Miss Manner’s Guide To Electric Bike Singletrack Etiquette (Don’t Be A Dick)

A week ago I wrote and article waxing philosophic on whether or not pedal powered bicyclists and ebikers could ever live together in harmony. I decided that the perfect followup to that article is one that clearly outlines the rules that I chose to live by when electric biking in the woods. IMBA released this short 2-page pdf which shows their ideas about eMTB etiquette, but it’s sorely lacking in a lot of areas that I think I need to outline in this article. Long story short, the most important rule of riding your electric mountain bike on single track trails is this :

Don’t be a jerkwad and screw it up for the rest of us.

eMTB trail riding is an entirely new sport evolving every day

 YOU are an ambassador to your sport

For most trail users you will probably be the first electric bike they ever see on the trails. There is never a second chance to make a bad first impression, so be incredibly courteous and polite to other trail users. I always act like I am a guest in another man’s home when riding on trails, yield to everyone, smile and make eye contact with people who make eye contact with you and say hello.

Avoid other trail users when possible

When I am riding in the woods I go out first thing in the morning, usually right after I wake up but before I do anything else. This is often the best time to hit the trails because other trail users are at a minimum at that time. I also never park in the main lot and always park about 1/4 to 1/2 mile away and ride in. There is no reason to talk to other trail users if you don’t have to. Often when riding in the woods I’ll scan ahead and if I see a trail user in the distance, I’ll often just turn my ebike around and ride back in the opposite direction. It might sound crazy but each fewer encounter is one less chance for conflict and I can ride pretty fast and with less effort, so I don’t care where I go as long as I’m riding.

A full face helmet and goggles are going to make you look way more suspicious

Don’t overtake other riders on non-electric bikes (it’s rude)

Nothing is going to piss off Mtbers more than you flying by them at 20mph up a 20% grade while they are huffing and puffing their brains out. If you come up behind a biker who is slow then you can turn around and go the other way or just take a break. Whenever I see or pass any trail users on the trail I always shut my motor off and use nothing but pedal power. If you want to be super stealth then that is the best way to do it. If they see you working hard they probably won’t even look over your bike for a motor. In general, it’s also a good idea to just slow the hell down. If you’re screaming up hills then there might be a non-electric biker screaming down the hill at the same time not expecting people to be coming up the hill at a speed slower than a slow walk. I always assume that there is someone around every corner and I never wear my death metal blasting headphones when I’m ebiking. It helps to have something that makes a noise, like a tiny bell or in my case, a very squeaky Thudbuster, to alert other trail users to your approach.

The Stealth B52 is totally awesome, but it’s totally not stealthy at all

Ride something that looks like a bicycle and not a motorcycle

When I am riding eMTB I almost always ride ‘My Little Bronie’ with a stealthy 3 lb mini cube stuck in a saddle bag. 95% of the people I pass don’t even realize it’s an ebike. If you’re riding tires over 3″ ride then your bike is going to draw a LOT of attention to it, so you can swap out your fat tires with a 29+ wheelset in the summer for added stealth. There are lots of ways to make your ebike more stealthy, and mud is one of the best ways to do it, so never clean your bike off. It’s also stupid to wear full-face helmets and motocross gear because then you look like a motocross guy. Just wear a normal bike helmet and leave the bike armor at home.

‘My Little Bronie’ with a 3lb saddle bag battery under the seat is very stealthy, see how the mud camouflages the motor

Just don’t ride on the dedicated horseback trails

In my opinion horses and ebikes just don’t mix. If you see a horse you should get off your ebike and move off the trail and wait for the horse to pass. There is no safe way to pass a horse without risking spooking the horse and possibly injuring the rider.

Can ebikes and horses get along? Don’t try to find out

Don’t do the crime if you don’t want to do the time

Know what the local laws are and print out a copy of HR 727 and bring it with you everywhere you go riding. If other riders tell me ‘no ebikes here’ I just say ‘Oh really, thanks for that information’ and politely pedal away. I never try to educate other trail users, it’s not my job and it would probably end badly. If a ranger ever gives you a hard time you can show them your copy of HR 727 and try to talk them out of a ticket, but be aware that any cop can write anyone a ticket at any time for whatever they want. The courts are where it all gets sorted out. Arguing with a police officer is not good form, just be gracious and accept the ticket. I never take my ID with me when I ride and if a cop asks for my information for a ticket I’ll often just make it up, but I’m not advocating that, and it’s really illegal to lie to the police like that. I don’t mind going to prison so I can get away with stuff like that, but you probably have better things to do than rot in jail for trying to weasel your way out of a small fine.

Tunes are great when riding, but not when on an ebike

I was lucky enough to get several BBSHD’s from the first factory run that has 750W stamped on the bottom, so technically the motor is still legal (arguably) even though I’m running 2500 watts through them with a 50 Amp Ludicrous controller.

Proper yielding technique

I’ve learned there is a right way and a wrong way to yield with an ebike. The right way is to get off the trail, then smile and look up and make eye contact with a friendly hello as the other rider passes. If you look like you’re doing something bad then the other rider is going to try to figure out why you’re looking so shifty. When I stop my ebike, I always pull off to the right then squarely plant my left calf right in front of the BBSxx motor. This makes it harder to see the motor even if the other rider stops and talks to me. Usually if the other rider stops I will say something like ‘I’m running late’ in a polite way and take off again using nothing but pedal power so that I’m not sitting there talking to them. If you sit there and talk to them eventually they will probably figure out you’re on an ebike and it will be a long conversation you might not want to have.

Dude, you’re rad, but expect to get run off the non-motorized singletrack trail

Riding in the winter

The XC skiers hate it when the fat bikes tear up their ski trails. In the winter I try as hard as I can to ride outside of their tracks and only cut back and forth across the trail when I need to. This minimizes XC trail damage and allows for everyone to have a good time. If the trail is for hikers and XC skiers only and you are riding an ebike on it then you can expect a lot of blowback from it. I minimize the number of trails I ride in the winter and always ride the same trails so that the XC skiers know that if they want fresh tracks they will have to hit some of the other trails that I’m not going to hit. Where I live there are enough trails for everyone to have a good time without stepping on each other’s toes.

Having an ebike is only going to make your crashes way more spectacular, so please do yourself a favor and wear a helmet

Get to know the alpha mountain bikers and get on their good sides

At any spot, there are a group of core riders that ride several times a week and do most of the trail building and maintenance. Get to know them, show up at the trail building weekends with a shovel and bust your ass. Bring a non-motorized bike when you show up. If people get to know you and know that you’re alright then when it is discovered that you are an ebike cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater, they will go a lot easier on you. It’s easy to hate someone you don’t know, it’s much harder to hate on someone that you already have respect for.

When it’s wet ride an efatbike or better yet, wait till it’s dry again

Fat tires seem to really minimize trail damage when it is wet. If you don’t have a fat tire ebike then you should probably just not go out and ride after it rains. Although IMBA has done studies that show that street legal eMTB do not do more trail damage than normal trail bikes, it’s best not to push the issue. Trail erosion is a real thing and where I live it’s a constant problem we have to deal with. Nothing bums me out more than seeing the giant ruts caused by motocross guys that ride our trails when it’s wet.

If you get hurt doing big jumps, you are going to create a lot of negative press for the sport

It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission

If you call up the rangers and ask if it’s legal for you to ride your ebike somewhere they are probably going to say no. When someone gets paid for telling people what they can’t do, that’s exactly what they tend to do. My attitude has always been to be attentive and aware of my surroundings and do whatever I feel like I can get away with. Federal parks tend to be the hardest to get away with anything on, but BLM and Forest Service lands tend to be under-policed and generally underutilized by the public. Some local and state parks have very attentive rangers, but the state forests tend to be under-policed as well. As a rule of thumb when a place ends with the word ‘park’ you’re risking tickets, when it ends with the word ‘forest’ or ‘lands’ you’re probably OK. If you’re not willing to risk a ticket or some harassment then you should just stay at home.

If you get a lot of hate from the locals, just let them try your ebike

It can be an exercise in non-attachment to put your precious several thousand dollar ebike into the hands of someone who you don’t know, but everyone I’ve ever let try my ebike has always shifted their energy from hate to tolerance (or at least indifference). It’s easy to hate on ebikes when you’ve never tried one. Turn the PAS on a lower level and let someone who is giving you flak go for a ride and watch that grimace turn into a smile. It really works.

Riding singletrack with and an electric bike is really a fun experience, as long as you can do it without getting your ass kicked or shot. Hopefully, if you follow my simple guidelines here you can not only have fun, but also stay out of jail at the same time. If you remember that while on the trails you’re a guest in my house and act accordingly, then the odds of having problems are totally minimized.

Ride On.

9 thoughts on “Miss Manner’s Guide To Electric Bike Singletrack Etiquette (Don’t Be A Dick)

  1. Good article Karl. Do no harm and respect everyone else’s right to enjoy the trail. If we all do this, ebiking will live long and prosper. There really are few things more fun than riding a great swoopy forest trail on a great ebike.

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  2. I appreciate your thoughtfulness and consideration towards non-bikers on the trails. But it sounds like your walking on eggshells when Mtbiking; even patanoid! That doesnt sound fun, dude. I don’t own an ebike but I honestly don’t care if a guy on an ebike passes me. I find it hard to believe that most non-ebikers hate ebikers as much as you potray it. I have yet to meet somone so intolerant of an ebiker. It’s just a bike with assisted power. people who make a fuss over it are probably just jealous. I think ebikes is an awesome idea! Less exhaustion means more time on the trails! If you got the money, why not try it! Anyways, I’m obviously not a purist. Mtb is evolving, period.

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  3. Though I don’t mix with mtbr’s much, when I do I am one yielding and polite S.O.B., and I have yet to pass one going up or down. I also use the see and avoid method as you mentioned, to just avoid them when it’s applicable. Bear bell, check. Mud, double check. Horses, I lay it down and walk away. The one thing I don’t do is position my leg when stopped so it blocks the motor, great tip Karl!

    It’s still fun James, not that big a deal, more of a less hassle to avoid then confront thing, and besides, it is a temporary thing, it will all shake out eventually, ebikes aren’t going away, this is just a transitory period.

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  4. I seriously doubt your claim dude that non e-bikers hate the e-bikers. Why would they? You may felt it out of some reason. But having electric bike is fun! Isn’t it? So why making a fuss?? Just ride on and enjoy trails and track 🙂

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  5. Hi, new reader. I am a lets kick scoot person from a small country on the Pacific Rim. E bikes ( and other EVs) are only just getting the positive nod from local officialdom to take seriously as a mode of transport; after a long travail of motorized petrol-head dictatorship! Beforehand any adult who dared to ride in public would risk being run off the road… ’till government stepped in…. warning long reply- hope its entertaining for someone…
    Firstly, Thankyou for your piece on ‘buying an ebike without being punked’. With the advent of all the new government sponsored bike trails and shared spaces popping up locally I was tempted to power my footbike Physical restraints mean that I am unable to comfortably ride a conventional bike unfortunately so I’ve had to find my own solution. ‘Footbikes’ until recently were just regarded as children’s toys so I have had to design and construct my own. sooo. I decided to revisit the idea of installing a front hub motor, onto my 16″ all terrain ride. ( footbikes do not have pedals)
    Thanks for pointing me in the direction of temporary reconsideration and waiting.
    Right now the country has embraced e-bike fever, and all the outmoded old stock brought in to start the trend is up for sale a full retail. All the new innovations carefully displayed in expos for the public to drool on but stubbornly not actually easily available to buy yet until the canny retailers mange to con people into buying their old stock. The stuff looks good, but your post has opened my eyes to the hazards.
    Also added to this, 6 months ago in order to have a ebike you had to have lots of cash to splurge or be a DIY fanatic- mostly both. however, but seasoned DIYers could obtain a basic magic pie motor or similar online, (good luck finding batteries or any other accessories, but this does not deter a DIY enthusiast ) The only pathway in town was the one you described in your post. Now ebikes are being recognized as legitimate transport, the supply of ebike kits has dried up completely. AGGGH!
    However I discovered your blog before I have spent money and will wait until the Ebike fever has abated and revisit the project afresh next season and make do with human power for now ’till the supply situation improves here. My wallet and psyche thank you.
    Regarding your subject – riding etiquette. Something called “shared access ways”, has been created by town planners, designed to try the patience and nerves of any rider on an ebike or otherwise. These are long concrete pathways of about 10-12 ft wide, often devoid of lane markings,or instructions about expectations of basic civility for the users, are cropping up nationwide, snaking through suburbia independent of existing roads, on which it is hoped that cyclists and ebike riders will be peacefully enabled to share the space with others – like pedestrians.
    In order to facilitate this objective, the trails that have been constructed include some ‘sadistically’ designed features which are not openly revealed until both riders and pedestrians are motivated to use them for any regular purposeful journeys outside that of idle recreation.
    The pathway terrains have been hyper-leveled, for long unsheltered stretches, preventing even the seasoned bike rider being able to relieve themselves of pedaling misery under a hot sun and take advantage of gravity power… until that is, the major exits are in sight.
    Some of exits/entrances are concealed with hedges and fenced properties so someone entering the trail suddenly appears on a formerly clear space, Many major exit/ entrances end in steep sometimes curving inclines or declines which end abruptly in some sort of iron pipe constriction or lane separators causing riders to lean desperately on their straining brake mechanisms and pray that nothing snaps under the strain catapulting them into pipe barriers or parked cars or exit into narrow fenced residential lanes.
    Bridges are wooden boardwalk constructions, the surfaces are often coated with chicken wire or thin nailed metal strips to prevent the surface becoming dangerously slippery when wet, but when eroded by wear and tear the lifting surface is a sudden tyre blow out waiting to happen.
    In places the riding surface is spongy and rough causing resistance, and colored in a dazzle fluorescent reflective bead color schemes of yellows, pinks, or greens have been applied which may have looked good on the town planner’s funding presentation but is murder on the eyes of the users when riding in bright sunlight.
    Due to the former years of adult biker persecution by motorists most seasoned bike riders follow the etiquette you describe, BUT newly franchised cyclists and pedestrians often do not! Pedestrians until recently ruled the footpaths as cycles were banned from the footpath and often run off the road as well. This sense of entitlement has not altered with the law change permitting cyclists to use footpaths and the creation of ‘shared access ways’ –
    Weekends are the worst! Likely encounters are Dad on his flash mountain bike, and the kids on miniature BMXs darting furiously in all directions. Weekdays have their hazards too- The school run- Mums with prams and toddlers on small rideons stopping to meet and greet in the middle of the cycle way (opps sorry ‘shared’ access way) usually at the bottom of a sharp decline or wandering over both lanes and having no thoughts of positioning themselves to let oncoming traffic through, or controlling their offspring’s movements, causing one to always have a hand on the brake and bell;
    At about work quitting time, we get what I call “the lycra bullets”. (usually men) on pseudo – road racing machines with copiously more gearage that they will ever use, who don their designer bike gear for the evening commute home starting at the top of the steep motorway rise, to descend at lightening speed and with uncertain agility, harboring no hope nor apparent care about being able to stop in time to avoid a collision. Woe betide anyone attempting to enter the track between 5 and 6 pm!
    Then come the dog walkers – at dusk usually wearing black or ‘mud’ colors and seldom carrying a torch so they are hard to see, hiding in the shadows with a dog or two- often stretching the dog lead across both lanes – if you’re lucky- dog straining at the leash in an effort to catch your wheels to give you a fast trip over the handlebars, – if you’re not (lucky that is) the dog is off leash, and the owner is hiding in the bushes having a fag….
    Strangely I have not encountered many mobility carts using these trails. I am unsure if they are banned from them or the riders just too scared of the hazards to use them.
    In other words this infrastructure is an example of good intentions ruined by lazy designers with zero insight, and who never have to live in fear of actually using it…

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