Is Mountain Biking Dangerous?
The short answer? Yes. Mountain Biking is an extreme sport and is inherently dangerous. Some would argue mountain biking is less dangerous as the rider is in control, and unlike the case of road biking there are less externalities such as cars to worry about.
However, the terrain is grueling and anything from minor to severe injury, and even worse could occur at any time if the rider loses control. Let’s delve into these dangers and how to prepare for them in more detail:
Types of Mountain Biking and Their Dangers:
Downhill Mountain Biking
Downhill mountain biking is arguably the most dangerous genre of mountain biking practiced on steep, rough terrain that often features jumps, drops, rock gardens and other obstacles. Downhill mountain bike racing is fraught with danger due to the pressure of achieving the best time and getting a win.
As the name suggests, this discipline involves flying downhill at high speeds over said terrain which comes with its very own risks. Firstly, as I alluded to, is that due to the fact that you’re going downhill, you’ll be going at speed.
The effect of gravity and the decline will naturally launch you, so it is imperative that you make good use of those funny little levers on the handlebars called brakes. While it’s intoxicatingly thrilling to go fast, make sure you’re comfortable with the speed you’re going at all times, and that your brakes and tyres are in tip top shape.
The next factor is that the conditions of downhill paths are often treacherous and loaded with obstacles and sheer drops that can be hard to spot when riding at speed.
It is crucial for these reasons that you not only know the course well and go at a comfortable pace, but that you keep your head up and stay vigilant at all times, because one little hidden rock, sharp turn or fallen tree can spell disaster if you don’t react in time.
Enduro Mountain Biking (AKA all trail)
Trail riding is the most common form of MTB riding that the greatest number of people partake in. It consists of riding on winding paths that can go up or down depending on the terrain, and hence can be said to be a sort of hybrid of downhill and cross-country riding.
While the aforementioned factors such as the obstacles, terrain, conditions and speed are just as pertinent here, there are other factors to be taken into consideration too.
The first, is that oftentimes riders get so sucked into the beautiful scenery and excitement of riding out in nature that they don’t pay attention to how fatigued and worn out they’re feeling. This leaves a rider more susceptible to losing coordination and control easier, or even being too tired to ride back completely.
In the same vein, when riding out with friends, you can often be pressured to follow the exact paths and lines your friends take, and while this is fine, you should as always ride within your comfort zone and know your limits, and don’t be that person that tries a backflip off a sheer drop to impress your friends.
This is known as “ego riding.” Finally, try to plan out and time your rides, a big concern when getting out and about is losing track of time and night falling, which presents a new set of dangers such as disorientation, inability to see obstacles and the path, etc. Common sense and knowing your limits are your best tools when endure/trail riding.
Cross Country Mountain Biking
As I alluded to above, the third and final main discipline of MTB riding is known as cross country. Similar to cross country running it entails long, flatter outback trails and paths.
Now, while this is substantially (immediately) less dangerous, there are other very serious risks and considerations that are not necessarily shared with the other genres.
The first being, that due to the nature of these long trails, people often underestimate how much water and snacks to bring to be adequately hydrated and have enough energy and nutrition throughout.
Next and last up, although this is a pertinent factor regardless of the MTB niche you ride in, is the factor of getting injured on a ride. Even if it’s not a break or worse and is just a little bleeding graze or nick, when the blood is pumping it can turn serious if you aren’t prepared adequately, but more on that later.
What’s important to consider before you even ride, are factors like riding with a buddy (which we’d recommend for long, remote trails), whether the area you’re riding in has cell phone reception, and are hospitals nearby etc.
The more planning and awareness of risks you equip yourself with, the better it’ll be if something does go wrong.
Staying Safe Whilst Mountain Biking:
Many an amateur MTB rider or even the more experienced riders will often think that merely slapping a helmet atop their skull will be sufficient enough to prevent them from injury.
Well, bad news for them unfortunately, is that a helmet won’t protect against fractured or broken limbs, hands, feet, dislocated shoulders or clavicles, face trauma etc. Now, the good news is while most of those injuries occur from human error when riding, there is a ton of different protective gear out there to protect you.
From fully protective body armour chest rigs, to elbow & knee pads and eye protection like riding goggles or even a face mask. Many riders forget the importance of eye protection, not only from the sun but for the possibility of flying debris.
Now, while we’d recommend this gear to any riders, we fully realize on a hot day wearing all of this would be ridiculously uncomfortable and cumbersome, and probably overkill for the average rider out on a trail ride.
This gear is more aimed towards especially downhill MTB riders, or riders in particularly dangerous, unpredictable or treacherous areas. So, if that applies to you, the relatively small investment in some padded protective gear can save you thousands in medical bills.
Be Prepared with These Important Accessories:
First and foremost, the most imperative piece of kit you can arm yourself with is knowledge. Knowledge not only of yourself and your limits/riding ability, but of course also of your terrain, the weather conditions etc.
It is always recommended that you ride within your capabilities and comfort, and know the terrain you’ll be riding in well. In the case of Downhill, do a pre-run inspection and make sure there are no serious objects causing hazards or danger in the way.
As far as the weather and conditions are concerned, it is basically common sense that if it’s wet and slippery it probably isn’t the best day to try be sticking landings of 10-foot drops onto a gravel path, and if it’s hot and humid you should bring extra water.
This goes for dress too; it sucks to be over or under dressed out on a ride. Finally, you should be aware if the area you’re riding in has cell phone connection, or hospitals nearby in the case of an emergency.
Moving on, once you’re fully equipped with all the knowledge and information you need, there are actual tangible things that we would recommend having when out on a ride.
The first thing, is of course a good, reliable repair kit and spare tyre etc. Things on your bike are much more likely to break or go wrong due to the nature of the high impacts, collisions and rough ground, thus you need to be prepared for not if, but when you need to repair something.
Also, it goes without saying, but you actually need to be fairly independent and know what to do to repair your bike when the inevitable happens. The next factor, is to always have a charged mobile phone, and if you have one a portable rechargeable solar powered power bank.
This will ensure it doesn’t die on you if you’re in a pinch or can’t get signal where you are, and can call emergency services or loved ones. The next, is adequate amounts of fluid and food to ensure you stay hydrated and keep up your energy not only in the case of if the ride goes smoothly, but also if you landed up stranded with an injury or broken bike etc.
Lastly, besides what I already mentioned about having the correct clothes and protective gear, you’ll want to keep some basic survival kit such as a form of maps/navigation equipment, as well as a first aid kit, and even possibly extra headlamps and tools just for your own wellbeing in the worst-case scenario.
Be prepared in terms of your body, kit and mindset:
As should be blatantly obvious by this point of the article, MTB riding in any way, shape or form is a dangerous sport. It requires intense levels of fitness and endurance, strength and conditioning.
You need to have confidence that you’re fit and strong enough to make a whole ride, as 5km on a smooth tar road is a whole different animal when compared to 5km on a rough, uneven inclining and declining cycling route, where you use your whole body to control the bike instead of just your legs.
Similarly, before any ride you should take adequate time to properly stretch and warm up to avoid injury when riding. Lastly, you need to accept how serious the risks are, and weigh up whether you’re prepared to accept them or not.
The harsh reality is that there is no half-committing to MTB, once you’re flying down that track you need to be fully committed and have accepted all the very real risks.
Many times, especially in races and such, the rider and their loved ones will blame the organisers for not marking the turns to a tee, or the search and rescue for not acting quickly enough.
The fact of the matter is, the more serious you are about the sport, the more you’ll have to put yourself at the mercy of mother nature, and as long as you accept that and respect it, you’re good. Just make sure to always come prepared, cycle within your limits, and know when to ignore your ego.
Now that you’re equipped with the knowledge of the risks associated with the different genres of MTB riding as well as what you can do to adequately prepare and hopefully avoid these risks, all you need to remember is that some risks are unavoidable, as you essentially are at the mercy of mother nature when riding.
All you can do is prepare your kit, body and mind properly, know your limits and abilities, and have fun!
I’m James Duff, a 29-year-old from Orange, California, fueled by a lifelong passion for bikes. From childhood pedaling to exploring BMX tricks and tackling mountain trails, biking has been my constant. Now, I’m translating that love into words on this blog. Join me in discovering the thrilling world of biking, as I share insights, gear essentials, and personal adventures. Let’s journey together through the exhilarating realm of cycling.