Let me start this article by stating what I hope should be painfully obvious (get it!), and that is - by its very nature, mountain biking will never be completely injury-proof.
However, there is much that can be done to negate the number and severity of the injuries that occur. From riding style to safety gear – to the choice of bike and tires, to simply knowing your limitations, there are a lot of areas and choices that make a potentially dangerous sport much safer.
In this article, I list some of the tips and tricks that I have learned over the years (some of them painful lessons) that can help make the sport as injury-free as possible. Some of them will be obvious, some of them less so, but taken together and applied to every ride, they go a long way to ensuring a long and healthy participation in this wonderful sport.
Looking back, I now know that the younger me was to put it politely a “bit of an idiot” when it came to biking safely. In my defense, I was very much a product of my time, safety gear wasn’t as prevalent, and I still had the feeling that I was indestructible.
I am pleased to say that the following generations of mountain bikers are taking safety much more seriously and the use of safety gear is pretty much the norm. Yet still every weekend I see people taking unnecessary risks without any safety gear.
This is the first tip I will cover, and it should be a no-brainer. But in my case, it wasn’t as you will find out.
Let me start by relaying the story of my most serious accident. I have no excuses, this occurred well past my “idiot years”. One night while I was ho-humming about whether to hit the hills or not I decided to compromise and go for a quick ride along a canal that wasn’t far from my home.
Along the way and feeling energized by being out on the bike, I decided I was going to hit the hill after all. I set off into the hills aiming for a local track called the Fire Trail, it was only when I reached the start of the trail I realized that apart from my helmet I had no other protective gear with me… But what could go wrong? This was a trail I knew like the back of my hand, a trail I had ridden hundreds of times without mishap, I would be fine.
Ten minutes later with a broken wrist, missing tooth, and a set of screwed-up tendons in my knee, I realized I might have miscalculated!
There are a couple of morals to the story, but they both really amount to the same thing i.e. don’t be an idiot – wear protective gear every single outing!
These days I will never hit the hills without the appropriate protection whatever the circumstances – depending on the ride I’m planning this could be: -
In other words, learn to walk before you run!
I have seen more people put off the sport by trying to ride trails that were well above their skill level and coming a cropper. While I may have suffered my share of idiot moments with protective gear, the natural coward in me meant I took my time and built up my skills over a long period, and thoroughly enjoyed myself doing so!
Mountain Biking is a completely different discipline from all other cycling, with its own set of unique techniques. No matter how proficient you are on a bike, treat Mountain Biking as a fresh start and master the basics on trails that won’t break your enthusiasm or bones.
In my experience, I have always found the unique comradeship that exists between mountain bikers means that they will never be shy of passing on their hard-won knowledge to the rookie rider.
Joining a local club or just asking other riders that you meet can lead to great advice and in many cases. Long-lasting friendships. There are also plenty of sources online for picking up tips from seasoned riders including: -
Particularly as a beginner the conditions can play a large part in safe mountain biking. I learned the trade in Scotland, a country where it can rain from time to time, and also in between those times! This meant that by necessity I learned to ride in slippery conditions, dry runs were a luxury.
But if you are not used to these conditions then tread carefully, rain, snow, wind, and ice are conditions that can greatly increase the chance of an accident.
You can pad yourself up with all the best safety gear and hit the right trail in the right conditions. But if you have neglected your bike then all the precautions in the world aren’t going to stop you from having an accident.
Everything from choosing the right sized bike that is optimized for the trails you intend to ride, to making sure that all the components are cleaned and maintained as per manufacturers' guidelines, will go a long way to ensuring a safe mountain biking experience.
Mountain biking at any level can be fatiguing, and the harder the trail the more tiring it becomes. Fatigued arms and legs simply don’t give you the requisite control needed to ride a mountain safely.
The fitter you are, the fewer accidents you will suffer. Mountain Biking is kind of self-perpetuating in this sense. The more you ride your bike, the fitter you become, the fitter you become the fewer accidents you will have.
Even just going out for a gentle ride in between trail runs can maintain and improve fitness levels.
We can’t wrap ourselves up entirely in cotton wool, one of the great attractions of mountain biking is the thrill of hurtling down a hillside at high speed. The risk in doing this can never be completely eliminated.
But a few simple precautions and some common sense go a large way to ensuring that your memories of mountain biking will be pleasant ones.
Plan ahead, look after your gear, wear the appropriate equipment, and don’t push yourself into riding trails you aren’t ready for and you will be as well-equipped as possible for an injury-free experience.