LIKE A SHEPHERD TO HIS SHEEP
By Jim McIlvain
including kids, out there sharing the trail. And wherever it
is you ride that fast, please use a bell and be willing to cede
the right of way should you meet another human heading
If that’s too restrictive for your first-to-the-top, first-to-the-bottom mindset, then consider sticking to the road.
There you’ll find lots of folks, virtual and even real ones,
to compete with.
I’m no fan of Strava. If they blacked out the sharing
feature for every non-paved trail on earth (except for
designated racecourses and bike parks), it wouldn’t bother
me a bit. I know the argument that “it is not Strava; it is
riders who abuse Strava,” and that’s true. Still, when I see
shortcuts burned into trails that have existed for years,
or when other trail users give me the evil eye because I’m
automatically lumped into being “one of those guys,” I pay
the price for wayward riders, and there is no doubt that
Strava is a strong temptation to my flock.
As much as I dislike Strava, it doesn’t deserve all the
blame, because even before the advent of smartphones, we
had situations similar to what Jim Little described in his
letter. There is a good chance that every rider who reads
Mountain Bike Action has a story of an encounter with a
clueless rider. Remember the time you were working your
way up the trail and that yahoo forced you to take evasive
action to avoid a head-on? Or the time you moved over for
a hiker and they said, “Well, at least you didn’t make me
jump for my life,” in a snide voice?
So, my fellow parishioners, can we leave the church
today and agree on sharing the word with a wayward rider?
We share the trails with many other users, and with that
privilege comes responsibility. Our message is a simple one:
singletracks are not racetracks. Have fun where and when
it is appropriate. Control your speed. And “controlling
speed” doesn’t mean slamming on your brakes to stop
inches from a terrified hiker. You may be totally under
control pulling that nose wheelie, but through the eyes of
a hiker, you were a runaway freight train who turned his
peaceful experience into a life-or-death situation.
Yield to all other trail users, and this, like controlling
your speed, is as much about perception as it is reality.
Sure, you have the mad skills to slip by other trail users,
but will your pass make them uncomfortable or spook
them? Really yield the trail—and that might mean coming
to a complete stop.
Remember that mountain bikers are “the low man on the
totem pole” when it comes to right-of-way on the trails, and
we should be. Mountain bikes move us along the singletrack faster and more efficiently than hikers or equestrians,
so it is only fair that we are the ones who should slow
down or stop for others.
So, in closing, go in peace. Remember, bingo on
Thursday night, and we hope to see you all next weekend
on this trail. ❏
“The Reverend” Jimmy Mac
can be reached at
I try not to use the “Mac Attack” as a pulpit where I
preach to the mountain biking masses about the proper way
to ride mountain bikes. Still, this monthly meeting gives me
the opportunity, and I guess the responsibility, to address
issues that we, mountain bikers everywhere, can work on
to help everyone on the trail “just get along.”
The idea for this sermon started with a letter from a
rider whose correspondence and photos have been previ-
ously published in our pages. Jim Little is devoted to the
outdoors, conservation, and, of course, mountain biking.
His letter went like this:
KING OF THE MOUNTAIN,
SCOURGE OF THE TRAIL
I was about three-quarters of the way up Gridley Trail
when I heard a voice further up the mountain. Figuring
another rider might be heading down, and not being able to
see around the next switchback, I stopped.
Next thing I knew, he was coming at me, riding way
too fast and without warning. Making no attempt to even
slow down, he flashed by, too close for comfort. “There’s
another rider behind meeee,” he sang out as he jammed
down the hill. The guy he warned me about was a lot more
thoughtful. Unlike Flash, he dismounted when we met and
let me pass.
I won’t name the guy who was hauling down Gridley,
but he owns a bike store in a neighboring city and is one of
the storied KOMs in the local Strava community. As a bike-store owner, he should know that riding that fast on a busy
trail is not only dangerous to other trail users, but creates
tension and conflict that can lead to trail restrictions. As
Strava royalty—those who are all about who rides fastest,
farthest and most frequently, and who share their riding
prowess with their admiring “followers”—I’m thinking he
may not really care.
Point is, riders who chase bragging rights on public trails,
whether it’s in their virtual or flesh-and-blood communities, are screwing it up for the rest of us mountain bikers.
I fully understand the allure of riding fast, but mountain
bikers who like to rail need to do a judicious job of picking their trails and their ride times. It’s probably best not
to select the most popular trail in the area as your private
downhill course on a bluebird Saturday morning, as Flash
did, particularly when there are all manner of other users,