I slung drinks and hot plates in a trendy eatery for years, basically flirting for a living, without once being asked out. But when I took up mountain biking, I could barely go for a solo ride without a guy at the trailhead chatting me up and, inevitably, asking for my number.

Though I’m still somewhat mystified that men show more interest when I’m covered in trail dust than neatly made up, several of my girlfriends have shared similar experiences.

I’m sure there are several reasons for this, but I’m guessing it’s mainly because it’s easier to suggest, “We should ride together sometime” or say, “If you ever need a running buddy…” than it is to straight-up ask a girl to dinner. It’s much less risky if it sounds like you didn’t really mean it as a date. You’re just looking for a trail buddy. A female trail buddy. A single female trail buddy.

But if you ever dream of doing anything off the trail with that cutie you met on the mountain, take some advice:

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• Just because I smile at you or say hi as we pass on the trail doesn’t mean I’m flirting or want to chat more. I smile and say hi to everyone on the trail. Including your grandmother. And Bernese mountain dogs.

• Odds are, I don’t need you to help me fix that flat or adjust my bindings. Of course I appreciate the friendly offer, just in case I happened to have forgotten my tire levers or need an extra hand. But I’ll ask for help if I needed it. And if I don’t ask for help, I sure don’t need you hovering while I fix my mechanical – or, worse, butt in and try to take over for me.

• If you’re thinking about asking me out, you had better be okay with me beating you to the top, or the bottom, or leading the climb. There is no bigger turnoff than a man whose ego won’t let him admit that a woman is faster/stronger/more skilled than he is.

• Even if I give you my phone number in the parking lot when you suggest we “get together for a ride” or “go cragging” sometime, I may have no interest in an actual date. It’s wonderful to have a roster of buddies to hit the hot and dusty with, but I’m probably much more selective about who I would join for dinner or drinks.

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• Just because we share a sport does not mean we are compatible in any other way. A good friend of mine learned this the hard way when a four-year relationship fizzled, having been based solely on attraction and climbing. We may make stellar mountain-biking buddies, but if we don’t also see eye-to-eye on philosophy, literature and lifestyle, you and I will never make it past the parking lot.

Mountains can be great matchmakers. If you’re already sharing a trail, you have at least one thing in common. One beautiful thing. But if you’re looking to share something more, let it happen naturally. Be patient. Another outing or two on the trail will help clarify whether or not you two could could ever end up zipping your sleeping bags together.