Trail Rules: What Cyclists Need to Know
The trails are calling. One of the best ways to enjoy the Hudson Valley landscape is on two wheels, and Dutchess County offers an extensive trail system where bicycles are welcome. Before you set out, there are a few things to consider so you’re aware and prepared.
Know where to ride
Finding a scenic and well-maintained bike trail in Dutchess County is easy! In addition to the 12-mile Dutchess Rail Trail in the western section of the county, and the 10-mile Harlem Valley Rail Trail to the east, there are six detailed bike tour maps available on DutchessTourism.com, which outline routes on back roads with minor vehicular traffic.
When you’re riding, keep to the marked trail, and do not trespass on private land. Bicycles are not permitted in areas protected as state or federal wilderness. Heed any trail or road closures.
It’s also important to know when to ride, as the county trails are only open from dawn to dusk.
Respect the trail
You’ll find that the Dutchess County rail trails are paved, and often bordered by soft earth. Stay on the pavement. Don’t create treads in the dirt or cut switchbacks. Wet and muddy trails can be hazardous, and are more vulnerable to damage from your tires.
Don’t litter along the trails. Be prepared to carry any trash out with you.
First, it’s always a good idea to make sure your equipment – primarily your bike and helmet – is in good repair before you head out on a ride. New York State law requires bicycles on roadways to have a bell or other device that can be heard at least a hundred feet away. Also, all bicyclists under the age of 14 are required to wear approved bicycle helmets.
On the trails, you’ll encounter other cyclists, as well as people walking and skating. No motor vehicles are allowed on the trails except electric wheelchairs. But that doesn’t mean you should let your guard down when it comes to safety. On a bicycle, you have more maneuverability than someone in a wheelchair, and you also have quicker reflexes and decision-making abilities than a child on a bike. Kids sometimes veer into the path of oncoming traffic, so be prepared to slow down or stop in an instant.
If the weather has been cold, rainy, or windy, be aware of the potential effects on the trail. Trail surfaces can be slippery or even icy. High winds can result in rocks and downed trees along the trail.
There are locations where the trails cross streets with motor traffic. These intersections are usually marked with stop signs for trail traffic, but the crossing motor traffic does not have to stop. You should stop and look in both directions before proceeding across the road.
If your route takes you off trail and onto a roadway, wear light or bright colored clothing to make yourself more visible to motorists.
Read more biking safety tips here.
Depending if they’re on foot or on wheels, people using the trail are moving at different speeds, so a little common courtesy is in order. The general rule of thumb is that “wheels” (bicycles, skates, motorized wheelchairs) yield to “heels” (walkers and runners).
The slowest traffic should keep to the right, allowing faster traffic to pass on the left. When passing another trail user, slow down, alert your presence by calling out “on your left” and/or using your bell, and pass when it’s safe. Stay on the trail. Riding along the side can make deep treads in the earth or kill fragile vegetation. Be prepared to stop if necessary, or dismount and step off the trail.
Bicyclists must ride to single file when passing or being passed. Cyclists traveling downhill should yield to slower traffic headed uphill.
You should be prepared to encounter animals along the trails, primarily pets. While dogs must be leashed, they may still attempt to jump at passing bicycles. If you encounter a wild animal on the trail, try not to startle or scare the animal, and definitely don’t chase it. Give it time to move off the trail.
Going the distance?
If you’re planning to ride most of the day, more extensive preparations and gear are necessary to be ready for the unexpected. Wear or pack a layer of warm, waterproof outerwear. Your provisions should include high-protein food and water; insect repellent and a small first aid kit; and bike repair tools. Always carry a detailed paper map; GPS signals are not always guaranteed in areas of spotty cell tower service.
Bring a front and rear light if travel after dark is a possibility. Let someone know where you are going, and when you expect to return.
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