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In my community, there is a new trail for bikers and hikers to share. There are one way arrows for the bikers so they go in one direction. Should the hikers go the same way? I had a bicyclist yell at me for going the wrong way. I thought it would be better to be going the opposite way of the bikes, but I’m not really sure. There are no rules posted about the one-way. The trail is very, very skinny. When I heard the bike, I did completely get off the trail so they could easily pass.

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    I don’t know about rules/etiquette, but from a safety perspective it would actually make sense to walk in the opposite direction so you can see approaching cyclists and move out of the way if necessary. I think road rules generally tell you to walk on the left side of the road (for right hand traffic) for the same reason.
    – Michael
    Apr 11 at 4:58
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    Who built the trail? They're probably the best people to answer about this specific pathway.
    – Criggie
    Apr 11 at 7:18
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    What country/community? What is the custom where you are? Was it just one cyclist who doesn't understand the rules, or is this a regular occurrence by most/all cyclists you've encountered?
    – FreeMan
    Apr 11 at 12:38
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    You had an encounter with a rude cyclist??? I thought those were mythical beings. Here's the flip question from SE.Great Outdoors - rude hikers on a mixed used trail. Don't worry overmuch, apply common sense, follow actual directions posted at trailhead and ignore Mr/Mrs Having-a-bad-day. Apr 11 at 16:35
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    Funny, @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica, I was just about to suggest that this would be one of the very few questions that would be worthy of a cross-post over to The Great Outdoors, but you beat me to it!
    – FreeMan
    Apr 11 at 17:26

6 Answers 6

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TLDNR: The MTB was ( I will be polite ) outright rude, ignorant and out of line.

Virtually every country has a code of conduct for Mountain bikers, most of these are based on the one the IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association) has drawn up.

  1. Always yield to other trail users. Stop, dismount when near horses. Make your approach known in advance with a bell or soft "hello".

The bikers should have yielded to you unless the local trail has other guidelines.

How this related to single direction tracks- Mountain bike tracks are made single direction because the speed of opposing bikers can lead to dangerous a situations and generally riders on bidirectional tracks have to slow down due to the risk of head on. A walker generally does not carry the speed of a cyclist (steep uphill excluded) but importantly is far more agile in the event an expected encounter. To make use that agility, the walker need to be aware, as soon as possible, of the oncoming rider, using both eyes and ears. A walker going in the same direction as the ride cannot use their eyes, so should be walking in the opposite direction of the cyclists.

However, as a rule, MTB trails are made single direction as a way to allow them to be ridden faster. Usually these are the more technical down hill sections of trail where the rider is free to focus on the ride, not potential a head on, with easier and uphill trails reserved for bi directional travel. MTBers have become used to the idea that a single direction track is permission to ignore the potential of other trail uses they may have presumed they would not cross paths with another trail user. This is possibly a flaw in the trail design and should be taken up with the owner/authority in charge of the trail.

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  • "easier and uphill trails reserved for bi directional travel" -- hmm, every bi-directional uphill trail is also a downhill trail. Perhaps you just wanted to say "easier trails".
    – nanoman
    Apr 14 at 7:39
  • A hiker is agile but if jumping to the side unexpectedly, it can be extremely dangerous. There is a high probability he will jump where the biker tries to pass him. If there is enough place on the trail, it is much better to stay predictable, maintain ones track and keep the side of trail one was on until the bike is away. Apr 14 at 9:17
  • @naoman - In MTB terms and uphill trail is one used to access the top of the hill to get to the down hill trails. Many down hill trails are not rideable uphill, where as all uphill trails are always rideable down hill. Many uphill trails are b-directional, usually to allow riders to bypass downhills too technical for them but still sue the trails. IMBA states that Descending riders yield to climbing riders (obviously on a directional track the rider going in the correct direction has ROW)
    – mattnz
    Apr 15 at 0:38
  • I like the explanation of eyes and ears. Gone are the days of enjoying a peaceful walk on the trail. You really have to be ready for the other trail user that has their ear buds on or eyes on their phone. The best idea I ever learned was when my neighbor got ready to ride out and there was music blaring from his chest. He explained that it's just a bluetooth speaker, but it helps announce his presence. Basically how we're told to make noise to avoid startling bears.
    – 杜興怡
    Apr 16 at 2:46
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In my experience, there's no rule saying everyone has to go the same direction. Some of my local trails allow cycling in only one direction, and hiking in both. Keep in mind I can't speak for the whole world though; there may be regional customs or other variations.

If the trail is a narrow, downhill path, I would imagine it doesn't matter which way hikers travel because of the difference in speed. From the cyclist's perspective, a hiker would be effectively stationary regardless of whether they are going up or down.

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    May matter which side the hikers are looking at but in this case they should travel in the opposite direction than the cyclists.
    – nightrider
    Apr 11 at 15:07
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    Not only looking but also listening – it's easier to locate noises coming from ahead than from behind, and that's typically the more effective warning. Apr 12 at 9:32
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    I would imagine it doesn't matter which way hikers travel because of the difference in speed. Of course it matters - when you're on a bike behind a hiker walking in the same direction, you just go slow. When you're going in opposite directions, both have to stop, and the cyclist likely has to dismount. Apr 12 at 17:49
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    In my experience, there's no rule saying everyone has to go the same direction. The trails around me are all "keep right, pass left" for everyone. As I noted in my previous comment, when trails get crowded mixing directions for cyclists and pedestrians just doesn't work on crowded trails Apr 12 at 17:57
  • Many trails also aren't really official trails, but just paths through the woods. Cycling may or may not be legal depending on various factors (which are country-specific). Itis really impossible to enforce some direction of movement. Apr 14 at 9:14
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A lot comes down to etiquette, I feel. It's hardly something that can really be enforced if you think about it; other than some users potentially getting irritated at you. But that's often modern life sadly at the best of times.

In my part of the world I occasionally follow 'designated' walk trails on my bike through some areas just for the sake of variety, BUT I am conscious of that it is for walkers first, so I exercise due caution and drop a bit of speed to allow for someone appearing around a blind corner etc.

Similarly, I don't mind seeing walkers or hikers on designated bike or cross-country riding trails either - as long as they're cognisant it is a bike trail, and they remain alert and aware there are faster moving users and yield to them off the path when we're heard approaching. Making an effort to be visible in brighter clothing would help too.

Bear in mind also people may sound angrier when they're pumped full of adrenalin, huffing and puffing. It may sound like a big personal affront if they yell at you. Think of a warning shout as a more primal version of a bicycle bell and just shrug it off.

There's probably a few other factors too. I wouldn't ride a walk trail during good weather on a public holiday for instance where there's likely to more walkers than usual. Similarly, if it's a busy bike trail I'd avoid it on foot because you'd be likely spending more of your time jumping out of the way than enjoying the stroll.

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    I know the question is a bit buried, but this dosn't really answer it.
    – Clumsy cat
    Apr 11 at 14:53
  • @Clumsycat I'd say this answers it. The question is "Should the hikers go the same way (as the cyclists)?" The answer given here is "A lot comes down to etiquette," followed by some personal practices, preferences, and situational examples.
    – jimchristie
    Apr 13 at 18:11
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If the arrows are expressly labeled as being for cyclists, I'd say that it implies that hikers can go whichever way they prefer. Venturing a guess, the direction is probably mandated for cyclists to prevent them from colliding with one another more than out of concern for them colliding with hikers.

As far as which is safer, as others have mentioned it's generally considered safer on normal roads for pedestrians to move against traffic. However, that doesn't necessarily translate to trails where cyclists are the fastest moving users.

The main concern is the speeds at which users approach one another, sometimes referred to as "closing speed." When two users approach one another, their closing speed is their two speeds added together. When they are moving in the same direction, the closing speed is the chaser's speed minus the chasee's speed.

An average cyclist moves at about 15 mph. An average hiker moves at 3 mph. Where things get complicated is if you throw joggers in the mix, who move at an average of about 6 mph.

This table represents the closing speeds of average cyclists, joggers, and hikers when the users on the left are approaching the users in the top row and they are both moving in the same direction.

Cyclist Jogger Hiker
Cyclist 0 9 12
Jogger * 0 3
Hiker * * 0

* These are technically negative. In other words, the user in the left column will never catch the user in the top row. If they were on a circular track, the user on the top would eventually come around and lap the user on the left.

This table represents the closing speeds of the same users, but when they are approaching one another from opposite directions.

Cyclist Jogger Hiker
Cyclist 30 21 18
Jogger 21 12 9
Hiker 18 12 6

As you can see from the two tables, closing speeds are much higher for users who are approaching one another. And in contrast to what others answers say about a hiker being "effectively stationary" from a cyclist's perspective, there is a pretty drastic difference in closing speeds for hikers moving in the same direction as cyclists vs. in opposite directions.

It's certainly true that moving in the opposite direction of cyclists will allow you to see them and move out of the way faster, but it also gives both parties less time to respond to one another. And if you decide to jog a little, that difference really becomes pretty drastic pretty quickly.

What's more, hikers and joggers moving in both directions actually creates more opportunities for impact due to a higher number of times that users pass one another. When traveling in the same direction, passing a faster moving user is impossible and passing a user who is moving at close to the same speed is exceedingly rare. When they're moving in opposite directions, it's commonplace. If the trail is circular and faster users are doing laps, they'll pass slower moving users much more frequently if they're moving in the same direction.

All in all, it's a judgment call on whether that additional reaction time of seeing approaching cyclists is enough to offset the loss in reaction time due to higher closing speeds compounded with a greater number of impact opportunities. You need to balance the local conditions of the trail (lines of sight, ability to move freely, whether or not people are doing laps, etc.) with the mathematical realities of the closing speeds.

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Sometimes bikers are so fast and quiet that it's hard to hear them until they're almost upon you. Safety first: walk in the opposite direction. In that way, you can see fast-moving bikers coming towards you and react accordingly. Accident prevention protects both you and bikers; they should appreciate that.

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    Not legal on many trails. For example: wodfriends.org/accessibility/safety And on a crowded trail, walking against traffic will cause all kinds of problems - cyclists will have to stop and probably dismount, and then that will block everyone. Apr 12 at 17:53
  • In that way, you can see fast-moving bikers coming towards you and react accordingly. Also, as the answer by @jimchristie states, when you go the opposite direction you increase the closing speed dramatically. How is that any safer? Are there any blind turns or hills on that trail? Where most others are walking with bicycle traffic? That's not safer, not at all. Apr 13 at 0:49
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    @AndrewHenle: I didn't see anything on that page about illegal to walk in the opposite direction to bikers. I suggest creating an answer promoting your view, especially one with more specific references to clear rules about directionality. Apr 14 at 0:45
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Some of the trail rules are arbitrary: it may make no real sense. However, one way bike trails may be to prevent erosion: a downhill track cause braking ruts and bumps, or a steep climb requires more torque.

But it may be easier for the hikers to navigate knowing bikes are coming in only one direction.

I would certain respect these rules either way. For all you know, it was a long negotiation to permit bikes on these trails and riding illegally may lose access for all.

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