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ON YOUR LEFT: Trail Etiquette for Runners and Cyclists

Updated: Dec 10, 2021

If there’s one really big positive to come out of the coronavirus, it’s that more people than ever before are “opting outside” to get some exercise after being cooped up indoors most of the day. The local bike shops have been slammed. I heard from one today that they have been doing all-time record sales numbers. Good luck finding a bike in the “entry-level” category for under $1k.

Triathlete headed out for a training ride

For us here in San Antonio, the regular exercisers and trail users have seen an explosion of people on the Greenway Trail system. I imagine it’s the same in other parts of the country as well. As someone who believes in the importance of exercise for health and longevity, I absolutely love this. Families are going on walks and bike rides, people are starting to run or ride who never did before. All good things and hopefully new habits that will stick. But with the increased usage, our local 10-foot wide trails have become much more crowded.

Just last Saturday, I was riding on the Salado Greenway and couldn’t maintain a consistent speed or talk to the two other athletes I was riding with because we had to continually slow down and be careful when passing people. And you know what, THAT’S OK! It has irked me for many years when people ride fast on the trail system, especially during congested times of the day. Below, I’ve outlined a few guidelines that I think we all should follow when riding or running the trail to ensure that everyone has a safe and enjoyable experience. As veteran trail users, it’s our responsibility to lead by example and welcome new users. These guidelines are from what I’ve observed on our San Antonio trail system, but I believe they could apply to anywhere that has a paved trail for walkers, runners, cyclists, and rollerbladers.

RULE #1 - Centerline rule is ALWAYS in effect.

If you’ve raced your bike in Texas, then you know what I’m talking about. The “centerline” rule is what a USA Cycling official reminds everyone about at the start of any road race. Basically, it means that you can’t cross the yellow line in the middle of the road. If it’s a two-lane road, you have to stay on one side and can’t cross that yellow line, even if you want to get around to win the sprint. Most of the greenways don’t have an actual yellow line, but you can imagine that one is there.

RULE #2 - Stay to the right unless passing.

This is similar to the centerline rule and it's common sense. Just ride and run on the right-hand side of the trail. That may mean you can’t ride or run side-by-side with your bestie but that’s ok. The health and safety of our community is more important than the latest gossip. This is America. We do things right here, not left.

RULE #3 - Don't cut tangents.

If you’re an athlete I coach, I’m going to tell you to cut every tangent you legally can in your next marathon. But if you’re an athlete I coach, I’m going to tell you to not cut a single tangent when running the trail. If you stay to the right and don’t cross the centerline, then tangents aren’t even an issue. Most of the trails are pretty twisty and have a lot of blind corners. Head-on collisions are becoming more frequent and that’s totally unnecessary. If everyone ALWAYS rides or runs on the right-hand side and we NEVER cross the centerline to cut a tangent, then crashes will never happen. I know it’s tempting when you’re suffering mid-tempo run, but there’s no point in ruining someone's day simply because you were tired and wanted to take the shortcut.

RULE #4 - Ride 15 mph or slower.

The greenway trails are for riding easy, getting away from cars, and commuting. If you need to do intervals, then get on the trainer or come join us for a Paragon ride in the summer. We start at 5:00 AM and we’re 5 miles North of Boerne when the sun comes up. There is plenty of open road to do intervals outside of Boerne or in Watopia. (If you’re Ryan Miller, local Rock N’ Roll Marathon champ and 1:03 half marathoner, then make sure you run slower than 15 mph too!)

RULE #5 - Let people pass you.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been passed by other cyclists when riding my road bike on the trail. If you pass me on race day then we have an issue. But when I’m cooling down outside after my Zwift intervals, I don’t really care when the hybrid and a handbasket says “on your left.”

RULE #6 - Don’t be a StravaWanker.

If you want to race, there are races for that. A Strava KOM might be a legacy but the greenway trail isn’t the place to chase them. Running? Sure. Go for it. But cycling? No thanks. Chasing a Strava KOM on a public hike-and-bike trail is just foolhardy and sad. Use the trail for what it’s meant for: GOING SLOW AND ENJOYING RIDING YOUR BIKE.

RULE #7 - Wear a helmet.

I definitely believe that we should all have free will and get to make our own decisions about things but.. c’mon now, don’t be that carefree person who thinks they’re too cool to be safe. I had a good friend and professional triathlete who fell in his neighborhood and cracked his helmet in half. This is a guy who regularly did bike races, rode 4+ hours every weekend, and hadn’t fallen in years. But he did. And thank goodness he was wearing a helmet. I’ve rented town cruisers when traveling before and ridden them without a helmet but I try not to. If you see me out riding the greenway without one you have my permission to pull every hair from my head and verbally abuse me.

RULE #8 - Be kind and courteous.

The reality is that everyone who’s out on the trail just wants to get some exercise and enjoy nature. We all want the same thing, we just may go about it in different ways. Slow down if you’re passing, say hi to people, and apologize if you make a mistake. Just be a good person and not an ass.

Training on the greenway

If you’re someone who’s broken one of these rules in the past, welcome. I’ve broken every single one of them at some point. Intentionally or not, it does happen. I’ve been yelled at while riding 13 mph on my TT bike. I’m not sure why, maybe because I was in my aero bars and “looked” fast. I sometimes ride two-abreast when there’s a long, straight section, and no-one is coming. I’m trying to do better though and welcome these newcomers to the world and trail I ride and run on daily. It’s like January 1 at the gym. Sure, it’s annoying not having our “space” that we’re used to anymore. Most people might not stick with it but the reality is that I hope they do. I hope they keep riding and running when the coronavirus is over and that I get to ride and run with them.


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