How Dangerous Is Mountain Biking And How To Stay Safe

Mountain biking is a thrilling and exciting activity that’s rapidly gaining popularity among adventure enthusiasts. But with that thrill comes danger.

So, how dangerous is mountain biking, and what are the risks involved?

Riders can suffer from a range of injuries, from minor scrapes and bruises to more severe fractures, head trauma, and spinal cord injuries.

In this article, we’ll explore the dangers of mountain biking, the most common injuries, and how to minimize the risks.

Let’s get started.

Is Mountain Biking More Dangerous Compared To Other Sports?

Contrary to popular belief, mountain biking is actually as safe as many other outdoor activities.

In fact, the number of injuries sustained while mountain biking is similar to that of other sports. And don’t worry too much – most injuries tend to be minor.

The risk of injury varies depending on the type of mountain biking, your skill level, and how long you ride.

Interestingly, a study found that mountain bikers have an overall injury rate of 0.6% per year and 1 injury per 1000 hours of biking (which makes mountain biking more dangerous than skiing). (1)

The most common injuries are shoulder/clavicle injuries (25.6%), followed by wrist (9.6%), knee (7.1%), and head injuries (7.1%). Concussions were also reported by 4% of all riders. (2)

Injuries are distributed across the lower leg (27%), upper extremity (25%), and head and neck (21%). (3)

Downhill mountain bikers have a higher chance of getting injured compared to Enduro and Cross-country bikers. In fact, for every 1000 hours of exposure, they have a whopping 16.8 injuries. That means, on average, they get injured once every 59.5 hours of riding. (4)

For this reason, the race organizer will strategically place course marshals across the trail to blow the whistle whenever riders crash so medical personnel can quickly come to the rescue.

Common Mountain Biking Injuries

Although the injury rates for mountain biking are comparable to other common sports, riders can still experience severe injuries, especially when they venture into unfamiliar terrain, perform risky tricks, or fail to use proper safety equipment.

Before you get into mountain biking, it’s best to know the most common injuries that mountain bikers experience and the protective gear that can reduce the risk of injury.

There are 5 most common mountain biking injuries:

  • Head injury
  • Bone fractures
  • Joint injury
  • Internal organ injury
  • Spinal injury

1. Head Injury

As a passionate mountain biker myself, I know that the thrill of hitting the trails can be unmatched.

However, we must also acknowledge the risks involved in this adventure sport, especially when it comes to head trauma.

Injuries to the head can happen in a number of ways, but the most common cause is when a rider falls and hits their head on a hard surface like a rock or tree.

The severity of the injury can range from a minor concussion to a life-threatening head injury.

There are a few types of head injuries that are common to mountain biking, including concussions, skull fractures, and intracranial hemorrhaging (bleeding inside the skull, which can be life-threatening).

putting bandage on the head of cyclist who got injured

Symptoms of these injuries can range from headaches, dizziness, nausea, confusion, and sensitivity to light, to loss of consciousness.

To prevent head injuries, wearing a top-quality helmet is a no-brainer. A helmet is designed to absorb the impact of a fall and can significantly reduce the risk of head trauma.

In case of a suspected concussion, take immediate action by stopping the ride and seeking medical evaluation.

Rest is essential for recovery, and riders should avoid any physical activity until they have been cleared by a doctor.

Remember, even a mild concussion can have serious long-term consequences if not treated properly.

2. Bone Fractures

Bone fractures are one of the most common injuries experienced by mountain bikers, and unfortunately, they can have severe consequences.

Not only are fractures incredibly painful, but they often require a long recovery period and may even lead to a permanent cessation of mountain biking.

The collarbone is one of the most frequently fractured bones in mountain biking. (5)

bone fracture after cycling incident treatment at home

This bone connects our shoulder blade to our breastbone, and it’s often broken during a fall when we land on our shoulder.

But it’s not just collarbones that we need to worry about. Wrist and forearm fractures are also pretty common in our sport, and they can seriously mess with our ability to balance and control our bike.

And let’s not forget about the long recovery time – it can take months to fully heal from some of these injuries.

But the worst part? The risk of long-term complications. A fractured collarbone can cause chronic pain and limit our range of motion in the shoulder joint, making even everyday activities a struggle.

3. Joint Injuries

man having injury while cycling outdoors

Let’s talk about joint injuries – something we all dread, but unfortunately, it’s a common occurrence in our sport.

When we subject our joints to sudden or excessive force or torsion, we put ourselves at risk.

The most vulnerable joints are our shoulders, wrists, ankles, elbows, and knees – all essential for maintaining balance and stability while navigating rough terrain.

  • Shoulder injuries are particularly pesky in mountain biking. Falling onto your shoulder can result in injuries to the acromioclavicular joint, commonly known as AC joint sprains. These injuries can range from mild to severe, and they can significantly impact your ability to keep riding.
  • Wrist injuries are also common, usually resulting from falls where we try to break the impact with our outstretched hands. These injuries can take a long time to heal fully and can be either sprains or fractures of the wrist bones.
  • Ankle injuries can occur due to the twisting and turning required when we ride on uneven terrain. A severe ankle sprain can take several weeks to heal fully and may require extensive physical therapy.
  • Elbow injuries, such as lateral epicondylitis or “tennis elbow,” happen when we repeatedly apply excessive pressure on the elbow joint, causing pain and inflammation.
  • Knee injuries can range from minor sprains to severe ligament (torn ACL) or tendon damage, resulting from the constant pressure and stress applied to the knee joint when we ride.

The most common causes of joint injuries in mountain biking are sudden impacts due to falls, improper landings, and torque forces generated by the bike’s movement.

Wear proper protective gear, such as helmets, shoulder pads, knee pads, elbow pads, and wrist guards to reduce joint injury risks.

a man with leg injury in a special compression fix

4. Internal Organs Injuries

While joint injuries are pretty common, internal injuries are rare but they can be seriously dangerous.

These types of injuries usually happen due to high-speed collisions.

The scary thing about internal injuries is that they can affect your essential organs like your lungs, liver, spleen, and kidneys.

When you collide with something or take a hard fall, the impact can cause serious damage or even rupture these organs.

This is a big deal because if left untreated, it could potentially be life-threatening.

Internal injuries aren’t always visible to the naked eye, which can make them tricky to diagnose without proper medical attention.

Even if you’re wearing protective gear, these injuries can still happen.

Remember that getting medical attention quickly can make all the difference in reducing the severity and complications of these types of injuries. 

5. Spine and Spinal Cord Injuries

Spine and spinal cord injuries are severe and can cause paralysis or permanent disability, leaving many mountain bikers with a sense of fear and hesitation before hitting the trails.

While spinal cord injuries are statistically rare in mountain biking, they still occur and can be debilitating.

Fortunately, numerous safety gears are available to protect mountain bikers from spinal cord injuries, including body armor and neck braces.

Body armors are designed to shield our backs and chests from nasty impacts and scrapes with the help of shock-absorbing materials and lightweight construction.

They’re awesome at reducing the risk of spinal cord injuries, but some riders find them a tad uncomfortable and restrictive.

Neck braces are designed to provide extra support to our necks and distribute forces away from our spines in the event of a crash or fall.

They’re super effective in minimizing the severity of spinal cord injuries, but some riders find them a bit cumbersome and limiting in terms of head movement and peripheral vision.

Practical Tips To Minimize Injury Risks

We all know that accidents and injuries can happen to anyone, regardless of skill level or the type of trail you’re riding on.

But there are steps you can take to minimize potential hazards and make your ride as safe as possible.

In this section, we’ll dive into some awesome tips on how you can take control of the risks and make mountain biking less dangerous.

Get in Shape

Before hitting the trail, it’s crucial to get your body in tip-top shape.

Physical conditioning is the first step in mountain biking safety, and it involves building endurance and strength.

To boost your endurance, hit the flat pavement on your bike and build up your stamina over time.

And when it comes to strength training, you’ll need to focus on your core muscles, legs, biceps, triceps, and shoulder muscles.

strength training in modern gym

Start with basic exercises like squats, lunges, and planks, and then work your way up to more advanced moves.

And don’t forget about stretching. It’s just as important as the other exercises for improving your flexibility and preventing muscle strain.

This is especially important when navigating through rough terrains and unexpected obstacles.

Stay Within Your Skill Level

Starting with easier trails and obstacles is a great way to build your biking skills and confidence.

These trails will give you the opportunity to master the basics, like shifting gears and braking, before you move on to tougher rides.

As you progress through each level, you’ll become more comfortable and confident, allowing you to take on more challenging routes.

woman riding a mountain bike in the forest

Remember, if you start to feel uneasy while riding, it’s always best to slow down or stop. Don’t try to tackle all obstacles in one go, especially on more difficult trails.

This can lead to accidents and injuries, which we definitely want to avoid.

Instead, take your time and don’t be afraid to walk your bike through tricky sections if you’re not feeling 100% confident.

Master Your Landings

Failing to land correctly after a jump or maneuver can lead to traumatic injuries like broken bones, knee pain, and severe head injury.

So, start by mastering the basics. Get comfortable with your bike, practice body positioning and balance, control your pace, and learn to brake efficiently.

Once you’ve got these skills down, challenge yourself with bunny hops, drop-offs, and jumps.

But don’t go at it alone – consider taking a course from a certified instructor. They can teach you all the essential skills, including how to use your suspension and balance your weight distribution.

mountain bike jump and man doing extreme stunt

And most importantly, they can help you mentally prepare for those nerve-wracking drops. 

Focus on landing on your rear wheel first and keeping your weight toward the back of the bike to maintain control.

And don’t forget the power of mental preparation. Visualize the perfect landing, control your fear and anxiety, and stay confident and focused. 

Plan And Review Your Route

It’s all about doing your research. You can chat with some locals, scour the internet, and check out trail map finder apps.

But, don’t stop there. Hop on over to YouTube and watch some videos of the routes you’re thinking of taking.

This will give you a good idea of what’s in store and help you mentally and physically prepare for the adventure ahead.

As you start mapping out your route, keep an eye out for any obstacles that might get in your way – like pesky rocks, gnarly roots, or exciting jumps.

This kind of intel will be super helpful when it comes to planning your breaks and staying hydrated along the way.

Maintain Your Bike and Equipment

If your bike is not functioning correctly, it can lead to dangerous falls or accidents. 

Before setting out for a ride, take a good look at your bike and check for any signs of wear and tear.

Ensure that the tires have the right amount of pressure and tread, the brakes are in good working order, and the handlebar and bolts are well-balanced.

a man repairs a bike in his small business workshop

Listen out for any strange sounds, like a squeaky wheel or a squealing brake. Visually inspect your brake pads for wear and tear and check if it needs replacement.

These could be signs of a bigger problem, so don’t ignore them! If you do spot anything out of the ordinary, make sure to fix it before you start your journey.

And don’t forget to pack a repair kit. You never know when a puncture or breakdown might happen, so it’s always good to be prepared.

Include essentials like spare tubes, tire levers, multi-tools, and a pump.

With these items handy, you’ll be ready to tackle any issue that comes your way.

Due to the rough nature of mountain biking, your bike will inevitably get scratched and chipped here and there. I recommend investing in a bike frame protection kit.

Wear Safety and Protection Equipment

Wearing the right safety and protection equipment can significantly reduce the risk of accidents, unwanted injuries, and bruises.

In fact, studies have shown that wearing a helmet can reduce the risk of head, brain, and neck injuries by up to 80%. (6)

Adding cycle gloves to your outfit can also provide critical protection to your hands in case of falls or accidents.

In addition to helmets and gloves, other essential equipment for mountain bikers includes knee pads, elbow pads, and comfortable trousers that provide support and protection against scrapes and cuts.

Biking pads and armor can also help protect your upper body, prevent bone fractures, and aid in recovery time.

Adjust Your Bike

The best way to adjust your bike fit is to have a professional bike fitting done.

A certified bike fitter will look at your body shape, size, and riding style, and adjust various elements of your bike such as the brake levers, handlebar, and seat so that it fits you perfectly.

Stay Hydrated

Mountain biking is intense and will push your physical limits to the max. But if you’re not careful, you can really do some damage to your body.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not staying hydrated. Dehydration can cause all sorts of unpleasant symptoms like dizziness, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating.

And let me tell you, when you’re out there on the trail, you need all the focus you can get. So don’t mess around with this one, folks.

Learn From The Pros

mountain biking with friends

If you’re looking to up your mountain biking game, taking a cue from the pros might be just the ticket.

By studying their techniques for navigating jumps and drops, you can gradually hone your own skills and become a force to be reckoned with on the trails.

It won’t happen overnight, but the payoff is well worth the effort.

If you’re looking for a more structured approach, clinics led by experienced riders can help you sharpen your technique and gain a deeper understanding of essential skills like cornering, braking, and jumping.

Don’t be afraid to invest some time and energy into this pursuit – the rewards are waiting for you out there on the trails.

Learn From Your Mistakes

When you slip up on the trail, don’t just brush it off – take the time to reflect on what went wrong and why.

By being honest with yourself and analyzing your riding style, you can pinpoint any errors that may have contributed to the mistake.

This will help you avoid making the same mistake again in the future. Every mistake is an opportunity to learn and grow.

Don’t Be Overconfident

Let’s talk about a common mistake that we all might have made at one point or another – overestimating our skill level.

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced rider, it’s easy to let success on easy trails get to your head.

But we need to remember that every trail is unique and presents its own set of challenges that require proper skill and experience.

Now, I know peer pressure can be a significant factor in accepting risky scenarios. We might feel pressured to tackle challenging terrain or keep up with more experienced riders.

mountain biker on a bike reflecting on his skill

But let me tell you, safety should always come first. It’s crucial to choose routes that align with our level of experience and not try to keep up with the pack or take on risky routes just to please others.

I get it, we all want to push ourselves and challenge our limits. But we need to take it slow on tough routes and avoid over-exerting ourselves to the point of exhaustion.

Approaching challenging terrain with a healthy dose of caution can prevent accidents and make for a more rewarding experience overall. Ride wisely!

Don’t Get Too Close With Other Riders

We all know how exhilarating it can be to fly down the trail at high speeds, but safety should always be our top priority.

Even if the track is only wide enough for one rider at a time, try to keep at least a bike-length distance from the rider in front of you.

This can help prevent collisions and accidents that could ruin your ride or even worse, cause serious injury.

maintaining distance during mountain biking with friends

One of the biggest risks we face out there is traffic.

With so many riders of varying skill levels and styles on the same trail, it’s crucial to be aware of your surroundings and anticipate the movements of others.

Even the most experienced riders can make mistakes, and accidents can happen when you least expect them.

Stay Alert At Intersections

Some common hazards associated with track intersections include other riders, hikers, and even animals wandering across the trail.

And on busy days, the chances of an accident increase as more people are likely to be around. 

Remember to always anticipate the unexpected and approach intersections with care.

To stay safe, it’s important to slow down around blind corners. Follow common track etiquette, like using hand signals to alert other riders of your presence and keeping to the right side of the trail.

Being passive when there are more people around is also a great approach to prevent any unnecessary collisions.

Controlled Crashing

Controlled crashing is a valuable technique that can help mountain bikers avoid serious injuries.

Essentially, controlled crashing implies that a biker should prepare for a crash, so it happens under their control, rather than recklessly colliding with a tree, rock, or another obstacle.

It involves ensuring that you have your feet on the ground, your arms and legs tucked in, and then rolling out of the fall.

This way, you can correct the direction of the fall and reduce the impact of the crash resulting in minimized injuries.

If you’re using an Apple Watch, it has a “fall detection” feature and will immediately prompt you to call your emergency contact when you crash.

Get An Insurance Against Bike Accidents

Accidents on a mountain bike can be serious and lead to injuries that require medical attention. They can also result in long-term health problems that affect your quality of life.

On top of that, the cost of repairing or replacing your bike after an accident can put a dent in your wallet.

That’s why it’s crucial to have insurance coverage that caters to the unique needs of mountain bikers.

It not only protects you from unforeseeable events but also gives you peace of mind while you’re out riding the trails.

Beware Of Uncontrollable Risks

While we can definitely take some steps to keep ourselves safe, there are some risks that we just can’t control.

Things like uneven terrain, sudden weather changes, and even wildlife encounters are just a few examples.

It’s important that we’re aware of these potential dangers and plan accordingly to minimize them as much as possible.

But, let’s be real – one of the biggest risks out there is slippery paths.

Even with the best equipment, like top-of-the-line tires designed specifically for off-road biking, a slippery trail can easily cause us to lose control of our bike and end up with some pretty nasty injuries.

And don’t even get me started on the glare from the sun – that can seriously mess with our vision and make it tough to spot any obstacles or changes in terrain, especially when we’re in high speed.

We need to stay smart and alert out there.

Final Takeaways

I’m here to tell you that while there are risks involved in this adrenaline-fueled sport, it’s not nearly as dangerous as some folks make it out to be. 

I’m a seasoned rider and I’ve seen it all. Fatal injuries can occur but they’re pretty rare.

I can’t stress enough how important safety gears are.

Trust me, you don’t want to take any chances when it comes to protecting your precious body.

Make sure to ride with a buddy. Not only is it more fun to hit the trails with a partner in crime, but having someone to rely on in case of an emergency is crucial. 

Last but not least, use common sense when it comes to your speed and skill level.

Don’t try to be a hero and attempt terrain that’s way beyond your abilities.

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