Signs of the Times
Disclaimer: The information provided here contains our best, clearest details on the rules of various signage you'll find in the woods. These are not legal claims or legal defenses. This information is not intended as a justification of bad behavior. Remember, you represent all cyclists when you're on the trails; make us proud.
Many of the signs we see out on the trails -- like "Private Property" and "No Trespassing" -- bother us at Overland Base Camp. Not because we have something against property ownership, but because anyone can go to the hardware store and buy a bunch of these and post them wherever they want. The sign itself is not an emblem of legal right. Regardless, in the interest of following the law, and avoiding run ins with extreme survivalists, we avoid these areas.
Here are the more common signs we find when we're scouting, and the legal implications are for each.
"No Trespassing" Signs
We've written about this before. Essentially, if you see a no trespassing sign, stay out of the area behind the sign. This means that if the sign is parallel to the trail, you're fine with continuing on the trail. However, if the sign is perpendicular to the trail, you better turn back.
"Private Property" Signs
If you see this sign, stay off the property.
"Private Road" Signs
"A private road can be used by the general public and is open to all who wish to use it, but it primarily benefits those at whose request it was established. [...] Unlike highways that are cared for by the public at large, private roads are maintained at the expense of the private individuals who requested the road." -- Legal Dictionary
A private road is "private" only in the sense that it's privately funded, not government funded. The reason the public can use the road even though it's privately funded is because the highway authority allows the road to be built in the first place.
Sometimes people confuse “private road” signs with “private property” signs. A private road is open to public use. The term ‘private’ in this case refers to the source of funding for the road, not the intended user.
"Private Way" Signs
"Way" is simply another term for street, road, path, or track. A "Private Way" is no different from a private road.
"Residents cannot put up a 'No Trespassing' sign at the front of a private way, [...] The public has the right to pass on it. [...] Being a way, it's open for the public to pass." -- Boston Globe "Private Ways, Public Access"
"Private Alley" Signs
If you're really lucky you might find one of these. These have the same rules as private roads: You can ride them.
"Private Drive" Signs
"Drive" is a more ambiguous term. This can mean access road or driveway. A driveway is on a person's property and therefore if it's a private drive it's private property. If it's an access road it is a private road and therefore open to public use. It can be challenging to determine what's a driveway and what's an access road. When in doubt, avoid it.
"Private Land" Signs
Sometimes Overland events end up on private land. However, we only ride on private land that has clearly posted easements that allow bikes. We appreciate private land owners that share their trials with cyclists. Be respectful so we can continue to enjoy the forest.