For mountain bikers and hikers, should it be ‘separate but equal’?


I hike. Enough said, right? You can pretty much assume my feelings about cyclists, at least when it comes to the trails.

They barrel down on me during their runs downhill. They continually make me stop and step off-trail when they come barreling along, even though the rule of the trail is supposed to be that they yield to hikers (and everybody yields to horses). Actually, the rule makes little sense. It’s a lot easier for me, at my native-plant-examining speed of about 2 miles per hour on a fast day, to step to the side than it is for them to stop and pull their bikes around me.

Some of them illegally cut new trails — there are even rogue bike group dedicated to doing this — thus damaging the wilderness and disrupting wildlife. At one nearby wilderness park, they basically gave up on a couple of these illegal trails and gave them names and trailhead signs, like the “Mentally Sensitive Trail” (so named, apparently, because someone crossed out the “environ” part of a sign that warned of an environmentally sensitive area).


The ruts left by their tires erode the trails and make them into ankle-twisters.

Too many of them ignore the rules about the few trails dedicated to hikers. A couple of them cheekily informed me that the rule was waived the third Sunday of each month. It wasn’t, and anyway, this was on the first Sunday of the month.

And yet, over the years, a new if grudging respect has been born. For one thing, it’s difficult, when you’re puffing your way up a steep switchback, not to be awed by the people who pick up their heavy bikes and march up the trail past you. Yes: They are physically superior.

They’ve also gotten more courteous over time. Maybe it was the sight of me looking like I was going to stick my hiking staff through their spokes, but they at least tend to give warning these days, and more cordially than “Outta my way!” They say hello. They thank me for stepping to the side and let me know how many more bikes are behind them.

Then there’s the heroic Warriors Society in Orange County, civic-minded bikers who maintain trails that would otherwise fall into unusable condition because the Cleveland National Forest doesn’t have enough staff to keep the place decently maintained.

Finally, let’s face this one straight on: Bikers are more fun. They live more adventurously; I know this because they’re the only people I’ve had to pull out my first-aid kit for on the trail. They laugh and kid one another as they gather for their group expeditions, while we hikers meet up with our field guides; they wear way cooler clothes; and I always imagine they go out drinking beer afterward, while hikers are more likely to have an intense discussion about the Parry’s deer’s ears (it’s a green flower) growing among the white sage.

Yet it’s going to take more than a cheery “good morning” to bring peace to this particular feud. And here’s my solution: Hikers need more hiker-only trails, stringently enforced, with great big honkin’ fines attached to those who violate them. There are only a handful of these dedicated trails in the various parks where I live, in Orange County, and virtually none in the national forests of Southern California.

And bikers need some trails of their own too, where hikers are unwelcome. (Are you listening, Griffith Park?) Places where they can let it all loose downhill to their scraped-up-legs’ delight, without fear of bowling over a hiker -- or being screamed at by one.

Scotland has these. Why can’t we? The trails might be one place where “separate but equal” is the way to go.


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This post is part of an ongoing conversation to explore how the city’s cyclists, drivers and pedestrians share and compete for road space, and to consider policy choices that keep people safe and traffic flowing. For more: and #roadshareLA.