As cyclists we love nothing better than to explore the great outdoors on two wheels - whether we're pushing our limits on a mountain bike trail or camping out on an epic bikepacking trip. With this privilege, comes the responsibility to ensure that we have zero to minimal impact on the landscape and the people and animals living in it.

While the impact from one person may not seem like much, consider the hundreds of people who may follow in your tracks, it certainly can add up… With this in mind we have put together a code of outdoor ethics for cyclists based on the Leave No Trace Seven Principles and cycle savvy backcountry wisdom, that you can use to minimize your impact and help ensure that South Africa’s wild places and trails remain unspoiled for years to come.


Good planning makes your ride safer and more enjoyable, while minimizing impact on trails. Educate yourself prior to your trip by obtaining travel maps and find out about any regulations, private property issues and environmental impact concerns that may affect where you should camp or ride. Lessen the impact by scheduling your trip to avoid times of high use and keep group size as small as possible.

Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies. Avoid riding during heavy rains as this can destroy a trail surface. Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint or rock cairns.


Stay on the trail and ride in the middle of the trails to minimize widening of the trails. Don’t go off-trail to avoid an obstacle.

Cross streams slowly, at a 90-degree angle to the stream. Avoid trails that are obviously wet and muddy. When climbing, use a gear that provides comfortable momentum and maintains traction. When descending, avoid locking your bike’s wheels and don’t purposefully skid as this causes trail erosion. Avoid sensitive areas such as meadows, lakeshores, wetlands and streams unless on designated routes.


Use established campsites to lessen your impact on natural areas. If you have to wild camp or set up an informal camp, practice minimum impact camping:

Set up your camp 60m from water resources and trails. Make sure it is on a surface where vegetation is absent and make sure it can withstand the temporary impact – durable surfaces include rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow. Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary. Keep campsites small and disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails. Avoid places where impacts are just beginning. If you are in the desert avoid Cryptobiotic soil.


Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest area for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter  – take it with you if there is no place to dispose of it. Don’t be a litter bug and drop trash on the trails. It is a good idea to repackage food to minimize waste.

Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 15 to 20 cm deep, at least 60m from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished. To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 60m away from water sources and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater rather than dumping it in one spot.


Allow others a sense of discovery by leaving rocks, plants, archaeological and historic artifacts as you find them.

Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species. When visiting sensitive areas it is a good idea to wash your mountain bike and support vehicle, before and after a ride, to reduce the spread of invasive species. Don’t dig trenches for tents or construct lean-tos, tables or other rudimentary improvements. If you clear an area of surface rocks, twigs or pine cones, replace these items before leaving.


Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the environment and in high fire risk areas, campfires are often not allowed, especially when it is hot, dry and windy. Whenever possible, use a lightweight stove for cooking and headlamp, bike light or lantern for light.

Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires. Don’t cut down trees for firewood, rather use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand. Keep the fires small and burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.


Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them or try to touch them. Never feed wild animals as this can damage their health and alters their natural behaviors. Protect your food by storing rations and trash securely. Baboons are particularly adept at stealing food. Avoid picnicking near them and keep your vehicles, tents and lodgings locked.

Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting or raising young. Look out for slow moving animals like tortoises, snakes and other reptiles who may be crossing the trail. Don’t tread on vegetation or pick flowers. If an area or trail is seasonally off-limits, or closed for rehabilitation, respect the rules and stay away.


Ride responsibly and be considerate and friendly to other trail users. On most trails cyclists are required to yield to other trail users. Be courteous to those who let you pass.

Make your presence known when approaching other trail users and going around blind corners. Slow down when sight lines are poor. Maintain a reasonable distance between you and your fellow riders. Yield to other cyclists passing you or traveling uphill. Proceed with caution around horses and other animals as sudden, unfamiliar activity may spook them.

If you are crossing private property, be sure to ask permission from the landowner(s). Leave gates as you find them. Always comply with all signs and respect barriers an no entry signs.

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Director & Founder of BICYCLE SOUTH
Cape Town based designer & bicycle activist, Leonie is passionate about sustainability and green living. When she is not busy advocating for bicycle cities or blogging on Cape Town’s bicycle culture, you’ll find her adventuring beyond the city limits on her steel frame touring bike.
Director & Founder of BICYCLE SOUTH
Cape Town based designer & bicycle activist, Leonie is passionate about sustainability and green living. When she is not busy advocating for bicycle cities or blogging on Cape Town’s bicycle culture, you’ll find her adventuring beyond the city limits on her steel frame touring bike.

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