Biker/Hiker Etiquette.

It is as good as any graphic but it can’t reveal the complexity of real life courtesy and the reality of momentum.

The triangular Trail Etiquette sign is wishful thinking.  It says horses have the most right of way and bikers have to bow and scrape even to the hikers. What it doesn’t recognize is real life. Most of the time it is so much easier for a walker to step aside than it is for a biker to slow down and go around a hiker. More on that later.
____It is such a rare sight to see a horse that is is a big deal to come upon them. Be sure to ask if you can come close and pet the horse. Horseman love to share their hobby. (They would love to hear you say that you appreciate what their club did in the 50s and 60s in the way of establishing the trail network.)
____It makes sense that bikers should slow down for horses, but it is more complicated than that. Horses are skittish about any strange noise behind them. They are used to people, but something unseen and fast moving hearkens to their genetic background. Horses are prey, not predator. Their only defense is to run away. An inexperienced rider can be thrown. Bikers should slow down to a stop 30 40 feet away and say hello to the rider. The rider will look back and tell the biker how to proceed. Walkers merely need to be quiet and slow to overtake. The riders usually stop and let you pass.

Why We Should Appreciate Bikers
Lets revisit the relationship between biker and hiker. It is much more common and a lot easier than horse and biker. And walkers should appreciate the bikers as well as the riders. The riders, obviously, because they originated them. Two things you should keep in mind before we discuss the interaction between biker and hiker.

  • One is that there’s about 10 times more bikers than hikers.
  • Two, they make new, wonderful trails away from the main trails.

Hiker do not make new trails. The biker, on the other hand, can push through weeds that hikers wouldn’t even step into. Then when a hundred bikers have passed that point the path is warn down enough for us to follow. The best thing about these informal trails is they are usually more interesting than the ones the Parks Department maintains; certainly more hilly and thus better for viewing the landscape. It’s good to remember that paths maintain themselves through usage and that means you don’t have to worry about a trail leading to nowhere. Such a trail will revert to the vegetation and disappear. The only problem with these wonderful new trails is that they can be quite narrow. And that is where sharing it can be awkward.

This is typical of an interesting bike trail. Notice how close the wall is and how precipitous the other side is.

Bike Trails Are Sometimes Narrow
Bikers need more room where their handle bars are than where their wheels touch the ground. Where they need it wide of course is where they pass us.  Our excuse for being on “their” narrow trail is that we admire the view provided by the path that they have created. Our appreciation is always more than theirs because their attention is on the next bump. The reason they’d rather not have us there though is because it is all they can do to keep themselves safe on these narrow paths. The pictures to the right shows how precarious these new trails can be. So the first rule about our use of these “interesting” trails is to not use the exciting to fly-over ones if it is a Saturday morning when bikers are out in force. Another rule about using their interesting trails is to use them in such a way that the occasional biker can go around you safely if you don’t hear them or see them coming and step off the trail.  Here’s how you do that: One very common path which bikers create is near a fence or a wall. In that case walk closer to the fence or wall so they don’t run the risk of catching their handle bar on that as they go around you.

This tree is to be appreciated only by being up there on the narrow bike trail. The downhill that follows means that the bikers aren’t even going to see this tree, let alone have time to appreciate it.

Saying Hi to a Biker
When a biker approaches and sees that you’ve stepped aside they will usually thank you. Most of the time you won’t need to step aside in which case either one will initiate the hi. When you don’t get a hi from a biker it is for one of two reasons which hikers may not know about unless they are also bikers. One is when they are deeply concerned about the next ten feet of path. The other is when they are pumping hard on the pedals. So if you don’t get a returned hi, chock it up to one of those.
If it is bunch of bikers usually it is the oldest or the last one that will return a hi. If there’s a constant flow of bikes the idea of a greeting kind of goes away. That happens between walkers too. The Clark Park trails, for example, are so popular with walkers you would be saying hi at every breath you take. So you just give up in that case. In fact s so crowded with hikers there, that there are “No Bikes” signs on some of the trails.