How to Properly Share the Trail

11.13.2014 | 1:07 pm

An Early-Reviews-Note from Fatty: I’ve sent rough, pre-press copies of my new book, The Great Fatsby: The Best of, to a few people, asking them what they think. 

One of those people is the very famous, handsome, and intelligent Stevil Kinevil, creator of All Hail the Black Market. Here’s what he had to say:

I read the first three chapters of The Great Fatsby while sitting at a computer, putting off other stuff that I was supposed to do.

Ironically, I enjoyed it more than I did Comedian Mastermind, which I read in the woods with a six pack of beer. Clearly in the years since his first effort, his sarchasi-meter has been finely tuned, and for that fact, we should all give thanks.

After reading The Great Fatsby, however, I need to recalibrate my entire existence because with the exception of also having a disdain for selfies, and never shaving my eyebrows, I now know everything I’ve thought and done up to this point in my life is wrong.

Bill Strickland, who is a deep thinker and thoughtful writer, as well as Editor-at-Large at Bicycling Magazine and the author of about 35% of all cycling books ever written, had this to say:

Here’s the big lesson: When something really, really matters to you — as cycling does to Elden and all of us who’ll read this — it’s worth being funny about. The lightness of the writing doesn’t detract from the importance cycling holds in our lives — instead, it helps you appreciate and enjoy your passion all the more.

And this came in from Phil Gaimon, who is so good at both writing and riding that he’s gone pro at both

It might be too late for me, but the worst thing a cyclist can do is forget how ridiculous it is to shave your legs, pull on some tights, and ride a $5,000 bicycle through traffic. Elden’s new collection from his hilarious blog is full of wisdom to save cyclists from embarrassment, and fart jokes to remind the rest of us not to take pedaling too seriously.

So yeah, as you might guess, I’m pretty excited that a few very funny guys are enjoying The Great Fatsby. I’ve put a ton of work into organizing, editing, explaining, and annotating this book, and I think it’s going to stand as some of my best work. And I think you’ll like it too. 

But only if you order a copy

How to Properly Share the Trail

Even as I become increasingly famous and wealthy, I do my very best to stay in touch with common cyclists—people like you. This can, of course, be difficult, since whenever I go riding, my advance team closes down the road or trail network upon which I am riding. I am flanked by a phalanx of security personnel, all specifically . And also my cheese wrangler rides alongside me, whose services I have retained because I am fond of cheese.

As I was thus riding recently, a thought occurred to me:

Wouldn’t it be weird if other people were on this trail at the same time?” I thought to myself. “And if some of those people were going in the same direction as I, while others were going in the opposite direction!”

“And what if,” I continued musing, as my cheese wrangler handed me a cube of Swiss with spicy brown mustard smeared on it (my cheese wrangler despises me), “all of us were going at self-selected speeds, some faster than me, while others were slower!”

At this point, my mind was boggling a little bit at this preposterous hypothetical situation, but I decided to run with it and take it to its logical extreme. “And then, what if there were cyclists and walkers and horses on the trail?”

I started laughing uncontrollably at this crazy bizarro universe I had just dreamed up. My imagination can take me to some pretty wacky places.

Still, I was intrigued. What madness would I encounter if I were to ride my mountain bike on trails open to the public? Would it be chaos? Would it be purely terrifying? Surely, it would be a living hell!

To my astonishment, I was mistaken. Indeed, I am happy to report, riding with other people on the trail is not something to be terrified of. Indeed, with my expert guidance (I become expert at anything I try, usually within a few minutes), you will find that it is possible to share a mountain biking trail with other people.

Understand the Fundamentals

As it turns out, the fundamental principal for everyone getting along on a trail is for everyone to understand the rules of who has the right of way when two people encounter each other on a trail. Here are those rules, conveniently organized for you in a numbered-list format:

  1. Cyclists yield to pedestrians.
  2. Pedestrians yield to horses.
  3. Horses yield to nobody, and get to act like they own the place.
  4. Cyclists coming downhill must yield to cyclists going uphill, unless they’re having an incredible Strava run.
  5. Cyclists going uphill must yield to pedestrians who pass them as they are also going uphill, which is pretty embarrassing.
  6. Cyclists who are in the zone do not have to yield to anyone. Because they’re in the zone, that’s why.
  7. Nobody yields to cyclists, because cyclists are apparently not as important as pedestrians and horses.
  8. Cyclists yield to horses. Because horses are bigger and can freak out over tiny little nothings and can crush you to death when their rider can’t control them, but as a cyclist, that’s your fault, not the horse rider’s.
  9. Cyclists and pedestrians yield to the giant piles of crap that it’s apparently ok for horses to leave on the trail.
  10. When approaching a pedestrian from behind, cyclists should alert the walker that you are coming, so they can move aside. Which means that in this case the walker is yielding to the cyclist, but that’s just the way it’s got to be.
  11. When the pedestrian doesn’t hear the cyclist because the pedestrian has his/her headphones cranked way up, the cyclist must try again, this time louder.
  12. When the pedestrian still doesn’t hear the cyclist, the cyclist must ride behind the pedestrian at a snail’s pace for about twenty minutes until you see a place to go around the pedestrian
  13. When you finally go around the pedestrian, the pedestrian is required by law to jump out of his/her skin and scream in a comical voice
  14. Even though it’s the pedestrian’s fault they’re unaware of their surroundings and you have in fact been behind her/him for pretty much ever, it is the pedestrian’s right to say, “You scared me!” and the cyclist’s responsibility to apologize.
  15. When yielding to horses, cyclists must get well off the trail, observing the 3-foot rule, or be willing to catch a faceful of swishing tail as the horse goes by.
  16. When a cyclist comes around a blind corner and finds himself/herself wheel-to-wheel with another cyclist, it is the responsibility of both cyclists to put a foot down and laugh with relief that you’re both OK, then say, “Have a good ride.”
  17. When a cyclist comes around a blind corner and finds himself/herself face-to-face with a pedestrian, it’s the responsibility of the pedestrian to jump over to the wrong side of the trail, throw their hands up int the air, and shriek. It is the responsibility of the cyclist to suppress laughter.
  18. Cyclists must yield to all mammals, and most invertebrates.
  19. When a cyclist approaches another cyclist from behind, it is the responsibility of the passing cyclist to ask, “How’s it going,” without appearing to breathe hard. It is the responsibility of the cyclist being passed to reply, “Just enjoying a recovery day,” and then to do his level best to grab onto the other rider’s wheel.
  20. When passing another cyclist, it is the responsibility of the passing cyclist to say, “On your left,” even if you actually mean you’re on their right. It is the responsibility of the cyclist being past to move left when you hear, “On your left.”
  21. When a cyclist has pulled over to the side of the trail in order to let a horse or pedestrian pass, the cyclist is required to discover, to your horror, that while you have unclipped with your right foot, your bike is tipping over left and there is no way you are going to get that other foot unclipped in time. 
  22. Once lying in the middle of the trail with everyone in the whole world watching you, with one of your feet trapped under a bike so that you cannot clip out of it and are therefore as thoroughly trapped as rabbit in a snare, it is acceptable for the cyclist to wish he were dead.
  23. Once a cyclist has yielded to a horse, they must expect a reasonable time (5 – 10 minutes) to pass before the horse decides that maybe it’s time to start walking again. 
  24. Oh, and also right here, right now would probably be a good time to drop another enormous pile of crap. The splashier the better.

You may want to print and laminate this simple set of rules, keeping it with you at all times.


  1. Comment by Bart the Clydesdale | 11.13.2014 | 1:28 pm

    Nice set of rules, it will help me in the future, but I still need help on what to do when I meet a pedestrian with a dog. Perhaps something like – It is the responsibility of pedestrians that bring dogs on the trail to carry a leash that upon meeting a cyclist the pedestrian shall attempt to attach to said dog’s collar. Upon failing to attach the leash the pedestrian must then say ‘I am sorry (insert name of dog here) is usually so well behaved’ at which time the cyclist must appear apologetic for somehow causing the unleashed animal to spontaneously regress in its obedience.
    Some will ask what about dogs that are already leashed upon meeting the cyclist. Since that has never happened to me I have no suggestions on a rule in that case.

    If the dog is leashed, it is required to dart across to the opposite side of the trail just before you go by, forming an effective clotheslining trap.

    I’m glad I could help.

    - FC

  2. Comment by TK | 11.13.2014 | 1:35 pm

    I will print these instructions out and tape them to my top tube. And my down tube. And probably my seat stays.

  3. Comment by Bykjunkie | 11.13.2014 | 2:11 pm

    21 and 22 had rolling! The dog leash clothesline is so accurate also!

  4. Comment by Clydesteve | 11.13.2014 | 2:16 pm

    Golden, Fatty. And your bicycle addendum is so truthful, it hurts. (My neck, right where the leash hits – that’s the part that hurts.

    There might also be a need for additional RotT (Rules of the Trail, not Rats of tangential Tricks) for the instance of meeting an untethered dog about 50 yards away from the owner with intent to harvest your legwarmers.

  5. Comment by Clydesteve | 11.13.2014 | 2:17 pm

    dog & bicycle addendum. Doh!

  6. Comment by MtlDan | 11.13.2014 | 2:20 pm

    Phil Gaimon is good at both writing and writing? Wow!

  7. Comment by Fellowfattychris | 11.13.2014 | 2:25 pm

    Based on my experience everyone yields to moose. I wish I had a pet moose who would run out ahead of me while I ride, then I would yield to no one.

  8. Comment by Skye | 11.13.2014 | 2:30 pm

    I tried #20 on a pedestrian this summer: I say as I approach from behind “Hey there, on your left!” to which the pedestrian turned and smiled at me while responding “hey thanks, but thats my right!” and proceeded to laugh (in what I chose to interpret as a friendly way) as I rode by.

    Its too bad it isn’t also the responsibility of pedestrians to understand that “on your left” is a generic phrase, and not something to be taken literally.

  9. Comment by Neil | 11.13.2014 | 2:33 pm

    Apparently you yielded to my group twice last weekend. Once on Gooseberry South Rim and once on Guacamole. A small point of clarification, with a real world example. On Guacamole, if the passee is pointed uphill, but not moving, does the right-of-way revert to the downhill rider? I hope so, because we took it. :)

    Also, where does the blame lie in the above scenario if I am just trying desperately to keep my two friends that are faster than me in sight on the descent??

    Lastly, what is the rule about not-recognizing semi-celebrity cycling stars twice in the same weekend?

  10. Comment by Skye | 11.13.2014 | 2:34 pm

    @Fellowfattychris- We actually had a “moose protocol” briefing before one of our rides this summer and it generally said “If you see a moose, stop and maybe turn around and go back to where you came from because moose are mean and yield to nobody.”

  11. Comment by BostonCarlos (formerly NYC) | 11.13.2014 | 2:52 pm

    You’re a clydesdale who dislikes horses!

  12. Comment by Mark in Bremerton | 11.13.2014 | 3:23 pm

    Good rules, but I’d have to add “motocross riders” to that list for my local trail. The rule (only one and I can’t put a humorous spin on it) is easy but lengthy: Get the hell out of the way quickly because they aren’t yielding to anyone, plug your ears, cuss at them as they go by with a surly look on your face, hold your breath until the air clears of exhaust fumes, then try to regain your composure to continue the ride on a torn up, cavernous trail. Sorry, thank you for letting me get that off my chest in a friendly forum, whew…

  13. Comment by Disturbing Foodstops | 11.13.2014 | 3:53 pm

    I for one, am looking forward to looking forward to receiving my personalized copy, as soon as I get around to ordering it.

    I feel compelled, however, to correct a misconception promulgated by this post, due presumably to a lack of thoroughness in analysis of one review by our esteemed blogger.

    In the review by Bill Strickland, he says:

    “When something really, really matters to you — as cycling does to Elden and all of us who’ll read this — it’s worth being funny about.”

    Perhaps the aforementioned blogger is taking something for granted; note that Bill is very careful to say that he feels the subject is *worth being funny about*, not that he finds this *particular treatment* of the subject to be funny.

    It is as if a movie critic wrote, “Going to a comedy such as Dumb and Dumber To offers an opportunity to laugh and entertained”, rather than saying, “this movie made me laugh”.

    1. Did you really feel compelled? If so, it may be time to seek help.
    2. I don’t take anything for granted. I know my Social D.

    - FC

  14. Comment by Corrine | 11.13.2014 | 4:06 pm

    So true. I think I have been in almost every one of these situations including the moose. Always, always yield to a moose especially if there is a baby moose nearby!!

  15. Comment by Dave T | 11.13.2014 | 5:37 pm

    I would kill for a cheese wrangler.

  16. Comment by Anonymous | 11.13.2014 | 5:38 pm

    If I could generate a pile a of crap as big as that horse does, I’d leave it on display in the middle of the trail too!

  17. Comment by blair | 11.13.2014 | 5:46 pm

    I yielded to a rattlesnake once.

    He was sunning in the middle of the trail, so I yielded the trail to him.

    Then I thought about the sun and the trail and the locale and biology and evolution and ecosystem and realized he probably wasn’t the only one out there. So I turned around and yielded the ridge and the valley and pretty much the whole sport of mountain biking to him, because it’s that kind of terrain for 300 miles in any direction from here.

    So, new rule: cyclists will yield to rattlesnakes, with prejudice.

  18. Comment by SteveB | 11.13.2014 | 5:47 pm

    What about Deer? I find that invariably they wait till I’m just about even with them to decide that, yes, now is the right time to run in panic across my bow. Usually complete with wild scrambling as their feet fail to gain traction on the road.
    Major negative points if you run over Bambi.

  19. Comment by wharton_crew | 11.13.2014 | 6:21 pm

    “Mind you, moose bites can be really nasty. No really, a moose bit my sister once…”

    All this moose talk, and I’m the first to reference Monty Python? What’s wrong with you people?!?

    I can add another moose rule from my own private library of cycling experiences:

    If you are trespassing on government land, and are charged by a moose, leave your bike behind and perform a running hurdle of the cattle-gate-of-salvation. If possible, scale a tree in case moose crashes through the iron gate. Wait in tree until moose decides to leave. Corrolary #1: Soiling oneself at any point in this process is acceptable and soiler is immune to ridicule by peers. Corrolary #2: If wait time in tree exceeds 2 hours…stay in tree anyway.

    And with that, I’m off to consult the Book of Armaments…

  20. Comment by MattC | 11.13.2014 | 9:54 pm

    How do you stop a moose from charging? Take away his credit card! HA HA! I positively slay myself!!

    Obviously you’ve been overly busy lately with hardly any time for “funny business”…but I accept your apology. Great stuff Fatty, and welcome back!

  21. Comment by Geoffrey | 11.13.2014 | 11:09 pm

    While the dog rule was good, there is a key corollary: “If you are a dog, and you are, as always, not on a leash, unlike the dogs in the pictures, and you see a cyclist, walk directly toward him in his line of travel. He may have food or want to pet you. DO NOT MISS A CHANCE AT FREE FOOD.”

    Sadly, I’ve seen this one (okay, I was on the painful end of it): If you pass a cyclist who seems to be in trouble, holler “Are you okay?” with zero plans to stop. If they are blocking the trail, find a way around them, even if they have a broken pelvis.

  22. Comment by MattC | 11.14.2014 | 8:30 am

    Geoffrey…that’s where it’s good to have a nice bunny-hop….so you can simply jump over said broken-pelvis rider after asking “are you ok?” during your approach, and then you’re already past and moving too fast to hear the reply.

    Of course, with my incredible bunny-hop skills, if they didn’t have broken pelvis when I got to them, they would after.

  23. Comment by Dave04 | 11.14.2014 | 9:04 am

    #3 Horses yield to nobody, and get to act like they own the place.

    Glad this is understood… :)

    When I’m not biking… I’m on a horse…

  24. Comment by Doug (Way Upstate) | 11.14.2014 | 9:36 am

    Thanks you sir. You have made my day.

    SteveB: Turkeys are worse than deer. They may be the dumbest animal on this planet. They don’t get out of the way. Often they seem to go in the same direction as you and never get the hint.

  25. Comment by Dave T | 11.14.2014 | 9:51 am

    @Doug when you come out next year I will take you on one of our local trails were you get to run the animal gauntlet deer, turkeys, skunks, wild boar and of course SQUIRREL.

  26. Comment by leroy | 11.14.2014 | 11:27 am

    Someone — I’m not saying who – demanded that I suggest his modest proposal concerning canines.

    When passed by a dog, and you will be passed, the following response is preferable:

    “Who’s a good dog? Who’s a good doggie? You are. You are. Yes, you are. Can my cheese wrangler get you something?”

  27. Comment by leroy | 11.14.2014 | 11:31 am

    And just so we’re clear, I told the someone — I’m not saying who — who demanded I post his modest proposal concerning canines that his mother chases parked cars.

  28. Comment by PNP | 11.14.2014 | 12:56 pm

    For those who are visual learners, somebody should flow-chart the list.

  29. Comment by warren g | 11.14.2014 | 3:59 pm

    Here in Reno we get alot of rattlesnakes across the trail. We do not yield the trail for that would mean slowing down. Rather we speed up and bunny hop. Then, we try to really feel our legs so we can tell if that scratch we felt was caused by a sagebrush or a fang.

    The aforementioned scenario applys to going downhill and flat lands only. I have not had the pleasure of rolling up on a rattler while going slowly uphill.

    I think they feel the ground moving and get out of the way!

    I did however come upon a cross between a scorpion and a spider that turned out to be a jerusalem cricket. I caught it and brought it home to the little ones in my water bottle.

  30. Comment by MikeL | 11.14.2014 | 4:37 pm

    The problem is that if we consult the rules while out on the trails most rides would either be .25 mi long or would take 10.3 hours to complete.

  31. Comment by Christina | 11.14.2014 | 4:44 pm

    I thought Strava got rid of downhill placings? I think it was because of this list. Er…the number of people dying while pursuing downhill KOMs.

  32. Comment by Nic Grillo | 11.15.2014 | 2:05 pm

    I’m reading this in a meeting and just laughed out loud. Oops.

  33. Comment by the Fred | 11.15.2014 | 10:44 pm

    I’m sure you had to consult each and every one of these rules while riding Mueller Park the other week. If there is a more crowded ride I can’t name it.

  34. Comment by BotchexExperiment | 11.16.2014 | 10:14 am

    What about meeting a chupacabra on the trail?

  35. Comment by Augustus | 11.16.2014 | 4:08 pm

    I yielded to some walkers today and they stopped to ask about my Origin Eight Crawler and why the tires were so big.

  36. Comment by Jeff Bike | 11.17.2014 | 4:47 pm

    Chupacabra rule: if you look like a goat your in trouble.

    If a loose dog is chasing you, you automatically get right of way until you pass a slower rider. then he is there problem.


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