Mountain biking is an extreme sport and is considered dangerous by most people. But, in reality, is it really that dangerous?
Well, if we go by injury stats and severity, we can conclude that mountain biking isnʼt as life-threatening as your mother would have you believe. A rider is more likely to suffer from mild injuries than fatal mountain biking injuries.
According to reliable reports, 27% of all mountain bike injuries occur in the lower leg, 21% in the knee, and 25% in the forearm. So you can see that all parts of the body are susceptible to serious injury (fractures, concussions, dislocations) in mountain bike accidents.
Now, the question arises – how likely is it for a biker to suffer from a head injury during a mountain bike ride? Well, that depends entirely on a riderʼs trail riding style.
While some people are more stiff and hesitant when they ride, others are on the very edge of control. The best riders usually take things step-by-step, progressively reaching a zen-like state with their focus and concentration before shredding the red and blue trails and doing amazing things on their mountain bikes.
In mountain biking, what causes common injuries and fatal injuries?
Research indicates that over 70% of injuries sustained during mountain biking rides on rough terrain are due to riding mistakes. These mistakes usually happen when riding on curves and during jumps and rides on inclined terrain.
Even advanced mountain bikers will make mistakes from time to time. In most cases, riders make an error when they overestimate their mountain biking abilities, lose focus during a ride, ride on the wrong side of the path, lose control over their bikes, act indecisively, and underestimate how much is actually in their control.
To prevent accidents and decrease the injury rate, mountain bikers should scrutinize the trails properly, beforehand, and ensure their bike setup is suitable for the specific trail conditions.
Itʼs dangerous for mountain bikers to compare themselves to professional mountain riders, or expert riders, as it takes the fun out of mountain biking. When bikers become competitive too quickly, they tend to swiftly move onto the bigger stuff, without perfecting the basics first.
Often, a rider who has completed a one-foot drop immediately rushes onto a two-foot drop, then a three-foot one, etc. This is not considered safe practice.
Instead of doing that, you should keep practicing a one-foot drop in the bike park until you’re certain that itʼs your technique that is allowing you to land safely, not speed or pure luck. You can also add variations to your downhill trail biking training (dropping slower/faster than normal) to improve your mountain biking skills.
Remember that itʼs foolish to be overconfident in your downhill riding abilities. So, stay in your comfort zone for a while, and donʼt take on more than you can handle.
Lack of upper-body strength
Mountain biking, like other sports, is a full-body workout; it works the quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, abdomen, and upper-torso muscles.
These muscles are specifically worked during steep climbs. However, your upper-torso muscles are the most important muscles on a mountain bike ride.
Without strong upper-torso muscles, you wonʼt be able to control your bike properly as you negotiate past tough obstacles. And mountain bike trails are filled with rocks, trees, bumps, and natural obstacles.
Bear in mind that the proper mountain biking position requires you to lean forward, forcing your arms and shoulder muscles to assist the upper part of your body. As you can tell, a lack of upper-torso strength can often lead to mistakes on the trails, causing accidents and injuries.
Not scoping out trails and unfamiliar terrain
Whether you’re a newbie or a professional mountain biker, you need to be well aware of the importance of scoping trails before riding them. When you reach the edge of a trail, scope the next section properly, and examine the trickier features of the trail.
Then, envision how you intend to overcome the various obstacles before finally heading off.
You can roll some obstacles or use a different side of the trail. However, what you canʼt do is be indecisive halfway through a five-foot drop-off or gap jump.
As I mentioned earlier, indecisiveness during cross-country mountain biking, especially when faced with a nasty surprise, is one of the leading causes of most injuries.
Tips to help reduce risk and prevent injuries during cross-country mountain biking and downhill mountain biking
Thankfully, there are things you can do to minimize mountain biking risks. Letʼs look at some of them.
Get in good shape
Cross-country mountain biking, or downhill mountain biking, offers a total body workout. Generally, when you’re doing a fairly dangerous sport, it helps if your body’s in good condition because it can take a serious toll on you.
If you want to reduce your injury rate and allow your body to handle the stress better, ensure you’re in top physical condition. So, work on your arm and leg strength in the gym so that you can excel on rough terrains.
Being fit will help guard against overuse injuries too.
Warm up properly
You must warm up (stretch) properly before getting on your bike. Doing so improves blood flow and helps you become more flexible, thereby enabling you to endure physical strain much better.
Warm-up and cool-down sessions are also effective at preventing stiff muscles, delayed-onset muscle soreness, and other types of overuse injuries.
Remember that it’s counterproductive for you to go gung-ho on your bike on your very first ride. A novice rider shouldnʼt attempt gnarly, treacherous trails without proper strength training and prior experience.
Going out with guns blazing only increases the risk of injury.
Ensure your biking equipment is fully maintained
It is also of paramount importance to ensure that your biking equipment is in pristine condition before every ride. Examine your brakes to check they’re functioning properly.
Scrutinize your tires and ensure they are properly inflated and that they donʼt have any major damage. Lastly, to reduce risk, inspect your frame for cracks and ensure all of your bolts are screwed on tightly.
Wear protective gear
Reports suggest that youʼre 39% less likely to suffer from a traumatic brain injury if you wear a good helmet.
It also helps to wear other protective gear, such as biking gloves, shoes, knee pads, elbow pads, shin guards, and body armour. Taking these measures helps protect you from the most common mountain biking injuries.
Mostly, mountain biking takes place on rough terrain, so the objective here is to mitigate danger and prevent head injuries/facial trauma, not look cool.
Staying hydrated during mountain biking rides is crucial for your safety too. Dehydration can cause nausea and disorientation and, thereby, lead to a lack of focus and injuries.
When you’re tired and less focused on the road, it tends to lead to more rider error, increasing the chances of accidents and terrible falls. Additionally, dehydration also causes muscle cramps.
So, reduce the risks associated with this sport by staying hydrated.
Get a good night’s sleep before rides
Itʼs a known fact that athletes who perform the best in physical activities have higher degrees of alertness. The only way you can improve your vigilance is through proper rest and sleep.
The body can only fully recover when it is in complete rest (sleep) mode. Bear in mind, less than eight hours of sleep can increase your injury rate by up to 70%.
Get a coach to guide you
Thankfully, many able coaches can pinpoint your trail riding errors and guide you in the right direction. They can teach you proper mountain biking techniques and improve your skill level, thereby, preventing you from making rookie mistakes on physically demanding trails.
If you canʼt stretch your budget to employ a coach, consider video recording your sessions. Then, you can examine your riding style and make adjustments where necessary.
Riding correctly will, undoubtedly, reduce your chances of sustaining injuries during mountain bike riding.
In short, when you ride safely and correctly on trails, you mitigate the risk factors that come with mountain biking.
Practice basic skills to hone your mountain biking techniques
Practice basic balance skills to improve your overall mountain biking techniques. Skills such as bunny hops, wheelies, side hops, manuals, and track stands, etc. will all help make you a better mountain biker.
So, do you still think mountain biking is that dangerous? Well, mountain biking, like other sports and recreational activities, does pose a certain level of risk and danger of injury. But, thankfully, there are things you can do to mitigate those potential risks and dangers.
Remember that mountain biking only needs to be as dangerous as you allow it to be. It is safe enough as long as you stay focused and in the right mindset.
It’s also important to use your common sense, wear protective gear when you ride, plan ahead, ensure your bike is set up correctly, do some training, and consume the correct fuel.