The "Right of Way" Issue

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Traffic of all types are encountered on almost any trail ride. The questions of safety, who has the "right of way", and what that means is a topic that will never die.

Who does a trail rider HAVE to yeild to?

Anyone and anything:

  • Hikers
  • Horses
  • Livestock
  • Wild Animals
  • AND all other bike riders (no matter the direction)

Every Case is Different

No rules can consistently be applied to how a pass on a trail is to take place.

One general consideration that all users have followed since the dawn of time is that the object getting passed, that has stopped moving, should be on the uphill side of the trail, allowing the passing object to take the more risky line on the slope side. This of course is violated all the time depending what works best for a particular case.

The Bike on Bike Problem

PVD's rule of thumb: The rider in the postition of greatest advantage has precidence.

Two riders can have two ways of interacting on the trail:

1. One rider overtakes the other in the same direction. The faster rider should announce his/her presence before arriaval. In this case, the slower rider should find a way to make a pass possible as soon as possible. How quick the slower rider makes way for the faster rider is a function of how much faster the faster rider is. Two closely matched riders may take minutes to pass whereas two very different riders may take seconds to pass. This is of course superseeded by the safety of the situation and trail conditions. The slower rider must understand that they need to help make an opportunity and the faster rider must seize that opportunity as soon as possible.

2. Two riders confront each other in opposite directions. This is the more difficult situation with several more factors involved. The key to making this work is both riders knowing that thay have to work together to make a safe pass. Verbal and physical comunication are very important here.

One rider may come to a stop and give the maximum amount of trail to the other, which happens frequently. This is nice since the other rider can continue at full strength, provided it is safe to do so. Either the climber or the decender can pull over. If you are barely making a climb and another rider is thrashing a decent, then you may want to pull over since they are in greatest advantage. If you are having a hard time riding down something that another rider is amazingly climbing, then you might want to give them the props and the space they need.

Other times, each rider pulls to one side, while moving and gives notice of intent. Depending on the skills of the riders involved and the width of the trail, this may not even require either rider to slow down at all.

While many more situations exist, these are the main examples. What makes every situation work out best is that each rider works to make the pass. Cooperation and comunication is always the key.

The Worst Idea Ever!

Two statements that you will hear over and over again are: "The uphill rider has the right of way" and "Yeild to the uphill rider"

While this is a nice little quip, it can lead to disasterous results, typically caused by inappropriate behaviour by the uphill rider. In this case the up hill rider belligerently decides that the other rider will get out of their way and give up 100% of the trail. The other rider may see that there is enough room for two bikes to pass, and continues. When the riders interact, there is no room for both and a collision occurs.

This way of doing things does not work because it does not require both riders to make considerations. Do not do this.

What does 'Right of Way' mean?

As per Merriam-Webster:

Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural rights-of-way also right-of-ways
1 : a legal right of passage over another person's ground
2 a : the area over which a right-of-way exists b : the strip of land over which is built a public road c : the land occupied by a railroad especially for its main line d : the land used by a public utility (as for a transmission line)
3 a : a precedence in passing accorded to one vehicle over another by custom, decision, or statute b : the right of traffic to take precedence c : the right to take precedence over others <gave the bill the right-of-way in the Senate>

What does 'Yeild' Mean?

As per Merriam-Webster:


Function: verb
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English gieldan; akin to Old High German geltan to pay
transitive verb
2 : to give or render as fitting, rightfully owed, or required
3 : to give up possession of on claim or demand: as a : to give up (as one's breath) and so die b : to surrender or relinquish to the physical control of another : hand over possession of c : to surrender or submit (oneself) to another d : to give (oneself) up to an inclination, temptation, or habit e : to relinquish one's possession of (as a position of advantage or point of superiority) <yield precedence>
4 a : to bear or bring forth as a natural product especially as a result of cultivation <the tree always yields good fruit> b : to produce or furnish as return <this soil should yield good crops> c (1) : to produce as return from an expenditure or investment : furnish as profit or interest <a bond that yields 12 percent> (2) : to produce as revenue : BRING IN <the tax is expected to yield millions>
5 : to give up (as a hit or run) in baseball <yielded two runs in the third inning>
intransitive verb
1 : to be fruitful or productive : BEAR, PRODUCE
2 : to give up and cease resistance or contention : SUBMIT, SUCCUMB <facing an enemy who would not yield> <yielding to temptation>
3 : to give way to pressure or influence : submit to urging, persuasion, or entreaty
4 : to give way under physical force (as bending, stretching, or breaking)
5 a : to give place or precedence : acknowledge the superiority of someone else b : to be inferior <our dictionary yields to none> c : to give way to or become succeeded by someone or something else
6 : to relinquish the floor of a legislative assembly