At the beginning of its mountain biking journey, every rider is troubled by the question: How dangerous is mountain biking? With this question comes the need to properly understand the risks of mountain biking and how to avoid the injuries that are the result of negligence and a lack of proper trail riding skills.
The average injury rate for mountain biking is 1 injury / 1000 h. The majority of injuries come from riding too fast downhill and not developing the proper trail riding skills. Approximately 27% of injuries occur to the lower leg (slipping from the pedal), 21% to the knee, and 25% to the forearm.
In this article, we will discuss the risks of mountain biking, the most common injuries, and how to avoid them and we will compare mountain biking with other outdoor sports. At the end of this article, you will have a better understanding of the risks and injuries that come with riding your mountain bike on the trails, but the most important knowledge you will get is how to prepare so you will minimalize all the risks of injuries. So keep reading and have fun on the trails!
Mountain Biking Compared to Other Outdoor Sports
After hours of research and collecting data from the most reputable sources online (PubMed, PMC, SMA, etc.) we compiled the moe relevant statistics in a bar chart so we will be able to analyze how dangerous is mountain biking related to other outdoor sports and activities.
As a result of this research, we can see that mountain biking is not that dangerous compared with the most popular outdoor activities. Mountain biking has almost double the injury rate of hiking, shocking I know, I was sure that mountain biking is at least ten times more dangerous than just walking in nature, but this is not the case.
Another interesting fact is that swimming has 4 times the injury rate of mountain biking. Now we can easily say that mountain biking has a low injury rate compared to popular outdoor activities like swimming and running.
According to Active & Safe Central 70% of mountain biking injuries seen in hospitals are caused by falls and 75% of injuries resulting from enduro or cross-country mountain biking are minor. Take into consideration that most mountain biking injuries occur in mountain bikers that compete in events, in training, or during the event.
Most of the head and arms injuries come from falling over the handlebars because their lower with women are more exposed to this risk than men. The most common injuries when mountain biking occur to the lower foot due to the foot sleeping from the pedals are riding too close to branches and rubbing your foot on them.
The Risks of Mountain Biking
As with any sport or outdoor activity, several risks come with mountain biking. There are three main types of risks when mountain biking:
- The risk of injury: The main reason for injuries is falling off the bike, this can occur when you ride outside your skill level or you are not paid the proper attention to the trail
- Difficulty in controlling the body temperature: This is mainly caused by the extreme weather and log rides in extreme heat or cold
- Mountain bike failure: The main reason for bike failure is a lack of or inadequate mountain bike maintenance.
The risk of injury comes mainly from falling off the bike (70% of cases). The main factors that contribute to the three types of risks detailed above are shown in the table below.
|Risk of injury|
(slips, cuts, head injuries, strained backs, arms and feet injuries, etc)
|Difficulty in controlling body temperature||Mountain bike failure|
|Poor balance||Cold, wet days||Brake pads worn|
|Steep descents||Very hot – sunny day||Unserviced brakes (periodic fluid change on hydraulic disk brakes)|
|wrong bike size – your center of mass is to forward on descents||Long rides||Derailleur snapped|
|Too much speed||Inappropriate clothing||Punctures|
|Wet surface||Lack of or inappropriate hydration||Pedal snapped|
|Loose surface||Cracks on the bike frame|
|Too close to the person in front||Unserviced suspensions|
Most Common Mountain Biking Injuries
Now that we examined the main risk of mountain biking, let us examine the most common injuries resulting from exposing ourselves to these risks.
Common mountain biking injuries:
- Skin abrasions: cuts, grazes, or damage to the soft tissue in the skin.
- Shoulder separation: damage of the AC joint ligament situated at the outer side of the collar bone, attached to the front of the shoulder blade.
- Broken collarbone: extremely painful and can make it difficult to lift your arm.
- Knee pain: this is a result of overuse due to Incorrect saddle height, saddle positioning, and foot placement.
- Lower back pain: this is a result of a bad riding position and absorbing too many shocks from the bumps on the trail.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome: caused by pressure on the median nerve in the wrist which provides feeling to your thumb, index, and middle fingers.
- Wrist fractures and breaks: result in using your hand to minimize the impact on crashes.
- Saddle sore: long rides and not using proper mountain biking shorts.
- Contusion or concussion: a head injury that occurs due to crashes.
Accordingly to a study conducted by the Enduro World Series 40.7% of the 1,940 Enduro riders questioned reported suffering a significant injury. The shoulder/clavicle was the most commonly injured body location, followed by the head, hand, and lower leg (Table below).
|Body location||% of injuries||Severity (days to recover)|
|rest of the body||32.5||1 – 45|
How to Prevent Injuries When Mountain Biking
Lowering the risk of injuries in mountain biking comes down to understanding and following some simple guidelines, as follows.
Get a Trail Wordy Mountain Bike
A trail wordy mountain bike will have good geometry, good hydraulic disk breaks, a decent transmission system, and the proper suspension for the type of terrain that you are riding on. Stay away from the cheap 200-300$ so-called mountain bikes, they will bring unnecessary risk to your rides.
Get the Correct Bike Size for Your Body
On stiff descents having a bike that fits you is essential and will lower the risk of crashing. If the mountain bike is too small your center of mass will be too forward on the bike on descents and this will increase the risk of you falling over the handlebars, which could lead to head injuries. Not having your center of mass at the correct spot related to the bike’s center of mass can make the front or the back wheel too lose traction.
Get All the Mountain Biking Equipment You Need
There are two pieces of safety equipment that heavily impact the risks of injuries in crashes: a good mountain biking helmet, and knee/elbow pads.
Mountain biking glasses will protect your eys at high-speed descents from small bugs and rocks from the trail, more often than not when I descend I hear small bugs hitting my glasses. As you know when you descend at high speed your eyesight is the most important asset you can have.
Mountain biking shoes will give you all the grip you need on the pedals and will highly reduce the risk of your foot slipping off the pedals.
Do Proper Maintenance to Your Bike
If you do proper maintenance to your mountain bike you will prolong the life of your bike and reduce to a minimum the risk of the bike breaking down and injuring you. Basic maintenance:
- change wore brake pads
- bleed your breaks
- lubricate your chain and cassette
- check tire pressure
- check for snapped pedals and derailleur
- visually inspect your bike for cracks on the frame
Ride at Your Comfort Level and Don’t Lose Focus
Always ride on trails that are not above your skill level, in time you will improve and will be able to tackle the more technical trails. Do not push yourself to ride too fast, maintain the speed at which you feel confident and comfortable, and ride with caution on the downhill. Approximately 90% of big crashes are when riding too fast downhill.
Increase Your Upper Body Strength
Mountain biking is a full-body workout and in some situations, you will need upper body strength, lacking it you will struggle on some technical trails that have jumps incorporated in them and this will make you more vulnerable to crashes.
If you are interested in which muscles are engaged in mountain biking, we recommend you read this article.
Adjust to the Weather Conditions, Drink Enough Water, and Wear the Proper Clothing
If the temperature outside is too high or too low your body will have a hard time regulating its temperature and this could lead to serious health problems, even death. Be aware that increased heart rate, thirst, dizziness, cramps, cool and clammy skin, and confusion are symptoms of hyperthermia, this can be caused by long rides in the heat.
When riding in cold conditions adjust your clothing to the low temperature outside, use 2 or 3 layers to keep warm, and use windproof jackets and pants.
If you feel that is too cold or too warm outside and you are not sure if you have the right equipment, it is better to skip the ride and do some research to be prepared next time.
Adjust Your Bike to Fit You
Properly adjust the height of the saddle, and the position of the saddle to be well-suited for your body. Adjust your suspension for your body weight.
What Is the Death Rate from Mountain Biking?
Only a few studies reported data on mortality during mountain biking. A study made by journals.lww.com concludes that only one mountain biker dyed out of 399 patients during the 10-year period in wich the study was conducted in the three trauma centers of the Greater Vancouver area, which corresponds to a case fatality rate of 0.25%.
After all, we discussed above we can conclude that mountain biking is as risky as all outdoor sports, and with proper prevention of the main risks to which you are exposed while riding on the trails, you can minimize the chance of injury. If you are thinking of starting your journey in the mountain biking world, think no more and have fun treading the trails!
I started mountain biking many years ago to improve my overall health state. After my first ride, I fell in love with the sport. Now I spend dozens of hours a week researching and training to compete in local XC and Enduro events.