I find it tedious to spend half a day riding the dangerous streets of the city to purchase a mountain insurance, then spend money on race subscription and in then arriving early as hell on the start line to get my number.

Provided I do not take any water or food from the checkpoints and I do not cross the finish line, is there an ethical reason not to ride with the race?

  • 21
    Almost always, if you start a question with is it ethical, the answer is No!
    – andy256
    Oct 2, 2015 at 9:15
  • 6
    If you think it is "hard" attending a race, try being an organizer! You will never have a more thankless job in your life.
    – Rider_X
    Oct 2, 2015 at 15:59
  • 1
    @Rider_X If it's so thankless, why do people do it?
    – Superbest
    Oct 2, 2015 at 19:00
  • 4
    @Superbest - because you have a passion for the sport and want to pay back to the sport. With out local races there is nothing for the upcoming riders.
    – Rider_X
    Oct 2, 2015 at 19:11
  • 3
    I've never heard of "mountain insurance" Is it a local thing? Can you please expand on that? I guess its extra road insurance for a day?
    – Criggie
    Oct 2, 2015 at 22:39

6 Answers 6


Unethical, because you're imposing costs on the organisers anyway. Apart from the obvious "if you get hurt they're going to help you", they almost always face costs per participant and often have a limit on numbers. Violate those limits and the organisers will have problems.

You're also causing wear and tear on the track, equipment and marshals. You can't pretend that away by saying "other people do it too"... yes, and they paid for the privilege. You're stealing it. Not really ethical IMO.

This is another case where your exact marginal impact is low, but at some point one more increment like that will get the race cancelled or refused permission to do it again.

The other thing is that if you are involved in an incident and are deemed to be at fault, you will not be insured. The race insurance won't cover you (obviously), but whatever insurance you have almost certainly has a an illegal activity exclusion. They'd most likely leave it to you to show that what you were doing was lawful. But since most races take place on temporarily closed areas, that would be hard. They close the area specifically to people like you. For exactly that reason.

  • 8
    Also, if you had an accident with another rider that caused them to get hurt, you might be more likely to be found negligent since you really weren't supposed to be there in the first place.
    – Kibbee
    Oct 2, 2015 at 9:12
  • What about races on hiking trails? I guess if the area was really closed, they wouldn't let an unnumbered rider there at all - that's what closed means, right.
    – Vorac
    Oct 2, 2015 at 9:22
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    You can also cause problems for the race organizers if there is an incident (for insurance reasons).
    – Batman
    Oct 2, 2015 at 9:30
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    @Frisbee, hikers walking their dogs can also cause an incident to a rider (or rather the other way around). In my country, only DH trails are forbidden for hikers and those can be counted on fingers.
    – Vorac
    Oct 2, 2015 at 13:34
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    Comments are meant for clarification, however.
    – Vorac
    Oct 2, 2015 at 14:35

I’d say it’s totally okay if the road is not closed for the event and still open for cars and other vehicles.

  • 2
    I think it is more complicated than this – most "other vehicles" will be, in one way or another, keeping out of the way of the event. It would certainly be my intention if I encountered an event to try to avoid interfering with the participants. When you decide to ride with the event you become part of it, you do "interfere" with the participants. You require the other riders to engage with you in some way (if only to avoid you) and the organizers have to think about your well being. Given this, it seems unethical to me if you're not supporting the event.
    – dlu
    Oct 3, 2015 at 19:24

If it's a race with competitors who are trying to win, then I would definitely say no. Like time travel, just being there at the same place and time can cause unknown effects on future outcome.

If you want to use the track, contact the race organizers and see if they want people to help out checking the track the morning or night before the race for unplanned obstacles or other problems with the route. See if they need referees (not sure if this is the correct term in cycling) to follow the riders to make sure everybody is following the track and not taking short cuts. Do you have any first aid certifications? Maybe they need on-the-trail first-aid care for riders who get injured. If it's a route without laps, they may even allow people to ride a safe distance (half hour or more) behind the actual competitors.

If it's a charity or other type of non-competitive road ride, and the roads are open to cars, then you technically have every right to be there, and although some may frown at it, there isn't really much of a reason not to go, provided you are a courteous rider and don't use any of the facilities furnished to riders.

I think that any kind of closed course, even on the road, and even for a non-competitive rides is probably off limits. And "closed course" doesn't mean that the entire thing is behind a barbed wire fence. It would be impractical for them to block off every entrance to a course. A closed course is any course where they have made some effort to try and stop unregistered riders, vehicles, and pedestrians from being on the route.

  • Do you classify as "closed" an XC race, where on crossing asphalt roads, signs have been put for cars to pass with care?
    – Vorac
    Oct 2, 2015 at 13:37
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    If you are following the road the cars are on I would say you are fine. If you continue to follow the route after it a has left the road, where the race is taking place, then I would say no. It sounds like you are thinking of yourself as a singular rider who won't really have much of an impact on the race. What if 25, 50, or 100 people showed up and tried to do the same thing? How would you feel if you spent money on race entrance fees, spent time and money training, and showed up early on race day only to have the race ruined by a whole bunch of non-registered people showing up on the course?
    – Kibbee
    Oct 2, 2015 at 13:52
  • Also a car driving past the cyclists is very different from riding in their path. The course may not be literally completely closed, but as far as the cyclists are concerned it's as closed as possible: the organizers have done their best to make sure that the cyclists don't have anything in their way.
    – Cascabel
    Oct 2, 2015 at 16:47

Yes, that's highly unethical. This isn't any different than banditing a marathon. Race organizers go through quite a bit of trouble and expense to provide a safe racing environment, especially if the race goes over public roads. By jumping into a race you're exposing race organizers, participants and yourself for liability and in some situations stealing "resources."


I contemplated the topic, visited a local XC/Enduro* race, asked the guys that organise it.

"Are riders without subscription and numbers hindering the race, they are not one or two but about 20%?"
"No. Why would they?"

My conclusion is that any cyclist without registration is no different than any other bystander. Consequently, if the race organisers have taken strain to restrict outside personnel**, then Mσᶎ's answer applies with full strength. On the other hand, if travel is allowed, cycling is no more immoral than walking on the race course. However:

  • taking food or water constitutes theft, just as if a random hiker helped himself
  • (optional) as unnumbered riders are not in a hurry for anywhere, they must help any racer in need.
  • as Criggie explains not subscribing for insurance and for the race does not help the race to be held the next year or the medical crews to be funded.

Those are supposed to be objective arguments, on the basis of which each individual can decide.

* - 100m positive attitude gain, 1700m negative attitude gain, mix of loose gravel road and singletrack of moist sharp stones; hikers, children, dogs, automobiles everywhere

** - for example, I would consider a large warning sign a suitable restriction for hikers, or a police car a suitable restriction to automobiles

  • 5
    I think you have asked them a different question to the one you asked us.
    – andy256
    Oct 4, 2015 at 11:42

Would you ride that exact route on another day, when there was no race on? I'd say stop being frugal and support cycling in your area.

  • 1
    It's actually the commute to the insurance office and then to the bike shop that I am tight-fisted about - that's half a day riding in dangerous city traffic. I fully agree with your point that the money goes to a good place (and insurance money go to mountain rescue parties). However, I suspect race organisers get most of their funding from sponsors (rough estimate).
    – Vorac
    Oct 3, 2015 at 16:36
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    Round here most everything can be done on-line. Is there a way to buy your insurance via a web interface? Normally insurance companies go out of their way to make it easy to pay them money....
    – Criggie
    Oct 3, 2015 at 20:08

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