How dangerous is mountain biking?

How dangerous is mountain biking?

How dangerous is mountain biking?.. Errrr… It can be very dangerous! But that risk and being close to the limit is part of the thrill for most people.

The sticker that the manufacturers slap on new bikes usually says something along the lines of “Mountain biking is a high risk sport that can result in serious injury or death…” Ookay… Noted!

If you ride, it’s pretty much inevitable that you’ll have an ‘off’ once in a while…. I know I’ve had my fair share. 😬

You don’t have to go nuts though. Nobody wants to get hurt and there are a whole bunch of things you can do to mitigate those risks and keep yourself as safe as possible – however hard you want to ride.

(WARNING! – There’s a photo of my dislocated finger further down the page that’s not for the squeamish. 🤢😂Don’t worry though, it was two years ago and all healed up. 👍)

How dangerous is mountain biking? Me, my helmet cam and my bike, separated and still travelling at speed.
How dangerous is mountain biking? Me, my helmet cam and my bike, separated and still travelling at speed.

 

Protective gear.

Before you even get on a bike, you want a lid on your head. There’s nothing more important than that grey matter inside your nut. Even the ‘bike-park-heroes’ – with nothing more than vest tops, shorts and Vans protecting their ‘bark’ from the dirt and rocks – will have a helmet plonked on their swede.

In addition to the helmet, there’s something on the market designed to cover pretty much everywhere else, although goggles, gloves and knee/shin pads are generally accepted to be the next minimum level of necessity.

On top of that, there’s back-protectors, elbow pads, neck-braces, impact shorts, full jackets, footwear… the lot! Thicker trousers and jerseys also offer more protection from scrapes and cuts. 

Getting the right balance is a personal thing and it can take some trial and error to figure out what’s right for you. There is a trade-off with comfort, overheating and flexibility but ultimately it’s best to do what’s right for you personally.

I’d love to ride in just a T-shirt up top in summer. But I’ve skinned my elbows enough times to be well over that ‘badge of honour’! I now know that a long-sleeved jersey and elbow protections are a must for me!

A big online retailer like Chain Reaction Cycles gives you an idea of what’s available. Within a matter of days you can be kitted out from the postal service.

 

Look after your bike and it’ll look after you.

You’re wanting to travel at high speed over rough, exposed, unforgiving ground and features, often through steep, thick woodland. The only thing facilitating your ability to travel successfully and precisely here is your trusty steed!

It stands to reason that you need the right weapon for the job. A bike that’s designed for and is up to the type of riding you are going to be doing will be able to handle the terrain, track the ground, suck up the hits, slow down and – importantly – stop when you want to. It’ll also be less likely to have a catastrophic failure when you’re going Mach 10 and giving it some serious punishment.

Mountain biking takes its toll on bikes and you need to check and maintain your bike regularly to makes sure everything is tight, undamaged, inflated, not over-worn and in good working order.

Find a mechanic you like for the more techy bits and if you ride a lot, expect to be seeing them a lot. 😂 My number 1 go-to in Les Gets is me ‘ol mate Jaff VTT. 👌

 

How dangerous is mountain biking?.. Less so with good training.

Proper instruction is an excellent way to reduce the risk of accidents. It’s also the best way to progress quickly and unlock more fun as soon as possible!

If you are a beginner, there are some simple techniques and drills that can get you going in no time and start building the confidence. Some shops in bike park towns won’t rent bikes to total beginners unless they have already got a lesson booked in with an accredited instructor. In fact, many bike shops have a store-linked trainer or academy and can offer a package with rental gear, protection and insurance.

I always thought I was reasonably good on a bike until I went riding with the kids in bike club. The coach gave me a couple of basic technique tweaks and my riding improved immediately. 

Interestingly, as part of the kids’ training, the coach would get them to pedal full speed at a pile of crash mats to practice crashing as safely as possible. Great to know that you can learn technique for that!

Even the top pros are looking for ways to improve their skills and techniques. When the World Cup has been in Les Gets in the last couple of years, some of them have booked in with the top local MCF coaches in pursuit of any improvements in order to give them the edge.

 

Know where you’re going.

Knowing where you are going and what’s ahead can keep you safe and increase the fun. If you don’t know or can’t see, you need to tailor your riding accordingly.

Riding a trail slowly, or simply walking it, helps you to learn it and prepare you for when you’re ready to start riding it at speed and prevent any unpleasant surprises.

Both manmade and natural trails can have enormous, mind-blowing features that are only suitable for the most elite of riders. There are no marshals policing access to these, so it’s up to every rider to take responsibility and ensure they don’t find themselves in a nasty situation.

This is the 'river gap' in Chatel and it is a cul-de-sac on a blue run.
This is the ‘river gap’ in Chatel and it is a cul-de-sac on a blue run. You definitely need the right speed and composure when you arrive at a feature like this.

 

Trail maps, signage and pointers from other riders all help build a picture of what’s ahead, how to ride the trail or whether it’s a step too far.

Choose terrain and trails that aren’t way out of your comfort zone. Research vids online before you go, read the signage. Find friends of a similar level to ride with. Aim to have a few in the mix who are a better than you and can really help you progress.

 

Trail etiquette.

If you’re riding in a bike park or trail centre there’ll be plenty of other riders to take into account. It’s good to be aware of yourself and others when you’re out there.

If you are a novice, it can be intimidating hearing someone coming up fast from behind or sitting on your backside. It can also be frustrating losing trail speed/flow and getting stuck behind slower riders. Well built trails require a certain speed to link the features and getting held up can ruin the flow until you get moving again.

If someone is behind, and obviously quicker, don’t panic but keep riding until you find a good opportunity to pull off to the side and let them past. It can feel like you’re being pressured but this is usually more in your own head than reality. Most riders have had the experience of faster ones coming up behind and will be patient while you find somewhere to let them pass and most will be grateful, too. 

Whilst we’re on the subject of stopping… If you need to stop, always pull completely off the trail so that anyone coming through fast can continue. Never stop below a jump, around a corner, or anywhere you can’t be seen from above! If a member of your group crashes, get someone to go back up the trail ASAP and into a good visible position to warn other riders and prevent a bigger pile of bikes and bodies.

A mate of mine once sent a kicker only to find a family sitting on the landing eating a picnic! By some miracle, he missed them all but they were left in no doubt to the error of their ways after receiving a hefty dose of hairdryer treatment. 

 

Measured progression and know your limits.

Too fast, too high, too big or too challenging and things can go wrong… Fast!

Having said that, to progress, you need to push the boundaries and your limits. They key is to learn how to take the right sized steps for you to make the best progress. That’s usually down to you but a professional coach will definitely help.

 

Preparation.

I’ve had three big crashes over here and when I’ve been back through the causes I think they can all be traced back to my mindset in the run up. Two of them I was over-confident, a bit rushy and pushing too hard. The third was the opposite, where I wasn’t focussed enough and my mind was wandering.

Figuring out the sweet spot as well as how to get there and stay there is a non-issue for some people but others have to do a bit of mental battle to get in the game.

If your head’s not in the right place, give yourself a moment and get it together, regardless of who you are with or any perceived pressures you’re under. Everybody’s peak state is different and for me, too relaxed is almost as ineffective as too stressed. A nice calm but pysched-up state is my optimum. A sport science mate of mine tells me this is probably the same for the majority of people.

Hands up if you think mountain biking is dangerous...
Hands up if you think mountain biking is dangerous… Yikes! Disclocated finger after running wide on a corner and hitting a tree in 2019. Still can’t get my wedding ring on. 😬

 

Stay fit, strong and flexible. The pro’s have a rigorous regime of strength, fitness and flexibility training and not only does it help them perform, it offers some resistance to injury and improves recovery rates if they are unfortunate enough to pick one up.

 

Insurance/Medical cover

Whilst you hope you’ll never need it, make sure you’ve got adequate medical cover and insurance cover, wherever you’re riding. If you have a big one and need rescue, medical treatment and then are out of action for a while, the financial implications can be considerable!

 

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