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A Mountain Biker’s Guide to Leaving No Trace

Originally written for RootsRated

Mountain Biking provides an amazing mix of outdoor adventure. On a bike, you can pedal at a pace that promotes intimacy and interaction with the environment, or you can swoop along a rippin’ singletrack while testing your skills on a steep descent. MTB is one of the most popular forms of outdoor recreation and now, more than ever, responsible riding is essential to helping ensure long-term health of the sport. For mountain biking to continue being a viable outdoor recreation endeavor on public lands, doing so respectfully and with the resource in mind, is vital. These are just a few simple considerations to keep in mind on your next mountain biking adventure and will help ensure a safe, fun, and minimal-impact riding experience.

David Riggs (rear) and David Neiles (front) riding the creek side of the Daniel Ridge Loop in Pisgah National Forest, NC. Jeff Bartlett

Plan Ahead and Prepare

  • Ensure your mountain bike is in good, working order. A properly maintained mountain bike reduces the risk of injury, a long walk out, or both.
  • Check with land managers, local bike shops, local cycling groups, and www.mtbproject.com for the most up-to-date trail information.
  • Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use and ride in small groups of 3-4.
  • Be self-sufficient and pack appropriately. A rain shell, multi-tool, spare tube, pump, and food all help ensure a safe and fun ride.
  • Wear a helmet and other appropriate safety gear. It could save your life.
David Neiles on the Clear Creek trail at Chilhowee Recreation Area, TN Jeff Bartlett

Travel on Durable Surfaces

  • For biking, durable surfaces include established trails, dirt roads, and pavement. Off-trail travel by bike is not often allowed. Check local regulations.
  • Respect trail and road closures. Do not trespass on private land and obtain permits when necessary. Bicycles are not permitted in areas designated as state or federal Wilderness.
  • Avoid riding muddy, excessively wet, or icy trails. When encountering patches of mud or ice, ride through it and not around to avoid trail widening.
  • Avoid skidding. Locking up your tires creates ruts, increases erosion, and decreases your control.
  • Take someone new for a ride and teach him or her proper trail riding technique.
Jeff Bartlett riding the Big Rock trail at DuPont State Forest in North Carolina. Jeff Bartlett

Dispose of Waste Properly

  • Pack it in, pack it out. Litter can potentially endanger wildlife, attract scavengers, and diminish other visitors’ experiences. This includes toilet paper and other hygiene products
  • Designate a pocket for litter, wrappers, and leftover food.
  • Use restroom facilities before hitting the trail. Otherwise, deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
  • Urinate well away from water sources and out of sight of other riders.
  • Be cool. Leave a favorable impression; not waste.
Racoon Mountain Trail System, X trail. Rider(s) shown: Cody Wallis Jeff Bartlett

Leave What You Find

  • Preserve the past: observe, but do not touch, cultural or historic structures and artifacts. Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
  • #mtbselfie: photograph yourself being a responsible mountain biker, take pictures of natural objects in the wild and leave them for future preservation.
  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species. Check your clothing, bike, and equipment before and after each ride for seeds. Wash your bike between rides.
  • Unauthorized trail work, like berms, bridges, ladders, etc. is not recommended.
  • You could unknowingly damage sensitive vegetation or contribute to further erosion and other trail damage.
Chattanooga rider Gaston Farmer packing it and packing it out in style. Jeff Bartlett

Respect Wildlife

  • Stick to the trail. Wildlife accustomed to riders can predict actions, but riding off-trail confuses wildlife.
  • Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them
  • Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
  • Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, winter, dusk, and dawn.
Charlie Mix on the Naked Widow Loop at Chilhowee Recreation Area, TN.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors

  • Respect other trail users and protect the quality of their experience. Always ride within your limits.
  • Be courteous. Yield to hikers and equestrians. Be prepared to stop and dismount if the trail is narrow or crowded. Yield to climbing cyclists when descending.
  • When encountering slower traffic, announce your presence with a friendly greeting or bell to avoid startling other visitors.
  • Reduce your potentially intimidating size by stepping to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
  • Ride in small groups to avoid excessive dust and noise.
  • Racing on recreational trails is dangerous, inconsiderate, and never in style.
  • Let nature’s sounds prevail. Save shouts of joy for post-ride stories.

For more information on Leave No Trace, visit www.LNT.org or call 1.800.332.4100

© Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org

Featured image provided by Jeff Bartlett

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