Training & Racing

Unfriendly Trails

Unfriendly Trails

Picture this.

You’re out on a run, passing through the desert, past one saguaro then another. Brushing past the creosote bushes, down the washes, and around the bends and you come upon an opposing mountain biker. He looks like he’s in a groove coming around the corner and as a courtesy to make it easier for him you step aside off the three foot trail and give him the lane and as he passes you throw out a, “Good Morning!”

Nothing.

Nada.

Ziltch.

No response. No “One more” to inform me he has buddies behind him. No “Good Morning!” back at me and certainly no “Thank you!”

Did he really just do that? Like the person that doesn’t say “Thank You” for holding the door for them at a store…

If this was a random occurrence out on the trail, limited to that one rider I’d let it go and move on. Except it’s not and not even close to a random occurrence.

In fact, I think it’s the rule rather than the exception.

Mountain bikers are just rude. Or at least a good number of them.

Think about it. You’re on a bike, with a seat. You don’t even have to pedal the entire time and you can still cover ground. Yet when I’m running up a trail, you’re going down, and I still make the effort of waving and saying hello and receive no response?

Baffles me.

Is it really that hard to lift a hand? Raise a finger? Say something back? Isn’t it just natural to see someone else on a trail and say hello to them? Are you that focused that you chose to ignore another trail user? I thought were we of the same mold, no? We’ve shunned the road scene in our respective sports, we like beards, microbrews and being out on a trail more than defining our splits on a upcoming time trial. Shouldn’t a mountain biker naturally befriend a trail runner out there? We’re like cousins, where’s the love?!

It really wouldn’t bother me so much if it didn’t happen so often. The number to times a biker has blown by me without a simple hello is astonishing. Put up against the response from other hikers and runners, who nearly without fail say hello with each encounter, mountain bikers are bare none the rudest trail users of all.

I can back that up with some totally unofficial survey’s I’ve done over the last sixty days in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, a frequently used trail system of intertwining single track used every day by a swarm of mountain bikers, hikers, horseback riders and trail runners. I run there for nearly 90% of all my training runs and have for the last three years. People always ask me what I could possibly think about being out on the trail so long by myself.

Well here you go:

I keep track of who is the friendliest out on the trail. I make sure I say hello to every single person I come across, without fail, and mentally note their response. (So there is a level of human error here but I have a pretty solid memory so it’s fairly accurate) Did they have a response? Was it a verbal with hand gesture? Was it just hand gesture? Did they have a dog? Were they hiking? In a group or solo? On a horse? On a bike? Trail runner? Generally though I could only keep track of total hikers/bikers/horseback/runners and a simple yes or no response. A “no” response was a total avoidance of my presence. No verbal, head nod, finger wiggle, wave, nothing. Totally devoid of any response to my greeting. A “yes” was any variation of those options. A simple lift of a finger off the handlebar for instance counts as a “yes” just as a “good morning” in response does.

So here are the numbers: In the Phoenix Mountain Preserve I ran 214.4 miles from October 16th to December 16th with a total of 32 different runs. That’s an average of 6.7 miles per run. With every run I’d track the results of that run on paper when I finished.

Here is what I came up with:

unfriendly_trails_hikersEncountering a hiker almost always was resulting in a pleasant wave and response to my “Good Morning/Afternoon/Hello” I’d give with an enthusiasm only a hotelier on 100mg of caffeine can do. Of the 167 different hikers I came across only 13 didn’t say something back. Which I can only assume was because they were deep into a conversation on the social implications of Facebook and our youth and didn’t see me fly by.

There are a lot of horse properties in the surrounding lots off the preserve but I rarely come across horse’s there. In my 32 runs only 4 times did I see a rider. All four greeted me back. Given I will stop completely to allow any horseback rider pass they always say hello and often stop and chat. My kind of people.

Encountering a trail runner was more surprising and interesting than I thought it would be. Depending on the trail you choose in the preserve varies on the necessary effort needed based on the terrain. ALL the trails are rocky and very technical and requires constant awareness, this admission I make now for both trail runners and mountain bikers. But only to a point. I had thought that trail runners would be unequivocally the friendliest people out on the trail, bar none.

I was mistaken.

Trail runners are frequent in numbers depending on the trail and on the Trail #100 you’re likely to see a half dozen in a 1-2 mile stretch in the pre-work/post-work hours every day. There is a mix of ultrarunners, road runners doing “cross training” and casual runners out there. Coming across another runner the other direction there is always the chance you might know them and maybe turn around and change course to run with them for a bit. In the case that you don’t know them I found that out of the 108 trail runners I came across, 28 of them said nothing in return.

Twenty eight.

25% didn’t bother to respond, raise a hand or say anything at all back to me.

Really?

I wasn’t tracking headphones as a culprit to any of the negative responses so it’s hard to say just how responsible that angle would be. However, I will say that often it seemed that the given person was in a state of mind where they were simply too focused on the trail, their music and didn’t even notice I was there, jumping up and down trying to get a response out of them. Ok, I wasn’t jumping up and down but you get the idea. The truth is those 28 were probably all road runners…(kidding again. Sorta)

Now the mountain bikers.

Trail #100 is a very common trail for mountain bikers. It’s beautiful, fast yet challenging with some technical sections scattered throughout. Easy parking and an endless array of trail options. Bikers are everywhere and to the point that I never listen to music while running on Trail #100 simply because there are so many bikers I don’t want to be “that guy” running along oblivious to the mountain bikers coming down behind me. I’m sure a mountain biker has written a blog about that…

So for the Phoenix Mountain Preserve mountain bikers are very common and in 32 runs I saw 238 mountain bikers. That’s 7.4 encounters for every run I did the last 60 days. That’s more than one per mile and more than a large enough sample size for this particular exercise.

238 mountain bike encounters while running. Of those 238 bikers, 97 refused any kind of acknowledgement of my presence on the trail. 97 bikers didn’t bother to raise a finger, wave their hand, nod their head, say thank you for getting off the trail so they could pass without even having to break cadence.

Nothing.

Nada.

Ziltch.

That’s 40% of the time. 4 out of every 10 bikers didn’t care enough to say thank you.

There were several runs that were far worse than that. The final run in tracking this it was 1 out of 11 that acknowledged my greeting. So ten people blew me off. Other runs I’d come across a group of bikers, 3, 4, 5 even 6 guys together and they would all say hello. Even stop and chat for a bit at the top of the hill they just finished pushing their bikes up. It seems though, that the larger the group, the higher percentage of time a response is given. I didn’t specifically track that, but it seemed to be the case that when a rider was solo, they were more apt to blow me off than if they were in a group. Nearly every group of riders would say hello. It was the solo bikers and pair of riders that were spread out that led to the high percentage of “I’m so lazy I’m not even going to lift my finger off this handlebar” bikers.

So what is it about mountain bikers that creates such a challenge for them to simply say hello? Can they not hear me through their helmet? Do they have headphones in there I just can’t see the wires for and they are not hearing me? Is it possibly that they are blind and are riding along by memory of the course from a previous life and therefore cannot possibly see my hand waving as they approach? Are they so focused on the trail at that moment that they cannot take a chance by saying something back?

None of this really matters of course. These are decidedly first world problems if there ever were any and with anything in life, it’s always the few that ruin things for everyone. But for someone such as myself that spends a great deal of time out on the trail it always seemed to me that mountain bikers blew me off more than anyone else. So I started tracking it and as unofficial as it is, it seems I was right. I’m sure there is some kind of prize for this revelation of insignificance right?

Maybe I’ll be overrun with bikers now trying to knock me off the trail, chasing me down at every turn. Chances are nobody will care and nothing will change. But just in case you are out there on the trail and you come across someone…

…Please say hello



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11 Responses

  1. h00v3r says:

    Hey, for your next article I dare you to republish this one except everywhere you say “mountain biker” replace it with “Mexican” and then see what kind of response you get.

  2. h00v3r says:

    What kind of egocentric, solipsistic child writes a 3000 word article about how an “other” doesn’t acknowledge him? Are there any other straw men you want to set up?

  3. La Kelly says:

    Thanks for the response, Jeremy :)

  4. Lonnie Benavides says:

    It’s awesome that you actually tracked this data, too funny. I run South Mountain all the time and yes sometimes people are really friendly and other times not. But it’s easy to assume that everyone thinks the way you do, as in not saying hi means you’re purposely trying to be anti-social. I’m very similar, always going out of my way to be courteous and friendly to everyone I see so I understand where you’re coming from. However I’ve decided to just assume the best in people when they don’t respond. Maybe they’re having a bad day or completely in the zone because they were a millimeter from biting it on the last bend, who knows. Either way, assuming the best leaves me in a better mood because I’m not wasting my emotions and spoiling my zen. Besides, on the off chance that they really are a jerk, who cares what they do! Can you imagine being out, on the trail, in all that beauty, and being unfriendly? I can’t. And I wouldn’t want to be the person who could.

    Ultimately I think trail runners, mountain bikers, and hikers are all cut from the same cloth. Kindred spirits. That being said, I do get a sick pleasure from sprinting uphill on foot through a technical section past all the mountain bikers in their gear. I don’t need any other machine besides the one I was born with! ;)

    See you on the trail!

    Lonnie

  5. MtJoseph says:

    I’ve heard from several old outdoor guides that a person in a vehicle is more likely to be inconsiderate and rude than that same person on foot. This applies to snow machines, motorcycles, trucks, ATVs, and in my experience, and to a lesser degree, bicycles. I’ve speculated as to why, perhaps a power thing, perhaps a tribal thing, perhaps an ability to escape consequences thing. But while I enjoy doing all those power sport things, and mountain bike, I’ve had to close my private property to mountain bikers along with the power sport users because too many of them, though still a minority, have been too rude.

  6. Sherpa John says:

    I live and work in Boulder, CO (aka. Trail mecca) where I train as an ultra runner, bring clients hiking, and mountain biking. I’m considering doing the same kind of study, which I’m certain will yield me the same results. I’m intrigued by the comments below.. “real mountain biker”.. Come on now. Despite how hard one is working out there, terrain, desire for solitude, etc… Saying “thanks” or “hi” takes very little effort.

  7. Noah says:

    Wow. There are some dumb comments on here…

  8. Thank you everyone for your comments!

    I first want to point out that I am not stating that ALL mountain bikers are in fact “bad.” Nor do I have anything against mountain bikers as a collective group.

    What I’m pointing out, through the very unofficial tracking method I used, is that over a 60 day period, in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve trails, that 97 mountain bikers didn’t acknowledge the fact that I was running past, had stopped to let them by, jumped off the trail so they could fly by without breaking stride while I stopped cold. All against what is “supposed” to happen in the Horse>Hiker>Runner>Biker chain of command on the trail system.

    I’ve mountain biked my entire life so I understand it’s challenges and I certainly understand not everyone is an extrovert and some are just out there redlining on a killer workout and are in a zone. But outside the numbers itself is the fact that many of those 97 bikers were going so slow I’m confident I can rule out “focused” and “redlining” right away.

    I do agree with Trevor and a few others that pointed out their trail bikers are pretty friendly. South Mountain, specifically on the National Trail bikers are always (or have been for me) extremely courteous and friendly. Possibly due to it’s difficulty it brings more seasoned bikers who know the way of the trail? Possibly. Still I doubt that if someone actually tracked it they wouldn’t be slightly surprised what the percentage was.

    I understand people are not out for a stroll on a bike to meet up with a runner and have a conversation. But when a runner gets completely off the trail for a biker to keep their pace knowing it is easier for me to jump off than them to stop, unclip, and then re-clip on an incline, I regularly jump out of the way and wave them on from a distance so they can keep plugging away uninterrupted. So when they blow by without even a nod, eye contact, lift of a finger off the handlebar? Yeah, that’s rude. No other way to paint that picture. I could just keep going straight at everyone on a bike knowing they are supposed to stop and not me but that’s just realistic. I feel like I’m helping them out. I’m breaking my pace so they don’t have to break theirs. Despite the trail stating it working the other way around.

    So while certainly not everyone that mountain bikes is rude my experience, in this particular park, over these specific months, in the times i was running, was that 40% of all my encounters with bikers I was met without the acknowledgement I think is expected. Now, I’m sure the numbers would vary at the McDowell Mountains, Cave Creek, South Mountain or any other park.

    Bottom line, the majority of bikers are awesome, it’s just those few that are a challenge. In fact the article states 60% ARE friendly so the majority are shown to be great. Based on the numerous responses and emails I received from other runners agreeing with the article I’m clearly not too far off base with my assessment.

    Still yet, I’ll continue to say hello to every single biker, hiker, runner out on the trail. And I’ll keep giving the trail to the biker. And if they still don’t say hello, nod, lift a finger, or say thank you?

    I’ll probably get over it.

  9. Fawn Simpson says:

    I agree with your numbers. That has always been the case where I run. Off the trails and on the streets, runners rarely respond. But cyclists on the trails? Never respond.

  10. I’d be curious if there are any geographical differences for the various parks. I find that all of the folks at SanTan Regional are quite friendly. There are variations depending on the demographic too. Younger kids vs. more mature adults…

    I am always the first person to say hello but don’t take offense if it’s not returned. I chalk it up to headphones, being lost in thought or just having a bad day.

  11. La Kelly says:

    As a competitive mountain biker AND runner, I’ve gotta say, your article was difficult to stomach. On behalf of REAL mountain bikers, I’m sorry that you had a few bad experiences out there. Most of us are out there enjoying the trails (and hopefully some solitude and/or some social time w/our friends) just like yourself. Now I can’t fully understand your dire interest in having a conversation out there, at least anything beyond a quick hello or headnod; most people are running/riding in their “groove”, perhaps paying attention to the technical line (to not crash), perhaps redlining, who knows?! Who cares who is friendliest out there? Are we really out there to meet people and socialize? If you are, that’s great, but for many of us, that’s the last place we’d want to stop to hear another story. You counted A LOT of mountain bike users…which tells us all that mountain bikers are regular users of our multi-use trails. Hopefully, they’re out there volunteering on trail maintenance days, or education, or in other ways.

    As far as any riders who may have scared you or “hogged” the trail, apologies. I could only assume that they’re younger, newer riders who have yet to learn (or abide) by general etiquette of the trail. Just like runners sometime offend the hikers/walkers, the riders sometimes offend their ‘slower’ trail counterparts as well. Unless they’re endangering you, just let it go. Don’t let a few bad apples ruin your day…enjoy your run…get back to your zen.

    Please don’t stereotype “mountain bikers = bad”. In fact, my two suggestions would be to try to pick up mountain biking for yourself as it’s great cross-training (and even better if ya wanna push it one step further, race an XTERRA off-road triathlon), and secondly, show up at a trail maintenance day where you can contribute to the trails and at a more appropriate place to say “hello” and make friends.

    Happy trails!
    La Kelly

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