7 Tips for Mountain Biking Safely in Wildlife Territory

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Ben Jones

Cycling Safety, Other

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Mountain biking is an exhilarating sport that allows you to explore the great outdoors, stay fit, and enjoy the thrill of riding through challenging terrain. While taking your bike off-road into wildlife territory can be an unforgettable experience, it’s important to prioritize safety in order to protect both yourself and the creatures that call these spaces home. In this post, we’ll discuss seven essential tips for safely navigating wildlife territory while mountain biking.

Familiarize Yourself with Local Wildlife

Before you embark on your mountain biking adventure, it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with the local wildlife in the area. By understanding which species are common, how to identify their tracks and droppings, and what their typical behaviors are, you’ll be better equipped (and more confident) to navigate the terrain safely. So, first steps are to:

  • Research the local flora and fauna
  • Learn about potential hazards (e.g., poisonous plants, venomous snakes)
  • Familiarize yourself with the local ecosystem, including the food chain and habitat of various species
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Actionable Advice for Common Wild Animals

Let’s take a look at some specifics for the commonest wild animals that you might come across in your MTB travels. In each section there’s a link where you can get additional, more detailed information on dealing with each of these animals.

Bears

  • Understand the difference between black bears and grizzly bears, as their behaviors and preferred habitats may differ
  • Learn the signs of bear activity, such as tracks, scat, and claw marks on trees
  • In case of an encounter, know to speak calmly and firmly while slowly backing away without turning your back on the bear
  • For more information, refer to the National Park Service

Mountain Lions

  • Learn to recognize mountain lion tracks and signs of their presence
  • Understand that mountain lions are ambush predators and may be found in areas with good cover
  • If you encounter a mountain lion, make yourself appear larger, maintain eye contact, and speak loudly and firmly
  • For more information, refer to the Mountain Lion Federation

Deer and Elk

  • Get familiar with deer and elk behavior, especially during mating and calving seasons
  • Learn to recognize their tracks and signs, such as scat, rubs on trees, and beds
  • In case of an encounter, give them plenty of space and avoid getting between a mother and her offspring
  • For more information, refer to the Washington Dept of Fish & Wildlife (for deer) and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation

Snakes

  • Identify venomous snakes that are native to the area and learn how to recognize them
  • Understand that snakes are often found in warm, sunny spots or near sources of water
  • If you encounter a snake, give it plenty of space and allow it to move away
  • For more information, refer to the CDC

Moose

  • Learn to recognize moose tracks, droppings, and signs of their presence
  • Understand that moose can be unpredictable and potentially aggressive, especially during mating season or when they have calves
  • If you encounter a moose, give it plenty of space and avoid getting between a mother and her offspring
  • For more information, refer to the Alaska Dept of Fish & Game
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Make Your Presence Known

It’s important to make your presence known while mountain biking in wildlife territory, as many animals may perceive you as a threat if they’re caught off guard. Alerting animals to your approach can help prevent surprise encounters and minimize the risk of negative interactions.

  • Use a bell or call out periodically to announce your presence
  • Avoid using headphones, so you can hear any nearby wildlife
  • Be especially vocal when approaching blind corners or areas with limited visibility

Fun fact: Did you know that some animals, like deer, have a hard time determining where sounds are coming from? That’s why it’s important to make noise continuously while you’re on the trail, so they can better pinpoint your location and avoid you.

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Plan Your Route Wisely

Planning your route is a key aspect of mountain biking safely in wildlife territory. By considering factors such as the time of day, season, and known wildlife activity patterns, you can minimize the likelihood of encountering potentially dangerous animals.

  • Choose well-established trails with clear signage and markers
  • Research wildlife activity patterns in the area (e.g., mating season, denning locations)
  • Avoid riding at dawn or dusk, when many animals are most active

Quick tip: Check with local park rangers, wildlife experts, or experienced riders for recommendations on the best routes to take and which areas to avoid. They can provide valuable insights on current wildlife activity and trail conditions.

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Respect Wildlife Boundaries

While it may be tempting to get up close and personal with the animals you encounter, it’s essential to respect their boundaries and maintain a safe distance. Encroaching on their space can stress them out and provoke aggressive behavior.

  • Keep a safe distance from all wildlife (at least 100 yards for large mammals, 50 yards for smaller ones)
  • Avoid disturbing nests, dens, or other animal shelters
  • Give animals the right-of-way on the trail

A friend once told me how they came across a family of elk while biking in Colorado. Instead of trying to push through, they stopped and waited for them to cross the trail. She said that watching them from a safe distance was a magical experience, and they were able to continue their ride without causing them any stress or harm.

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Be Prepared for Wildlife Encounters

Despite your best efforts, you may still encounter wildlife while mountain biking. Knowing how to react appropriately can help keep both you and the animals safe.

  • Carry bear spray if you’re in bear country and make sure you know how to use it
  • Learn how to react to various animals (e.g., standing your ground with bears, backing away slowly from snakes)
  • Travel in groups, as animals are less likely to approach multiple humans

Quick tip: In case of an encounter, try to stay as calm as possible. Remember that animals are usually more afraid of you than you are of them. By responding appropriately, you can prevent the situation from escalating.

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Leave No Trace

Respecting the environment and practicing Leave No Trace principles is crucial when mountain biking in wildlife territory. By minimizing your impact, you can help protect the delicate ecosystems that these animals depend on.

  • Stay on designated trails to avoid damaging vegetation and wildlife habitats
  • Pack out all trash and litter
  • Don’t pick plants or disturb rocks and other natural features

Mountain biking in wildlife territory comes with a responsibility to preserve the natural world we all love. By adhering to Leave No Trace principles, you can help ensure that future generations can enjoy the beauty and wonder of these spaces as well.

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Summary and key points reminder

Mountain biking in wildlife territory can be an incredible experience, filled with awe-inspiring moments and unforgettable sights. By following these six tips, you can safely explore these areas while protecting yourself and the animals that call them home. Happy trails!

TopicSummary of Advice
Familiarize Yourself with Local WildlifeResearch local flora and fauna, learn about potential hazards, and familiarize yourself with the local ecosystem.
Make Your Presence KnownUse a bell or call out periodically, avoid using headphones, and be especially vocal in areas with limited visibility.
Plan Your Route WiselyChoose well-established trails, research wildlife activity patterns, and avoid riding at dawn or dusk.
Respect Wildlife BoundariesKeep a safe distance from wildlife, avoid disturbing nests or dens, and give animals the right-of-way on the trail.
Be Prepared for Wildlife EncountersCarry bear spray (if needed), learn how to react to various animals, and travel in groups.
Leave No TraceStay on designated trails, pack out all trash and litter, and don’t disturb plants or natural features.

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