The Effects of Persuasive Message Source and Content on Mountain Bicyclists’ Adherence to Trail Etiquette Guidelines


  • William W. Hendricks
  • Roy H. Ramthun
  • Deborah J. Chavez


trail etiquette, mountain biking, volunteers, social impacts, environmental impacts, persuasive communication, multiple-use trails, recreational conflict


As mountain biking has grown rapidly throughout the United States and the world, land managers have adopted a number of traditional and contemporary direct and indirect management strategies to deal with this relatively new recreational phenomenon. Among the educational approaches that have been employed are trail etiquette guidelines designed to reduce social and environmental impacts on multiple-use trails. As agencies deal with reduced financial support, one resource that is increasingly being employed is the use of volunteers to support management education and information efforts. This study examined the effects of three sources of messages and two appeal types on mountain bicyclists’ compliance with trail etiquette on Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County, California. The three message sources were a volunteer biker, a volunteer hiker, or a uniformed volunteer who was hiking. The messages communicated to mountain bicyclists were either a fear appeal or a moral appeal. The trail etiquette behavior examined included yielding behavior when approaching two hikers, bicycle rider speed, dismounting for a closed section of single-track trail, and stream protection behavior by crossing a bridge to avoid a stream. Observations of behavior were conducted unobtrusively. When compared to control data, there was a significant difference in compliance with trail etiquette in the yielding behavior, dismounting for the single-track trail, and the stream protection behavior. Although analysis of the appeal type resulted in mixed findings, in three of the four behaviors, a biker was the most effective message source. In all four behaviors, a uniformed volunteer appeared to be least successful in gaining compliance. The results of the study provide support for the use of volunteers to assist in communicating appropriate trail etiquette protocol and suggest that having volunteers in uniform may not be the most effective means of educating mountain bicyclists. Volunteer patrols are a potentially successful approach to encourage appropriate behavior on multiple-use trails, and in-group volunteers such as mountain bikers who contact other bicyclists should be considered by land management agencies.