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Trail Etiquette During the Outbreak

Updated: Mar 24, 2020

Photo: MTBM volunteers using hand sanitizer before it was cool, although this photo does not show appropriate social distancing.

Conditions are changing quickly, and we will make efforts to update this post with the recommendations of the CDC, WHO, and state and local health experts. Updated 3/24

The Coronavirus pandemic is, perhaps at its best, an opportunity for our community to pull together and make some short-term sacrifices for the benefit of the big picture. As we all make efforts on social distancing, self-quarantine, and good old fashioned hand washing, it's important to care for our individual physical and mental health while we care for the community at large.

It's not lost on any rider right now that mountain biking can be compatible with social distancing, and that's a much needed silver lining to current events. But the few trails that are open right now are always busy this time of year, and they're busier yet because there's not much else to do. With this concentration of use, please be even more conscious of the potential for user conflict than you normally would. Here's some points on appropriate trail etiquette in the age of COVID:

1. Be gracious. Trail etiquette, in general, can be distilled to this basic point, and this is more important now than ever. Now is the time to really lean into the finer points of trail etiquette: ride within your sight lines, give a wide, 6+ ft berth when passing or yielding the right of way, and leave the headphones at home.

But while we're at it, remember that people are stressed out right now; let's try to be understanding. Even if you had the right-of-way and someone blew by you, or a rider is wearing headphones and not totally paying attention, maybe let it slide. On-trail altercations are an extra bad look these days, you feel?

2. Actually keep distance, especially in parking lots and pump tracks. Even though it's outdoors, maintain that 6 foot spacing to other people. Social distancing only works well if we all do it. This is a big deal right now for two reasons: not that many trails are open this time of year, and parking lots are natural places to convene. Now is a great opportunity to spend the little extra time and ride to the trailhead, don't stick around in the parking lots and trailheads, and give folks plenty of space on the trail.

We've heard that big groups are forming at the Syringa pump track. Please don't do that.

3. Postpone group rides. It's tough to graciously and responsibly manage a large group right now. Stick to small groups of 2 or 3, or ride alone if you're comfortable with that.

4. It's OK not to talk. It's a weird time right now, and we're all trying to figure out the new rules of social grace. If you see a bud on the trail, a wave is fine. Don't take it personally if they don't stop to chat!

5. Don't send it. Hospitals are going to be extremely busy for the immediate future. Now is not the best time to push your limits. Show your respect for all of our medical workers by trying to keep the rubber side down--and closer to the ground.

6. Respect the mud. All the normal etiquette of spring breakup riding still applies. Mornings are awesome because the dirt is still frozen. Ride through the puddles to keep singletrack single. Bench cut, traversing trails fare a lot better than trails through flat meadows or along fall lines, so keep that in mind when choosing where to go. And if it's really soft, just turn around.

7. Pack it in, pack it out. This is another one we should be doing anyway, but now even more than ever. Land managers are still maintaining trailheads, which means hauling trash and keeping things tidy. Let's reduce their work load and keep trash cans as empty as possible - this goes for all those dog poo bags as well.

8. But definitely go ride! Goodness knows we all need something right now. As we hunker down to protect our community health, don't lose track of your own physical and mental health. We can't think of much better to clear your head in stressful times than a ride in the woods.

Keep an eye on MTB Missoula social media channels (Facebook, Instagram) for trail conditions updates, and tag us with your own reports if you see something different.

We're not really sure on what volunteer or race events are going to look like this year, which makes us sad. But we'll keep the powder dry, so we're ready to go just as soon as it is safe and healthy for everyone.

A virtual cheers, and thank you,


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