – feeling psyched after a particularly epic section, psyching yourself up for a particularly gnarly section, needing a quick rest, waiting for friends to catch up, or even fixing a puncture. However, the middle of the trail is not the place to do this. The last thing that other trail users want to encounter as they come flying around the corner is someone blocking the entire trail. 

2. Caution When Stopping.

So if you need to stop for any reason, apply a bit of common sense – do not stop just round a corner, do not stop at the bottom of a drop or other similar feature, and find a section where the trail is wide enough that you can pull over to the side and not be in the way of other riders. If you do encounter someone stopping in a less than ideal location, then be polite when telling them that they have made a poor choice – When people are new to the sport, they might need some guidance, and a bit of friendly advice is always welcome.

3. Passing Other Riders On The Trails.

There is always a chance that you will encounter slower riders on the trails. They might be new to the sport and just learning, or you might be pretty rapid on your bike! If you do happen to encounter slower riders, remember that it can be a pretty intimidating experience hearing another bike coming thundering up behind you. Call out a friendly warning to let them know that you are behind them and give them plenty of time and space to pull over and let you pass.

Be patient and remember there is no reason to get stressed out – no matter the rider’s speed, everyone is just out there to have a good time, after all! They will also appreciate a friendly thank you for acknowledging that they pulled over for you. 

4. Slower Riders

Likewise, if you are a slower rider and you experience faster riders coming up behind you, don’t panic. Just make sure that you pull over as soon as you get the chance and let the other rider pass. 

5. Don’t Litter

This one really shouldn’t have to be explained, but it is worth saying all the same. Don’t destroy what you came to enjoy! When stopping for a quick snack or drink on the trail, riders might carelessly throw their rubbish to the ground. But remember, no one is being paid to clear up after you, and your rubbish will be there for the next riders to encounter. It doesn’t look nice, it’s not good for the environment, and there is just no need for it. So clean up after yourself!

6. Cutting Corners

Staying on the theme of not destroying what you came to enjoy – if trail builders have spent many hours lovingly sculpting the perfect trail, don’t go charging through cutting corners, attempting to try and shave a few seconds off your record time on the trail. If you accidentally damage or notice any trail damage report it to the trail crew.

7. Be Aware Of Animals

Remember – when you are out enjoying nature, you are in the natural habitat of a wide variety of animals. They probably don’t particularly want bikes charging through their home daily, so if you encounter any animals, it’s best to leave them alone. That way, you will help reduce the impact that you have on them and their habitat.

8. Bring Supplies

It is a very good idea to make sure that you have any equipment or supplies you might need. Being self-sufficient, and you will be able to overcome any potential issues you may encounter. At a minimum, you should take a multi-tool,  pump, tire levers, and spare inner tube or puncture repair kit. Other essential things worth considering are food/drink, a first aid kit, and a phone (with charge).

9. Check The Weather

Checking the weather forecast and current conditions before leaving is another way to avoid any nasty surprises. This is especially important when riding in the mountains as weather conditions can change fast and could leave you in a precarious situation. 

10. Help Riders In Need

If you notice any other people on the trails looking like they’re having issues, stop and ask if they are ok? Always offer to help. Mountain biking is a close, friendly community, where people always look after each other and remember you never know when you might need to ask the help of another rider.

What Can You Not Do On A Mountain Bike?

There are no official rules on what you can, or cannot do on a mountain bike. In general, you can do more or less what you want on a mountain bike as long as you’re not endangering yourself or others (and of course, you’re abiding by your local laws). 

The Rules Of Riding Secret & Local MTB Trails (4 Golden Rules)

If you happen to come across a secret or local trail that is not on the map, It is VERY important to abide by these few rules.

1. Say Hello & Ask Before You Ride

Someone may have spent many hours of work to build a new trial, and it’s only polite to say ‘hello’, and ask if it’s ok to ride. Don’t be offended if they say ‘no’ for any reason. At the end of the day if you want to ride a new fresh trail go build your own.

2. Never Ride Someone’s Trail In The Wet

As tempting as it may be, it’s really not fair to ride someone’s trail in the wet, as it will destroy all the hard work they have done.

3. No Dig No Ride

A common and fair rule is ‘no dig no ride. This means if you want to ride you must help build and maintain the trails.

4. NEVER EVER Leave Any Rubbish (Trash)

It’s surprising how many mountain bikers leave rubbish all over the trails! Take your trash home with you! leave the mountains clean! Check out TRASH FREE TRAILS!

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, no matter what you are doing we are all sharing the great outdoors together. Remember to smile and say ‘hello’ to everyone you pass. By following these simple rules and etiquette of mountain biking, you and everyone around you have an awesome time on the trails!  

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Peter Ballin

Pedro is the primary writer on the site. He’s raced downhill and enduro at a high level, spannered at mountain bike world cups, and also written a book called Mountain Bike Maintenance. He’s appeared in both print & online major media publications across the Uk, France, and Japan (and even appeared on French Television). He’s made his living from bikes in various forms, from mountain bike guiding in France and Spain, Trail building in New Zealand and Canada, and working as a bike mechanic in the French Alps for many years. Pedro loves a good adventure and is often settling random challenges like riding down Mount Fuji, swimming across Lake Geneva, and hitchhiking across America.