Trail riding is riding outdoors on bridle paths, trails and roads. A trail ride can be of any length, including a long distance, multi-day trip. It originated with horse riding, and in the UK and Europe, the practice is now called horse or pony trekking. But the term now includes mountain biking, mixed terrain cycle-touring, and the use of motorcycles and other motorized all-terrain vehicles. It may be informal activities of an individual or small group, or larger events organized by a club. Some trail rides are directed by professional guides or outfitters, particularly at guest ranches. In parts of the world, trail riding is limited by law to recognized, and sometimes function-specific, trails that are waymarked. In other places, trails may be less maintained and more natural. Trail riding can include other activities, such as camping, hunting or fishing, orienteering and backpacking.
Many long-distance trails have sections suitable for horse riding, and a few are suitable for horse riding throughout their length, or have been developed primarily for horse riding. The Bicentennial National Trail (BNT) in Australia is the longest marked multi-use trail in the world, stretching 5,330 kilometres from Cooktown, Queensland, through New South Wales to Healesville, Victoria. This trail runs the length of the rugged Great Dividing Range through national parks, private property and alongside of wilderness areas. One of the objectives was to develop a trail that linked up the brumby tracks, mustering and stock routes along the Great Dividing Range, thus providing an opportunity to legally ride the routes of stockmen and drovers who once travelled these areas with pack horses. This Trail provides access to some of the wildest, most remote country in the world. The Bicentennial National Trail is suitable for self-reliant horse riders, fit walkers and mountain bike riders.
In the United Kingdom the British Horse Society is developing a network of horse trails known as the National Bridleroute Network. A number of long distance multi-use trails have been created in England, including three National Trails, the Pennine Bridleway, 192 km (119 miles), The Ridgeway, 139 km (86 miles), and South Downs Way, 160 km (99 miles).
Within the United States National Trail Classification System, equestrian trails include simple day-use bridle paths and others built to accommodate long strings of pack animals on journeys lasting many days. Trail design parameters for these uses include trail base width and material, trail clear width, trail clear height, access to water suitable for stock (not human) use, and trail routing.
There are competitive events, which test the horse and rider's ability to navigate obstacles commonly found on trails, such as opening and closing gates, crossing streams, etc. The level of difficulty of a competitive ride will vary by trail or terrain. In recreational trail riding, having fun and enjoying time spent in natures rather than peed and form are the goals.
Mountain bikes are typically ridden on mountain trails, fire roads, logging roads, and other unpaved trails. These types of terrain commonly include rocks, washouts, ruts, loose sand, loose gravel, roots, and steep slopes. Mountain bikes are built to handle this terrain and the obstacles that are found in it, like logs, vertical drop offs, and small boulders. Mountain bikes, therefore, are more sturdily constructed than regular bicycles, have larger knobby tires, more powerful brakes, and the lower gear ratios needed for steep grades with poor traction.
Trail riding on a mountain bike can be:
- (1) On short, steep, highly technical, constructed trails.
- 2) On longer, fairly level trails, like bridle paths, rail trails, farm and forest roads. The South Downs Way in England and the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail, in the USA would be examples.
- (3) On hiking trails that can include steep mountain trails and high passes. These rides that can last for days.
Long rides on hiking and mountain paths have some resemblance to cycle touring but the latter usually take place on tarmac. However, mixed terrain cycle-touring, nicknamed "rough riding" in Canada and the USA and "rough stuff" in Europe, is a form of trail riding, because it involves cycling over a variety of surfaces and topography, on a single route, either using a mountain bike or hybrid bike. A new style of travel called adventure cycle-touring or expedition touring involves exploring remote regions of the world on sturdy bicycles carrying lightweight gear. This type of trail riding is in fact a form of backpacking.
Birth place: California
Mount Tamalpais, California, USA, and the surrounding areas in Marin County, California are recognized as the birthplace of mountain biking. In the 1970s, mountain biking pioneers such as Gary Fisher, Otis Guy, Charlie Kelly and Joe Breeze were active. The 2006 film Klunkers chronicled their story, solidifying Mount Tamalpais' legendary status as a trail riding destination.
The area is popular for mountain bikers due to Mount Tamalpais’ proximity to a highly populated geographic region, ease of access, beautiful and varied terrain, and views. Many trailheads surround the mountain, and the paved and dirt fire roads that cross Mount Tamalpais and adjacent foothills provide many options for people of all fitness levels. Most offroad cyclists reach Mount Tamalpais through the towns of Ross, Fairfax or Mill Valley, and the less used access points that exist through the towns of Larkspur and Kentfield. The Old Railroad Grade fire road that begins in Mill Valley, once the right-of-way of the Mount Tamalpais Scenic Railroad, is the easiest route to traverse up the mountain to its peak of 2,571 feet (784 m) at East Peak.
Like other popular mountain biking areas, there has been considerable controversy around trail access on Mount Tamalpais for mountain bikes, both in terms of environmental impact and the safety of other trail users. As a result, bicycles are generally restricted from narrow, single-track trails, though bicycles are allowed on most fire roads. However, through the growing connections of trails established by the Bay Area Ridge Trail, mountain bikers have access to multi-use trails such as the Dias Ridge Trail. In addition, the non-profit Marin County Bicycle Coalition is playing a growing role to improve access for mountain bikers to singletrack and multi-use trails by working collaboratively with the Marin Municipal Water District, which manages 18,500 acres in the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and other organizations.
In England and Wales bridle paths, and some other rights of way, such as byways and 'Roads used as paths' (RUPP), are open to cyclists, but not footpaths. This includes three National Trails, the Pennine Bridleway, 192 km (119 miles), The Ridgeway, 139 km (86 miles), and South Downs Way, 160 km (99 miles). However, in Scotland there is no legal distinction between footpaths and bridleways, and it is generally accepted that cyclists and horseriders may follow rights of way with suitable surfaces. Rights of way are somewhat limited in Nothern Ireland.
In France The Grande Traversée du Massif Central (The Grand Traverse of the Massif Central) is a long-distance mountain bike trail that crosses from the Massif Central in the centre of France to the Mediterranean sea, from Clermont-Ferrand to Sète, south of Montpellier, 718 km (446 miles). It was developed by the two outdoor organizations Chamina and the FFC (Fédération Française de Cyclisme), and was the first long-distance mountain bike trail to be completed in France. Subsequently other trails have been created known as VTT routes (‘Vélo Tout Terrain’, or all-terrain bicycle) in the Pyrenees and French Alps, Most of the route is on minor country roads or off road on a variety of surfaces, from wide forest roads to narrow, muddy woodland tracks, but there are with some steep, rocky sections. The majority of the route does not require technical mountain biking skills, but there are a few more difficult, technical sections, some of which can be avoided.
Extreme trail riding
Megavalanche is a mountainbike downhill marathon style event in France that mixes gravity-assisted excitement with endurance levels of fitness, guaranteed to test both nerve and physique. The most famous round is run from the French Alps town of Alpe D'Huez, starting on the glaciated summit of the Pic Blanc (3,300m) and descending to the lush meadows of the valley bottom at Allemont (720m), after some 2000 metres down and 30 km along.
Rail trails (disused railways converted into multi-use trails)) often provide invaluable trail riding for mountain bikers, and sometimes also equestrians, in many parts of the world. They are also open to walkers. Typical examples are the Downs Link a 36.7-mile (58.7 km) footpath and bridleway in southern England, the Trans Canada Trail (which will eventually stretch 23,000 kilometres (14,000 mi) from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic ocean), and in Australia the 95 kilometres (59 mi) Murray to the Mountains Rail Trail. The Trans Canada Trail can be used by hikers, walkers, cyclists, horseback riders, as well as cross country skiers, snowshoers and snowmobilers in winter.
Problems and maintenance
There is some criticism of trail riding when excess or improper use of trails may lead to erosion, the spread of invasive plants, conflict with hikers, or harassment of wildlife. Off-road or trail activity is usually not permitted, as such activity may also raise the risk of soil erosion, spread weeds, and cause other damage. However, many responsible equestrians, mountain bikers, and off-road motorcyclists, especially those who get involved in these sports by joining an organized club, perform hours of trail maintenance every year. Many organizations also sponsor educational events to teach newcomers about safety, responsible land stewardship and how to improve riding techniques.
- Downhill mountain biking
- List of mountain bike areas and trails in the United Kingdom
- Mountain biking in Australia
- Mountain biking in British Columbia
- Trail bike
- Pleasure riding
- The Bicentennial National Trail, Welcome to One of the World's Great Natural Adventures
- Ride UK: the National Bridleroute Network
- Ride-UK: National Bridle Route Network provides details of other long distance bridle routes at http://www.ride-uk.org.uk.
- National Trail Classification System, FSM 2350, and FSH 2309.18, Federal Register: July 3, 2006 (Volume 71, Number 127), Pages 38021-38052 online copy on epa.gov
- Mountain bike trail centres UK 
- Ohio & Erie Canal: Biking 
- Todd Remington of the Colorado Rough Riders, "alpine cycle-touring", 
- Stephen Lord, Adventure Cycle-Touring (2006)
- Mount Tamalpais 
- "which manages 18,500 acres in the Mt. Tamalpais Watershed". MMWD. Retrieved December 8, 2012.
- Outdoor Access Scotlanf
- My Switzerland
- The Grand Traverse of the Massif Central by mountain bike, road bike or on foot, by Alan Castle. Published by Cicerone Press 
- Trans Canada Trail
- Kinsey, J. M. and Denison, Jennifer, Backcountry Basics Colorado Springs, CO: Western Horseman Publishing, 2008