Who Has the Right of Way on a Singletrack MTB Trail?

Have you ever found yourself slogging away on grueling climb only to have to move over to let a speeding downhill rider whiz past you? Or, conversely, have you ever been flying down the trail only to have to abruptly halt your epic flowing run and let an uphill rider climb past? The answer is probably yes to both! And has that ever made you wonder who actually has the right-of-way when on a single track mountain bike trail? It’s certainly a good question, but unfortunately the answer is ‘it depends.’

Sure, it feels like whichever way you’re traveling at the time should have the right-of-way, but it actually depends on a case-by-case basis, depending on where you’re riding.

Who yields to whom?

One school of thought, and arguably the one that is most commonly followed, is that the downhill rider should yield to uphill bike traffic, as it’s typically much more of a hassle to get moving again when you are climbing uphill than it is to resume riding when you are going downhill. When in doubt, this is a good rule to follow (and the most common one) and courteous to the rider who is trucking away uphill.

Of course, every situation is different. If you see a rider quickly approaching you and perhaps even going through a fast or technical section, it may be difficult for them to stop for you, so common sense would say that moving out of the way would be the best course of action, and possibly help prevent you or the other rider from crashing into one another or something else. Some trail networks even state that the downhill rider has the right-of-way, especially networks that are more tailored to downhill riding, so it’s important to research the local trail network’s rules regarding right-of-way so you don’t find yourself in any precarious situations. It’s always good to alert other riders to your presence as well, in case they didn’t see you approaching.

Ride smart.

In summary, your best bet is always to check with the local trail networks before going out for a ride and just be courteous to your fellow mountain bikers. We’re all out there to enjoy a nice ride and the last thing anyone wants is a collision that could have been avoided. Have you had any close or questionable encounters in the past? Share your story in the comments section below.

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