Biking 101 - Gear Up and Enjoy the Ride

two bicyclists looking at ice top mountain from adistance with binoculars
Bicycling provides you with opportunities to experience parks in in new ways.

NPS/Jacob W. Frank

Traveling to or exploring national parks by bicycle provides you with opportunities to experience natural, cultural, and historical places in new ways. Whether you are an aspiring cyclist or a returning professional, here are some key tips to help you prepare for a fun and injury free ride.

Be Prepared
Before you head out on your adventure:

  • Check out the “Plan Your Visit” section on your park’s website to find out if biking is allowed.
  • Become familiar with the trails and roads open to bikes in the park.
  • Find out if there are group size restrictions and permit requirements, which vary with each park.

If you’ve never planned a trip to a national park, check out the NPS Trip Planning Guide to help you avoid some of the common mistakes that visitors make when visiting parks.

Pick the Right Bike Helmet for you
Every bike ride should begin with putting on a helmet. Some states require certain ages to wear a helmet and national parks enforce that law. We recommend that everyone wear one, regardless of age.

  • Wear a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC) certified helmet.
  • Make sure the helmet fits you properly.
  • DO NOT use a cracked or broken helmet or a helmet that is missing any padding or parts.
  • Always replace a helmet once it is damaged or has been involved in a crash.
Learn more about how to pick the right helmet for you.

Group of riders with dressed in visible and colorful clothing
Wearing visible and colorful clothing helps you to be seen by others on the road.
NPS Photo

See and Be Seen
Many bike routes in national parks are shared with motor vehicles and pedestrians. It is important to be seen and not blend into the background even during the day:

  • Pack bright, fluorescent clothing to wear while riding.
  • Reflective gear such as vests or tape will make you stand out, especially during night. Hardware stores commonly carry reflective gear.
  • Install front white lights, rear red lights, and reflectors on your bike.

Check out this video by Natchez Trace Parkway that shows how your clothes can make you stand out or disappear on the roadway.

Check Your Bicycle
Check your bike to make sure it is in good riding conditions before heading out to the park. Bike repair supplies may not be available in the park or surrounding community.

  • Inflate the tires.
  • Check brakes, gears, and steering to make sure they are working properly.
  • Pack a repair kit that includes essentials such as a multi-tool, bike pump, tire levers, spare tube, and patch kit.

Learn the Hand Signals

Bicycles do not have blinkers or backup lights to communicate with others on the roadway. By learning the standard hand signals, you can tell other roadway users if you are going to turn, slow or stop.
For Left Turns - Extend your left arm out sideways with all fingers extended or use your index finder to point left
For Right Turns - Extend your left arm sideways bent at a 90 degree angle at the elbow join, hand pointing upward and the palm of hand facing forward
For Alternative Right Turns - Extend your right arm out straight with all fingers extended or use your index finger to point right
For stopping or slowing - extend your left arm or right arm sideways and bend your arm at a 90-degree angle at the elbow joint, hand pointing downwards and the palm of your hand facing backwards
Learn how to let other road users know that you intend to turn or stop.

Check the Weather Forecast
Check the weather forecast and look for park alerts the day of your trip to ensure that conditions are good for riding your bike. What may start as a clear sky, can quickly turn into a storm with lightning and flash flooding. Learn more about how to be a weather-ready explorer.

Group of bikers watching a herd of bison at Grand Teton National park
If you see wildlife ahead of you, stop and maintain a safe distance.
NPS Photo

Put on Your Safety Gear
Before you get started on your ride:

  • Put on your helmet,

  • Turn on your bike lights, and

  • Wear your bright clothes and the reflective gear you packed!

And don’t forget your 10 essentials!

Follow Park Rules
Always remember to:

  • Ride bikes in designated areas only, and

  • Dismount your bike and walk it through tunnels, under-passes, crossings, and all other locations where a “Dismount Bike” or “Walk Bike” sign is present.

Follow Speed Limits
Always ride within the speed limits of the park. Consider the environment and adjust so you are riding at a safe and reasonable speed.

Share the Road and Trails
Many bike routes in national parks are shared among cyclists, motor vehicle users, and pedestrians.

  • Ride single file to the right.

  • Announce yourself when passing other users from behind.

  • Always pass on the left of pedestrians.

Keep Your Eyes on the Road and Trail
Heads up! Avoid distractions such as texting and listening to music. Be aware of your surroundings so you can take quick action to avoid an obstacle in your path or stop if something unexpected happens during your ride.

Watch Out for Wildlife
National parks are home to animals that are good at hiding along roadsides and can cross your path at any time. It is important to be aware that animals are around, even when you do not see them. If you see wildlife ahead of you, stop and maintain a safe distance. Wait for the wildlife to leave the area before you pass.

If you have an emergency, move off the road or trail so you don’t become a hazard for yourself and others! If you or someone in your riding group are injured or experience a medical emergency, contact 911. Be prepared to provide your location so responders can get to you as quickly as possible. Check out our article on emergency planning.

It is important to check with the park you are visiting to learn which roads and trails are open to e-bikes. While e-bikes are generally allowed where traditional bicycles are allowed, parks may limit or restrict the use of bicycles and e-bikes to protect public safety as well as natural and cultural resources. More information can be found in each park’s Superintendent’s Compendium available on the park’s website.

When riding e-bikes in national parks, follow all regulations and be aware of these special safety considerations in addition to the ones discussed earlier in this article:

  • Be aware of your speed. Some e-bikes may exceed park speed limits with the motor engaged.

  • Pay attention to traffic. Drivers may not be aware that an e-bike rider is traveling close to their speed. They may think you are traveling slower and could turn or cross in your path.

  • Slow down at intersections. Make eye contact with other drivers before crossing the intersection.

  • Mount and dismount the bike carefully. The added weight of the battery and motor assist technology can add 20 or more pounds to the weight of the bike.

  • Have a plan for returning e-bikes to a location outside of the park if they were brought in by your or another user. Follow park rules on where to park e-bikes.

Visit the NPS Biking Subject Site to learn more about:

  • Different classes of e-bikes allowed in national parks

  • The benefits of e-bikes

  • NPS e-bike policy

Last updated: May 9, 2021