Roger Marolt: Roger This | AspenTimes.com

Roger Marolt: Roger This

Roger Marolt
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

I am an expert mountain biker. As the snow begins its rapid run off the slopes, I hope lots of you take advantage of the excellent river rafting. It will mean fewer people on the trails to get in my way.

As you know, we have miles of paths over the mountains and through the woods to wide-open spaces we can go, but on a few of the more popular routes closer to town and grandma’s house things can get a little crowded.

The good news is that there is a definite protocol for trail right of way that, when adhered to by all, can keep heavy pedestrian, horse, and bicycle traffic flowing safely over shared terrain. The bad news is that few people know it.

This is where I, a seasoned expert from many summers of near misses and shouting matches with other trail users, can help by setting everyone straight. You don’t need a ridiculous waterproof trail map plastered with ads for every burger joint and T-shirt shop in town to tell you the rules of the trail. By the time you can pull it out of your fanny pack I will have probably already knocked you into the sage brush as I whiz by on my bike.

Remember that there is a pecking order among mountain bikers, horses and hikers. People seem to be perpetually confused about who has the right of way when these different users encounter each other. It is really quite simple, though: You follow the number one law of nature – fear.

On the trails bikers aren’t afraid of horses or hikers, but horses are afraid of bikers and hikers are afraid of bikers and horses. Therefore, bikers always have the right of way followed by horses. Hikers just need to get out of everyone’s way. Got it? It’s common sense.

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As a sub-rule of thumb, horseback riders should avoid trails that are used by bike riders, because our four-footed friends that urinate by the gallon are slow to react and bikers have to slow down unnecessarily until the horses can be guided out of the way. Along these same lines, hikers are generally better off just hiking parallel to the trails out in the brush. This saves everyone the trouble of ringing handle-bar bells, which look stupid on top of the line bikes anyway, and shouting “coming through!”

This leaves the question between mountain bikers as to who has the green light – the rider heading uphill or flying downhill. Somewhere along the line somebody came up with the notion that the uphill rider always has the right of way, presumably because going uphill is difficult. The problem is that experts like me don’t really have much trouble going uphill so that silly rule doesn’t work logically.

The true rule of the trail is that the more serious rider always has the right of way, whether going up or downhill. How can you tell? Well, first look at his bike. The more tricked out (i.e. expensive) it is, the more serious the rider. If you don’t know primo bike components from junk, you should just get out of the way. Granted, at high speeds it is not always easy to tell and snap judgments can lead to grave errors. Because of this you have to look at the rider’s jersey, too. Brightly colored jerseys full of advertisements and team logos are an indication that the rider means business. Get out of his way! Think about it: Why else would serious cyclists invest hundreds of dollars in these bright Lycra shirts? The jersey in bicycling is a warning to others, just as the fluorescent vest and cap are for hunters.

You might see serious riders like me ignoring “closed” signs on trials. Do not follow our lead. The signs are there for a reason and that is that most recreational trail users do not know proper protocol for closed trails.

For example: An expert rider knows that trails are often closed because of mud in the spring. When I encounter a bog I am not only willing, but also strong enough to cut around it through the woods. That’s not easy! Most novices will not bother to make their own detours around mud holes and opt to lazily ride right through the middle of them.

In addition, when using a closed trail you also have to be willing to dismount and chase wildlife if you encounter any. There is no other way the animals learn to fear man, which is necessary for survival. So what happens when a tired novice rider, hiker, or “cowboy” comes upon a heard of elk and their little elk colts on a closed trail? Probably nothing, and that’s the point. No matter how tired I am I’ll get off my bike and run after them waving my arms and yelling until every last one is scattered.

It goes without saying that experts know when it is appropriate to skid around corners or just cut them on closed trails.

I know it seems that most of the rules of the trail favor serious mountain bikers. But, there is a good reason for that. Remember that people like me ride many miles as hard and as often as we can so people like you can continue to be awed by what we do on our bikes. Every time out we have one eye on the stop watch and the other on the heart rate monitor so chances are good that we don’t even notice you. If we never seem to smile or say “hi,” forgive us. We are busy trying to impress you.

Happy trails!

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