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MailTribune.com
  • Striking fear into hikers' hearts

  • I've decided to adopt this rugged region as my namesake, and call myself "The Rogue Rider."
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  • I've decided to adopt this rugged region as my namesake, and call myself "The Rogue Rider."
    The name is apt: I usually ride solo, I blatantly disobey traffic laws, speed past hikers with complete disregard for their safety, illegally blaze my own trails, and ride through private property or prohibited areas whenever I feel like it.
    OK, so maybe only the first of those is true. I'm not a rogue in the antiquated sense of the word. But there is a certain outlaw image many associate with mountain bikers.
    This reputation, deserved or not, is one of the biggest obstacles to getting mountain biking into the mainstream, especially as bikers and hikers continue to share trails.
    Mountain biking is a relatively young sport. Those who remember a time before it became ubiquitous may associate biking with a new generation — young males, testosterone-fueled, blase about the concerns of others.
    You've probably heard about the Ashland psychiatrist who valued the serenity of nature so much he sabotaged trails with nails, nylon string and logs in hope of deterring bikers.
    The gnarly downhill trails above Ashland — the very same that our friend thoughtfully tried to preserve — are heavily trafficked by hikers and bikers alike. I think of myself as a responsible mountain biker, but I also like to go fast, to push myself to the limit.
    When I come zipping around a corner, startling elderly couples as they scramble with their hiking poles to get off the trail and restrain their dog that they seem to assume will be the first target in my malicious attack, I am reminded of just how much fear I strike into peoples' hearts.
    Mountain bikers are inherent risk-takers. Once we develop confidence in our skills, we have no problem passing within several inches of trees going at 15-plus mph.
    But we have to remember hikers don't appreciate this.
    Respect and communication are the two most important things to remember in the hiker/biker relationship. There are three things we bikers should remember:
    • Always stop for hikers, or at least slow to a moderate speed when passing.
    • Give hikers the maximum amount of room.
    • Warn hikers of other bikers. If you're alone, say it's just you; If you're the first in a group, say how many more there are; If you're the last one, say it.
    And hikers, if a biker doesn't obey the third rule, ask him or her.
    These common courtesies can go a long way. If more of us practiced them, maybe we could coexist a bit more easily.
    There are more and more specialized trails being built. There are lots of hiker-only trails in Ashland and Jacksonville. But biker-only trails are only just starting to pop up, though not in our area, as far as I know.
    I hope to see more segregated trails. I'm running out of room on my frame for my hiker and dog kill marks.
    Mail Tribune copy editor and page designer Forrest Roth can be reached at froth@mailtribune.com
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