Coexisting on the Multi-Use Trail

Tips for sharing multi-use trails with bikes and dogs

In my non-dog life, I do a lot of bicycling. In my dog-life, I spend a lot of time walking on multi-use trails. After I got surprised by a cyclist on Tuesday, I thought I would offer some tips from both sides.

Dog walkers:
–Your leash is a death trap. If your dog goes one way and you go the other, you will cause a nasty crash. Please make sure that you and your dog share the same idea about getting out of the way. If you see that a cyclist is about to hit your leash, drop it.

–A flexi line stretched across a trail is invisible from a bike. Cyclists may assume that your dog is off leash and attempt to ride between you. Alternatively, you may find that cyclists will come to a stop to avoid going between you and your off-leash dog. That’s why. Please try to keep your dog on the same side of the trail.

–If there is any chance that your dog will chase a biker, please find a different place to walk off leash. Herding-type dogs are especially bad to nip at cyclists’ feet and legs, and you really don’t want that. Also, the only thing a cyclist can do is sprint for their life, and you will not be able to keep up to catch your dog.

–Because of this stuff, especially points two and three, a cyclist may panic when they see your dog. Try to be sympathetic.

–In the same vein, it is considered good cycling form to call out about potential problems if you’re riding in a group. Don’t take it personally if you hear a line of cyclists calling out to each other about your dog.

–Don’t wear headphones. I know the multi-use trail seems so safe compared to walking on roads, but you need to be able to hear.

–It is very difficult to completely stop a bike that is going downhill. If you’re walking up hill, keep a good eye out for oncoming traffic. If you’re going downhill, be especially aware of anything coming up behind you.

–Most importantly, get your dog out of the way. Because some dogs chase/nip/lunge/jump/bark, a cyclist will be very hesitant to pass a dog who is on a loose line right in the middle of the trail. Shorten your leash and/or move to the edge.

How can cyclists and dog walkers best share multi-use trails?

–Please call out or ring your bell. Dogs and their gear can easily generate enough noise to drown out a quiet bike. Keep in mind that dog walkers may not know the cycling shorthand we use passing each other.

–Dogs don’t have a great sense of their body being attached to a leash. If you come up on them from the rear, they’re likely to go the opposite direction of their person. See #1.

–Be extremely cautious if you’re going downhill on a narrow path. Even the best intentioned dog-walker can only move their dog so quickly.

–Give a dog as much room as possible. It’s just good manners. (Which, I can tell from the way you bike, some of you are seriously lacking.)

–Avoid riding between a dog and their person. Not only are you likely to have a bad leash-related crash, you also impede the person’s ability to control an off-leash dog.

–Never reach for a dog while you’re on your bike, even if you’re partially dismounted. Friendly dogs can still be freaked out by your bike, or by the bike–>person transition.

10 thoughts on “Coexisting on the Multi-Use Trail

  1. These are so great. My girl hates bikes, and I have yet to understand why cyclists feel the need to pass by as closely as they can to us when there is plenty of room available.

    Don’t even get me started on flexi-leashes…


    1. Everybody hate flexi-leashes. Except people who use flexi-leashes!

      I think most people on bikes just don’t think about it. And some of them are jerks, even to other people on bikes. I don’t get that one, either.


  2. Good tips! I had an insanely obnoxious run-in with some bikers recently. We were hiking uphill on a very narrow and twisty off leash trail. 2 bikers came barreling down at top speed, the 1st guy nearly hit Norman and chased him about 50 feet down the trail while he was trying to stop and the 2nd guy almost hit me, giving me a dirty look. Once they stopped, my heart was racing and Norman stood there wagging his tail at the guy, as he shouted at me to come get my dog, like I had ruined their perfect run. I just called Norman and we carried on while I spent the rest of the hike imagining all the things I should have said.

    The next time we were on the trail, a biker came along with bells on his bike to we could move out of the way in time which was much appreciated. I’d like to think it was the same guy who had learned his lesson but I somehow doubt it. Unlike me, Norman harbors no ill feelings towards mountain bikers…


    1. Yeah, mountain biking is an entirely different kettle of fish. There is ONE place here that’s particularly dangerous, but the local mountain bikers are quite good to call out. I think that’s mostly because they might run over each *other,* but I’ll take it.

      Good mountain bikers yield the right of way to people/bikes going up hill.


  3. Thankfully – where B and I hike – there are separate trails for the mountain bikers and hikers. I have heard that bikers are supposed to yield to others – but have yet to see it in action. I actually figure it’s easier for me to just step off the trail if necessary than to make someone stop their bike.

    Most people lack basic etiquette skills while on the trail. Hikers, bikers, and riders alike.


  4. Great post! As an avid dog lover and year-round cyclist, you had some great tips.

    I generally give dogs a wide berth and slow my speed when passing. It’s hard to tell which dogs have a strong chase drive and I don’t want to make things worse for a fellow dog lover.


  5. Whenever I’m on a trail that includes cyclists I’m always watching and when we see a bike approaching, our dogs are called off to the side and we sit and wait for the bike to pass. Of course as bikes go much quicker than feet, we are sometimes caught from behind and then we just do the best we can. It would be nice if they rang their bell with enough time for us to move over.


    1. Seriously. In their defense, there’s a fine line between “calling out so early no one can hear” and “waiting so long they can’t move.” But a bell should really solve that. I think they just don’t think about how long it takes to move a dog off the trail.


  6. Thank you! I will be sharing this! Where we live there are very few areas where bikes are not allowed (the ones that don’t allow them usually involve a 15-20 minute drive to get there, not including traffic issues). Since we have four dogs, we tend to pick the areas that have a large path to give us and cyclists as much room as possible. But that doesn’t always solve the problem.

    We’ve had numerous encounters with cyclists wearing headphones (and some not) that DON’T call out or ring a bell that turn around and give us dirty looks or yell at us for not moving due to lack of warning (a lot of the cyclists here have very quite bikes) despite the plethora of signs saying pedestrians have the right a way.

    Even though there are signs saying cyclists have to yield, we understand the challenges of stopping or slowing a bike when approaching dog walkers, so we always make the effort to move to one side and give them space as well as shortening our dogs leashes.

    But the responses to our efforts are still 50/50.


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