Many people who have not tried the sport ask, “is mountain biking dangerous?”. This question often comes from people watching videos of horrendous crashes from hitting big jumps and riding impossible terrain.
Mountain biking obviously comes with its dangers, but this risk is part of the thrill. Without risk, mountain biking wouldn’t be as fun.
We face risks every day, from driving a car to crossing a road, but when we take up any sport, our daily risk increases. Some sports are riskier than others, and mountain biking is one of the more dangerous ones.
In this article, we will highlight the dangers of mountain biking and tell you how to manage them.
What are the dangers of mountain biking?
The first dangerous thing about mountain biking is the terrain. Mountain bike trails are littered with roots, rocks, ruts, and jumps. It’s these features that make mountain biking fun and why mountain bikes are so rugged.
Mountain bike terrain varies in difficulty. For example, you could be riding off-road on a relatively smooth canal path, but you could also be taking on big alpine descents.
Therefore, mountain biking is as dangerous as you want it to be when it comes to terrain. As long as you are having fun, you can play it safe or challenge yourself on more technical terrain.
The next thing that makes mountain biking dangerous is your skills and mindset. As you become more experienced, you should become a more skilled rider, reducing the risk.
Your experience will allow you to react to changes in the terrain and cope with the features it presents to you.
However, as you become a better mountain biker, you will want to ride more challenging trails. You will likely ride faster and hit bigger jumps too, which increases the risk associated with mountain biking.
How to manage the risk
There are a few ways to make mountain biking safer, but most of them come down to common sense. Here are three ways you can manage the risk when you are mountain biking:
1. Understand the terrain
The first thing you need to do is make sure that your skills are suitable for the terrain.
Mountain bike trails are graded in a similar way to ski slopes regarding their difficulty. They use a color-coding system to indicate how challenging they are:
Green: Green trails are super easy and suitable for beginners and kids. These will usually be pretty flat, with minimal features. Most of the time, any features will be avoidable, making the run even more manageable.
Blue: Trails graded as blue are suitable for beginner and intermediate mountain bikers. You can expect the downhill sections to be a bit steeper than the ones on green trails and a few more features.
Blue trails will have larger berms (banked turns), small tabletop jumps, and natural obstacles, depending on the local geography.
Red – Red mountain bike trails should only be ridden by intermediate to advanced mountain bikers. These will often be longer and steeper than green and blue trails, requiring more bike skill and fitness.
Black – Black mountain bike trails are for expert riders only. You need to cope with large unavoidable jumps, rocky and rooty terrain, and steep gradients.
If you are riding in a designated mountain bike area, the difficulty of the trails will be indicated on the local trail map. It is a good idea to start with easier trails so you can understand what you are letting yourself in for before moving on to more challenging trails.
2. Ride within your limits and think before you ride
Trails change from time to time, so even if you know a trail well, there is a good chance that it will be different from the last time you rode it. Therefore, dial back your speed for your first run so you can react to any changes easier. Doing this will allow you to ride harder on your second run, as you will be familiar with any hazards or changes.
To become a good mountain biker, you need to push your limits. However, it takes a long time to build skills, so take baby steps. Don’t expect to be hitting the big jumps and technical trails too soon; start small to build experience before progressing to more challenging trails.
72% of mountain bike injuries result from rider error, and 31% of injuries are down to poor and challenging trail conditions. Many mountain bikers make mistakes when they are tired or pushing too hard.
You need to accept that there is risk involved with mountain biking, but you can manage the risk by knowing when to slow down or call it a day.
3. Protect yourself
Combining knowledge of the trails with common sense goes a long way to keep you safe while mountain biking. But by using the appropriate equipment, you can protect yourself further.
There is a whole host of mountain bike protection you can buy. What you choose to wear is down to personal preference and how far you want to take it.
Some mountain bikers prefer to wear as little protection as possible. This is because they value full range of motion over impact protection. Other mountain bikers like to ensure that they are prepared for any eventuality by protecting as much of their body as possible.
4 ways to protect yourself from the dangers of mountain biking
Here are some ways you can protect yourself while mountain biking:
Mountain bike helmets
There is no question that whoever you are, you should always wear a helmet while riding a bike. A mountain bike helmet won’t protect you from every crash, but they have saved many mountain bikers’ lives from more minor impacts.
There are a few different helmets to choose from:
- Open Face/Half shell – These provide the least amount of protection, but they are lightweight. Therefore, many people wear them for cross country and light trail riding.
- Open Face Enduro – These mountain bike helmets give you more protection than regular half-shell versions. They are heavier but give you more coverage.
- Full-Face – Full-face mountain bike helmets give you the most coverage and are used for aggressive enduro and downhill riding.
- Full Face with removable chin bar – These helmets are also called convertible helmets and are two helmets in one. You can get optimum protection by fitting the chin bar, but remove it for riding uphill and more leisurely rides.
Your mountain bike helmet must be comfortable and fit correctly. If it has any pressure points, is too big, or too small, it is the wrong helmet for you.
You also need to remember that you get what you pay for. Cheap helmets will not protect you as well as more expensive ones. So don’t scrimp on your mountain bike helmet; you only have one head.
Knee and elbow pads
You can buy all kinds of knee and elbow pads to suit your riding style and confidence level. For example, if you ride steep downhill trails or want ultimate protection, you can wear tough plastic pads that cover your shins, knees, forearms, and elbows.
Alternatively, you may want to choose lightweight pads that are more comfortable and allow easier movement.
Knee pads are an excellent investment, as they absorb shock and prevent you from skinning your knees when you crash. Elbow pads tend to be less effective unless you get some that secure around your arms properly.
If your elbow pads don’t secure properly, they will come loose and slip down to your wrists, which is no use at all. However, well-fitting elbow pads give you confidence, especially when riding technical trails.
Just like knee and elbow pads, you can buy body armor with different levels of protection and comfort.
Some people wear body armor to give them more confidence, so they will push themselves more. But sometimes mountain bikers wear it so they feel less vulnerable while riding, especially if they have an underlying injury.
You don’t see many people riding with bulky body armor these days. But mountain bikers will often wear lighter-weight items under their jerseys for extra protection and confidence.
Neck braces divide opinion in the mountain bike community. Many riders believe that neck braces restrict movement and slow down their reactions, making crashes more likely.
However, neck braces are designed to restrict the movement of your head when you crash. Some even have sacrificial parts that break to absorb impacts, like a crush zone in a car.
If you ride mellow trails, a neck brace won’t benefit you too much in a crash and will become annoying. Riders who race downhill or go free-riding may wear neck braces, but these guys are doing some pretty extreme stuff. Therefore, pedaling around your local trail center doesn’t warrant a neck brace.
Final thoughts, is mountain biking dangerous?
Is mountain biking dangerous? The answer is yes, but as you can see, there are several ways to manage the risk. By wearing the appropriate protection and using common sense, you can stay reasonably safe on a mountain bike.
Remember, you don’t have to ride on the limit all the time. Fast is fun, but it is much better to be able to ride tomorrow rather than waiting to heal from a nasty mountain bike crash.