Trail etiquette reminders from cycling group after Va. assault

** FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE **Children's bicycles are parked near the entrance to a section of the Ozark Trail at the Taum Sauk Mountain State Park entrance in Missouri Sunday, Sept. 3, 2006. While some sections that go through wilderness are off-limits to anyone but hikers, backpackers and equestrians, other parts are open to off-road cyclist (not motorized). The riders of the bicycles were parked by children walking toward the start of the Ozark Trail. (AP Photo/James A. Finley)(ASSOCIATED PRESS/JAMES A. FINLEY)

WASHINGTON — A recent cyclist-on-cyclist assault on the busy Washington and Old Dominion Trail near Ashburn, Virginia, has a biking advocacy group reminding everyone about proper trail etiquette.

Sunday’s assault involved cyclists riding toward each other from opposite sides of the path. While one cyclist was passing along the center line, the other held out his arm and hit the helmet of the approaching cyclist, knocking him to the ground and seriously injuring him.

“That’s terrible, frankly,” Colin Browne, communications director at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, said. “‘Don’t hit people’ isn’t a bike trail etiquette thing, it’s a thing you learn when you’re in kindergarten … So, that’s really disappointing.”

Browne acknowledged conflicts on increasingly popular multiuse trails can be solved with engineering solutions such as making the trails wider or separating walkers from cyclists. Just such a project is planned for the Washington and Old Dominion Trail in Falls Church.

But, he said, basic social norms dictate that cyclists be respectful of fellow trail users who might include people with little scooters, strollers, wheelchairs and walkers or runners.

“You’re the one who has the capacity to make everybody else feel unsafe, and it’s on you to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Browne said of cyclists. “When you’re riding on a trail with novices, the novices are the ones who are setting the pace. It’s not their job to get out of your way. It’s your job to negotiate the space.”

Trail etiquette includes:

  • Ride on the right, except when you’re passing
  • Be polite, kind and thoughtful to other people on the trail
  • Pass only when it’s safe, with enough distance and ample warning
  • Announcing intentions to people you’re about to pass

Brown said “calling your passes” can be said as a curt “Passing on your left,” or a more polite “Excuse me, I’m passing on your left.” He said it depends on the circumstances, and also might include simply ringing a bike bell.

WABA offers classes to help build the confidence of people who still are becoming familiar with their bikes. And Browne wants to assure people that trails are inherently safe.

“It’s annoying, usually just annoying, to deal with people who are trying to go too fast and being rude about it, but it’s certainly safer than trying to do the same thing on Route 7,” Browne said.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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