There are a lot of new faces on the trails these days. Welcome – we hope you enjoy the outdoors as much as we do. There has been a lot of change (understatement right?) the last couple months. One that has effected new riders is the lack of group rides. A lot of group rides were effective to help new riders understand etiquette as well as tips to improve their riding. We’re going to publish a handful of concepts that will help new riders, and possibly refresh experienced riders. Let’s start with New to MTB: Sighting Trail Users.
It’s good to remember you’re probably not the only one on the trail. In fact, even if you have strong reason to believe you are, its best to always assume you’re not. MTB riding is a dynamic sport on shared trails. Just because there wasn’t a log, hole, or rut yesterday doesn’t ensure there won’t be today. The same goes for other trail users.
Now more than ever passing other trail users is important. There are plenty of blogs about how to pass in the post-corona days (and I will say, it takes a bit more thinking to decide here’s the widest part, I can get stopped over there and deal with my bandana or whatever). This isn’t going to get into the new, or even the previous etiquette of passing or right of way. I generally assume it isn’t me and even in the odd chance I’m climbing and coming across another bike descending why force it.
What this blog is going to offer insight to are techniques on sighting trail users well in advance or knowing where possible problem areas might be.
Let’s look at the title image again.
This image illustrates two different concepts that I try to scan when riding.
The long rectangles headed into the connection: when the growth is short you can sight where the trail “should be”. Keep an eye out, looking through the bushes for colors, shapes or movement. This is a great way to see other trail users well in advance. Being aware that there are other trail users at these distances gives you plenty of room to decide how and where to pass.
The lower rectangle shows a common trail issue that makes it harder to see other users.
As the trail dips down it creates a visual “dead” spot. If there is a rider coming the other way your closing speeds mean you’re going to be on top of each other quickly. If there are hikers or runners everyone might end up surprised, which can be stressful.
In this particular example there is actually a short bridge down there. If it all went wrong you could end up in the gully! Personally I try to scan ahead quickly then focus on the most likely areas for issues from nearest to furthest away. So when I crested this I scanned left and right then kept my focus into the dip as I began the right hand turn.
Other tips that will help you better sight trail users.
First, when you’re head is down, you’re staring at things that you really can’t do much about at that point.
Second you aren’t taking in a lot of potential data from down trail. This leads to constant reactionary riding, which is sketchy.
Popping your head up just a bit provides you much more trail data.
Frankly the faster you ride the further down trail you must look. Coming around this corner I’m going to have difficulty dealing with before, say the third rock in front of the handlebars to the slight left turn. Other than maybe a bunny hop over a snake, etc. The point becomes, in the upper photo with my head down I’m staring into a space that isn’t giving me the data I need to plan appropriately. It’s all just reaction after reaction which isn’t a controlled way to ride.
It’s good to try to sneak a peek down trail when you can.
Adaptive rider / trail advocate Jeremy McGhee and I riding Mission Trails. Learn more about adaptive riding on this recent blog.
In the image above I’ve highlighted the next bit of trail after this rutted out section.
By not hyper focusing on the next feature I’m able to sight down trail. If there had been other users I could slow prior to the obstacles rather than trying to deal with it “in” the obstacles.
Thanks for the read – be safe, enjoy the ride and get outdoors! It’s good for your sanity.