After yet another mountain bike ride in which the concept of “yielding” to other users seemed to mean different things to different people, I wondered why we have such a pervasive problem with interpreting these etiquette guidelines. When I ride uphill, inept downhill bikers seem to believe that “yielding” means braking ever so slightly while wobbling back and forth saying “whoa…whoa…um….I don’t know…” until I just give up and ride off the trail around them at which time they say something like “okay, that works!” Other, more competent but accordingly more douchey riders think “yielding” means to go as fast as they can at all possible times and then grab their brakes and skid out of control when they encounter an uphill rider, making everyone stop, and then at the most mumbling a “huh huh sorry” and resuming their headlong ride.

Horse riders think that yielding to them means…well, Danni goes over that below. I’ll just say that I was a horse owner for several decades and those freaking animals scare me. I know enough about them to not want to get anywhere near a strange horse that doesn’t know what a bike is. No I don’t want your horse to sniff me or my bike so it can learn what I am. No I don’t want to let you ride your horse mere inches from me for “practice”. Horses aren’t smart and they can freak out at the least breath of wind (or, in fact, nothing at all – sometimes they just freak out) and their hooves and do a lot of damage. Honestly I think that horses are the most dangerous things on the trails, worse by far than ATVs, and I’ll be really pissed if I get kicked by one of those things someday. Still, it grates on me to have to retreat into the bushes (see hiker behavior, below) to avoid someone’s precious four legged trail couch getting ever so slightly affronted or alarmed by my presence. I also don’t like having to dodge piles of sloppy horse crap on every trail but that’s another article.

Cross country skiers think that yielding means that everyone must immediately step off the trail and drop to their knees, prostrating themselves until the skier is well out of sight, or better yet not using the trails at all. Hikers seem to be the best at yielding, immediately stepping off the trail at first sight of anyone else who isn’t hiking. This is fine, but not necessary, but given the behavior of other users as described above. It’s pretty annoying to stop and attempt to yield to a hiker who has wedged themselves into the bushes and is determined to wait it out, though you already stopped right before the ascent that you needed a little momentum to get up and now you’re going to have to push your bike up anyway, so you might as well build good trail vibes and let the hiker go first, but they’re up there at the top of the hill yelling “no go ahead! No it’s OK! You go! You go!” You tried to yield like a good mountain biker and you got screwed by the overly timid hiker. Sigh. How do we win?

I turned to Danni, who is a lawyer. I figured she could tell us exactly how to yield, and it turns out she was already mulling over the issue:

Free Legal Advice — yielding to other user groups, by Lawyer Danni

The question was posed to me:  “what, as a matter of law, does it mean to yield?”  Our conscientious reader finds himself paralyzed by fear of failing to yield on his busy trail in Boulder, Colorado and worries about “doing it wrong.”  Well, I am here to help you all understand how to yield.  It can be very complicated, but luckily I need to fill my pro bono requirement and am here to help.

This is a very complicated issue.  There are a plethora of factors that impact whether the trail user has adequately yielded to another trail user.  The following examples illustrate how rife with nuance this concept can really be.

Example No. 1:  You are on your mountain bike heading downhill.  There is a trail runner in the trail headed up hill (probably hiking but identifiable as a “runner” due to arm sleeves, calf sleeves, a special backpack, silly looking shoes and giant GPS watch).   Did you yield if you slow down as you ride past them?  Should you stop completely and let them go by, possibly endo-ing in the process?  Do you yell “on your left!” as you zoom by?  Do you even have time to make these decisions since you’re going pretty fast and only see the person as you are on him?

Example No. 2:  You are hiking along the trail and a group of horses approach.  Do you step aside, off the trail, and wait for them to pass?  Do you climb a nearby tree and hold your breath in hopes of avoiding scaring the horses?  Do you walk within a few inches of the horses, sure to pet them as they pass by?  Are you required to utter reassuring words to the horses so they know you are not a bad person?  Do you immediately pick a fight with the horse person to stand your ground, knowing preemptively that the person is likely a fussy rich asshole whose horse cost at least $30,000?  (Do you question whether that is a fair assumption?).

Example No. 3:  You are on a dirt bike.  You approach a mountain bike, probably a hippie.  Probably stoned.  Do you even acknowledge the stoned hippie?  What if he offers you pot?  Do you accept?  What if he’s one of those self-righteous types who wants to exalt the merits of self-powered transport?  Do you run him over?  He has headphones and remarkably didn’t seem to hear your engine, which should be heard from miles away.  The trail is narrow.  Do you drive off the trail and hope to not break your neck?  Do you stop?  Again, this guy will probably try to give you drugs.  How can you yield to this clown?

Since I am not licensed to practice law in Colorado where our inquisitive reader actually recreates, I am providing information about the law in Montana.  Under Montana law, the only laws relating to “yielding” involve cars.  And, under § 61-8-342, MCA, it appears to only really matter if you actually hit someone.  Then you are presumed to have not yielded.  So, yielding means not hitting someone.  By analogy, a tree doesn’t fall in the woods if no one hears it.  So, if you didn’t hit the person you probably yielded.  Or, if nothing else, it doesn’t really matter because you didn’t hit them.  NO ONE DIED.  Be sure to yell it out as you cruise by.  Even better if you make sure to preemptively tell them they’re an asshole – they probably are.