Have you thought about getting into mountain biking but not sure it’s worth the risk? Let’s dive in and see if mountain biking really is dangerous. We’ll also explore the various styles of mountain biking and the hazards each style presents to beginning mountain bikers.
How Dangerous Is Mountain Biking? Mountain biking is a dangerous sport. The magnitude of that danger is directly related to the type of mountain biking you are attempting. The three major styles of mountain biking are cross-country, all-mountain (enduro) and downhill. Downhill is considerably more dangerous than the other three disciplines. But each form of mountain biking presents it’s own hazards.
Mountain biking is a fun and exciting activity. Although it is dangerous there are certain precautions you can take to make it safer activity. Mountain biking is a great way to stay in shape and experience the beautiful nature around us. So read on to learn the risks and how you can reduce those risks for your next ride.
The Three Major Forms of Mountain Biking and The Hazards They Each Present
Downhill Mountain Biking
Downhill mountain biking is the most dangerous form of mountain biking. You normally ride a lift or get shuttled to the top of a mountain. And then your ride begins on a steep descent down the mountain. Downhill mountain biking presents hazards that can put the rider in a dangerous position.
- Hazard #1 Gravity – Once you start your descent on the mountain gravity is going to urge you on to let up on the brake. It’s critical that you keep your speed at a level you can manage. Don’t give into the temptation to fast.
- Hazard #2 Obstacles – Most ski resorts where mountain biking takes place are loaded with rocks and trees. Some of these obstacles are hard to recognize, especially when you are moving at high speeds. Keep your head up and stay focused to avoid these obstacles. These obstacles also offer opportunities for your to try tricks and stunts. Only attempt tricks that are in your wheel house.
- Hazard #3 Conditions – Each element presents it’s own unique conditions for riding. Be sure to know what conditions are on the mountain before you begin. Switch up your gear if necessary to make sure you are property equipped for the ride.
Cross-Country Mountain Biking
Cross-Country Mountain Biking consists of long loops or out and back trails. The terrain is flatter than a downhill trail. You will encounter some of the hazards we discussed in the downhill portion but on less steep terrain. There are a few risks that you should consider before going on a cross-country ride.
- Risk #1 Hydration – If you are going on a long out and back or big loop trail be sure to pack enough water for your journey. It’s also recommended that you bring some form of nutrition to make sure you have enough energy to get back. Calculate how long the ride will take and give yourself enough water and nutrition for the whole ride. Remember the old adage that if you feel thirsty you are already in a state of dehydration.
- Risk #2 Injury – There is always the risk of getting injured in any form of mountain biking. The risks are amplified when you are on a long out and back trail. Imagine braking your ankle about 4 miles into the ride. There is limited cell service and if you were by yourself you will be in a tough spot. Always try to ride with a buddy. If you go solo understand the risks involved and check to see if there is cell service in the area you are riding.
All-Mountain or Trail Mountain Biking
All-Mountain or trail mountain biking is combination of downhill and cross-country. All of the risks & hazards above will apply to this form of mountain biking as well. The nature of trail riding does lend itself to other dangerous concerns that you should consider.
- Concern #1 Fatigue – When you go trail riding you are normally going for a long period of time. Why not? You are probably in an epic part of the world seeing amazing things that you couldn’t even get too if you weren’t on your bike. Within that excitement you might lose track of your energy levels. If you get fatigued you are more susceptible to missing a rock or tree stump and wiping out. Stay focused and take breaks if necessary to insure you have adequate energy levels to finish the ride safely.
- Concern #2 Your Ego – When you go trail riding with friends you’ll feel pushed to take the same route they take. If they are flying off a 5 foot drop and landing it you’ll feel a push to do the same. It’s imperative that you stay within your skill level. Mountain biking can go from a casual easy trail to an intense rocky trail very quickly. Be sure to recognize where you’re at and ride within your limits.
- Concern #3 Night – Night can sneak up on you if you are on a long ride. Riding a night creates an entirely new set of risks. Before you ride estimate how long you think it’ll take to get back. Leave yourself a buffer of time. If you think there is a chance you’ll run out of daylight be sure to pack in your night riding gear.
Understand Your Trail Before You Ride
Most trails are labeled with with a degree of difficulty. AllTrails labels all there trails as Easy, Moderate or Hard. Be sure to know what kind of trail you are getting yourself into. Going up is different than going down so you might have an easy time climbing to the top and then when you start your descent you could quickly realize your are out of your comfort zone. Check your ego and walk your bike if you feel unsafe. Fear is a great warning mechanism when you are mountain biking.
Keep your eye out for special markers on the trail. If it is a trail in a national park or well know area you might come across specific signs a long the way. One might prompt you to walk your bike through this area. Be sure to look out for those signs and follow there advice.
Avoid trails that have dangerous areas. Gather as much information about the trails you are going to ride before you start. This research will pay off and help you be a safer mountain biker.
Mountain Bike Injury Statistics
To give you some perspective here are some statistics from a study from Whistler Mountain Bike Park. Whistler is a good case study for downhill riding. The study reported 2000 injuries to 900 riders in a singed 5 month season. The injuries ranged from broken bones, concussion, internal bleeding and in some severe cases quadriplegia. In comparison, downhill skiing has a ratio of 1 injury per 1000 skiers. This study showed an injury rate of 1 injury per 10 mountain bikers
Here is a link to the study: The Epidemiology of Mountain Bike Park Injuries at theWhistler Bike Park, British Columbia (BC), Canada
Mountain biking is an incredible sport to stay in shape, experience nature and see amazing parts of the world. But understand mountain biking is a dangerous sports. The risks will vary with the style of mountain biking you choose to do. It is recommended that you get mountain bike lessons before your start. Always exercise caution and ride within your abilities.
How can you be safe on a mountain bike?
- Wear protective gear including, helmet, eye protection, elbow and knee pads and body armour.
- Ride with a buddy especially if you are riding in mountain terrain.
- Don’t attempt trails and tricks that are outside your limitations.
- Ride at a speed that is comfortable for you so that you are not out of control.
Is mountain biking bad for your back?
Mountain biking can hurt your back especially if you are riding on rough terrain. It is recommend that you strengthen your back outside of mountain biking to reduce your chance of hurting your back. The activity of mountain biking itself won’t strengthen your back.