The racing season is now over and most riders put their dirt bikes or ATVs in hibernation somewhere in the garage or shed and wait for the winter thaw sometime next year.
Just kidding - seriously who puts their dirt bikes or ATVs away? Fall offers some of the best and most exciting riding on two or four wheels. In some areas of the country Motocross parks remain open but trail riding explodes, rain or shine, this time of year and with it comes certain expectations and Do's and Don'ts.
Trail riding requires a different style of riding and a gives a completely distinctive experience. Whoops and big whip-inducing jumps take a back seat to rocks, puddles, mud and fallen trees. Sharp corners still rule and if you find a straight-away open up that throttle. But like our Do's and Don'ts of Motocross Riding it's good to know how not to be the rider that makes everyone else look bad. Be respectful of non-riders who are plentiful this time of year and fellow riders - head-on collisions are more common than you think.
Trees, shrubs and hard corners hide oncoming hikers and fellow riders. Don't blaze around a corner like it's a Motocross track. Be wary of blind spots and when coming to a section of trail that you can't see beyond what's considered a safe riding distance, slow down because you never know who might be approaching from the other side. This is also true of grades and small hills you can't see down the other side of. Just imagine two dirt bikers rolling the throttle and approaching the same hill on opposite sides.
On the Motocross track it's supposed to be loud. But on the trails silence keeps you riding. Most state forest parks require a spark arrestor (don't get caught without one!) but in the rare occasion that a trail you're on doesn't regulate decibels, be a good steward of the land and our sport and don't blow everyone's ear drums out.
Know Hand Signals
Group riding? Then signal oncoming traffic whether on foot, horseback or wheels how many riders to expect. Whoever takes the lead in your group should indicate via hand signal how many more in your group. So for example, if you're in a riding group of five, the leader holds up four fingers. The second rider holds up three and so on. The last of the group holds a fist to indicate no more riders coming.
Dirt bike riding simply begs for an open throttle. Don't fool yourself, there's a place and time for the ultimate fun but on narrow trails, crowded trails and trails full of obstacles it's just not good practice. You can hurt yourself and others. Slow down for approaching traffic and yes, if another solo rider or a faster group wants to pass, let them by.
Riding slower is especially important if you're with the kids. They're probably not as fast as you and if new to riding can't manage the obstacles trail riding offers. Check out our Fall Off-Road and Trail Riding With Kids for additional tips.
Implement a "no wake" rule when approaching camp sites. It's similar to boaters who stroll along the water near the marina until reaching open water, likewise you shouldn't kick up dust, roost and blast your way through a crowded campground.
When You Come to a Fork in the Road...
Wait. Until all members of your party catch up. Unless you have a map and predetermined route and everyone knows where to go, don't go right leaving those in the back wondering "which way did they go." This is also a good chance, if it's been a while, to assess how everyone is doing and see if someone wants a break.
Preparation is Key
Accidents happen. Bring a first aid kit. Bring a first aid kit for your bike. In fact, just read our 10 Things You Should Carry When Trail Riding for tips on what to bring for a day riding the trails.
If you're riding in a group, before you start agree on a place where to meet if someone gets separated. Most trail systems provide markers to help you find the way back so, for example, agree to meet at the main campsite if a party member gets lost, that should be an easy and stress free way to get reunited.
No Horse Play
Some trails invite horseback riders. Horses and their owners tend not to like loud dirt bikers and ATV riders. Show them some respect and always give them the right-of-way. In fact, if possible pull-off and shut your engine off. Some horses spook at the loud sounds so ripping by someone on horseback is dangerous.
If time and space allows, just get out of their way completely and let them click-clop on by. Remember, many trails open to OHV use were founded for equestrian use and if not for the horses and their owners, those trails would not exist. If you tick-off enough horseback riders because of your rude behavior don't be surprised to find the trails closed to dirt bikes and ATVs next time around.
As far as horseplay, just don't. Screwing around, trying to impress friends or learn a new trick is for the backyard or Motocross track.
Keep it Clean
We won't judge you for swearing especially after a crash but don't leave your trash for others to pick up. Not all the camp sites provide garbage service so embrace the "if you packed it in, you can pack it out" rule.
The bottom line to riding trails is show respect of the land and to those enjoying it. All of these tips are common sense and many you'll probably see listed somewhere near the trailhead or campsite. Have fun but by holding yourself accountable and those in your riding party accountable you'll help keep trails open for OHV use for years to come.