Injury is a risk every mountain biker takes. As Greg Heil once wrote, “the pain, the suffering, the injury, is coming for all of us.” Whether that’s true or not, I know from personal experience that there are ways to reduce the chance of being injured from MTB crashes. Here are four simple things that anyone can do to reduce their risk of mountain bike injury.
Do strength training on a regular basis
Strength training is not as much fun as blasting through the woods on a mountain bike. However, all mountain bikers should do strength training on a regular basis. Developing strong core muscles give us greater balance and control on the bike.
Not only that, adding muscle mass will protect your bones in a crash, reducing the likelihood of fractures. You don’t need to lift weights until you bulk up like a body builder. Instead, try MTB-oriented workouts like the one Matt Miller suggested in a recent article, or like the ones James Wilson mentioned in this podcast interview.
Learn how to fall correctly
No one wants to fall off their bike, but it’s bound to happen at some point. When it does, how you fall might make all the difference in whether your body gets hurt or not.
The first thing you need to learn is that you should never tense up or brace yourself when falling. Broken wrists and collarbones are commonly caused by doing so in an over-the-handlebars crash. Instead, relax your muscles. Second, try to tuck and roll when you fall. This maneuver has two purposes. It helps protect your limbs, and it helps dissipate the force of impact when you hit the ground.
I’ve fallen off bikes the right way, and the wrong way. Believe me, the right way is much less painful.
Ride within your comfort level
There are features on trails that scare me. I just can’t get comfortable with steep, technical descents. I don’t like the feeling that I could fly over the handlebars at any moment. I’ll occasionally attempt a steep drop if I’m feeling confident, but if I’m not feeling it, I either walk down, or ride around.
Every time I have attempted to push through a feature I’m not comfortable riding, the results have been disastrous. Whether it’s your own ego, or pressure from your riding buddies, don’t give in if you are not comfortable doing so. You are no less of a mountain biker if you err on the side of caution.
If you want to advance in your riding, do so at the pace you are comfortable with, and/or in a designated skills progression environment (think coaching sessions, foam pits, and skills areas). You’ll make more progress this way without having to overcome setbacks from injuries.
Wear protective gear
Wearing a mountain bike helmet is a no brainer (ha!), and it may even be required by law. Protective gear won’t prevent all injuries, but in most cases it can significantly reduce the severity.
Beyond helmets, consider knee and elbow pads, chest and back protection, and even a neck brace. Manufacturers are starting to build protective features into everyday wear items like hydration packs and even jerseys. Consider adding one or more of these pieces and you just might be surprised how little they interfere with your riding comfort.
Risk will always be there, but it can be reduced
Even if you follow all four of these suggestions, the risk of injury will always be present every time you climb on a bike. Our goal as riders should be to reduce the risk as much as we can. The tips I have provided will help you meet this goal, and better enjoy your rides.
Do you have a suggestion for reducing the risk of injury from MTB crashes? Please feel free to share it in the comments section below.
Great article. Due to an accident (non-bike), my left elbow is not much more than a metal hinge. I lost a good part of the muscle and the ability to hold that arm perfectly straight. The elbow limits what I can do for strength training and if I place to much weight on it, it will collapse because the muscles aren’t there to hold it straight. This makes sharp left (lean over) turns and berms a more interesting challenge. I only bring this up to add to what was already said. Do as much training as you can, but you may also need to adjust your riding style and/or position to work with your body. not against it. I had to learn a different way to go into sharp left turns, one that relies less on the stability of my left elbow. And that takes practice and patience. But I agree you can work through it by training and doing the things mentioned above.
I’m glad you enjoyed the article. I understand dealing with limits caused by an injury. I am currently working around a shoulder injury I sustained in a crash. I’ve had to vary both my workouts, and my rides to work around it. It’s been tough, but it has also given me some unexpected benefits, such as exploring new routes on trails, and doing new strength training exercises.
All good points in the article. For me, in my experience, learning how to fall has been the most effective at reducing injuries. Like the article said, learn how to roll. I also had to learn how to let go of the bike!
I’m glad you liked it. Yes, learning to let go of the bike is a hard thing to learn, but very important. Having your bike land on top of you after a crash is just adding insult to injury.
Maybe a good idea to spend some time in a dojo and learn some ukemi.
Practicing falls in Judo or Aikido, on a nice mat, will give you an invaluable soft-fall technique.
Many crashes over the years have taught me how to fall! It’s a hard thing to learn, but tuck & roll comes pretty naturally to me now. Of course every now and then you get caught totally off guard and you’re on the floor before you even knew what happened. Those ones can hurt.
I found that the body part I injured most frequently when I crashed was my knees – I won’t ride without knee pads now, even for XC rides (unless they’re REALLY leisurely). Not being able to walk or drive after a crash is a big problem.
Great point. I too am a big believer in knee pads. I’ll wear them even on the easiest of trails because you just never know, and bashing your knee into a root or rock is no fun.
I got one. Try not to land on snakes. If you see one across the trail just ride over it. I live in the SW Denver foothills – rattlesnake country. We see them all the time. A few years ago I was riding with my son in early May and they were out. Saw one and kept going. Then, descending a hill at speed I came around a drop-off/bend and there was a big one stretched across the trail. Nowhere to go around and my son was behind me so I instinctively hit the brakes. Bad idea.. couldn’t stop, went over the bars and everything went black – but my son screaming “Dad get up get up get up!!” brought me out of my fog and then I felt the bite. My son had to watch me land right on the snake, and then the snake somehow got stuck on me, we tumbled down the hill together and it bit me before I could get up. 5 days in ICU and 26 vials of anti-venin convinced me that now I ride right over snakes! Wish my son had been wearing a GoPro! You can’t make this stuff up!
Noted, keep on going…hell of a story.
Wow, that’s a new one for me. Glad you came out okay.
wow, that sucks. I ran over a rattle snake on the travois trail west of golden. It scared the crap out of me. Two miles later I washed out and hit a tree… a bad day for sure…. not as bad as yours tho.
OK……thats a Most Memorable story!
Maybe a good reason to perfect the “Bunny” Hop.
Guess that viper must have connected solidly, for you to have needed that antivenin?
What did you do for First Aid at the time? (I hope you hadn’t read any of the old textbooks about hacking and sucking………)
I have been mountain biking for 30 years this coming July. I’ve been hurt two times that required me to seek medical treatment. Both times I got hurt, I was riding at my small “local” area I have ridden 150+ times. The worst I ever got hurt was while riding ONE mile per hour down a two for embankment when my front tire turned unexpectedly and I went OTB and lawn darted into the dirt which caused me to fracture my neck (C1 & C2).
Ever since recovering from that one, I actually ride more aggressively, especially in technical terrain. I have found that when I’m pushing my limits and riding more aggressively, I focus much better vs losing concentration when I’m just spinning along and not paying attention….
I agree my worst crashes are when I’m being lazy on supposedly easy terrain.
Thanks for your comments. I definitely agree that focus is another key to avoiding injuries.
Seems obvious but keeping up to date on maintenance. If sealant is fresh, brakes bled, and bolts properly torqued, those are things that won’t contribute to a loss of control, traction, parts’ failure, etc. … And a possible resulting wipeout.
Great point. Thanks for your comment.
Any suggestions on how to “practice” falling without the ironic downside of possible injury while trying to prevent injury?
Oh the irony!
One pro way is to practice at a foam pit or on an inflatable air bag designed for bike jumping. If you don’t have access to one of these facilities, grass can be your friend. Parkour and stretching seem like they could help as well with minimal risk of actual injury.
The best advice I’ve seen is from Lee McCormack (Lee Likes Bikes): —
“Learn everything in a progression — and do not progress until you can do the easy version 1001 times out of 1000”
The key is not to find it boring, but to really enjoy feeling good on those !001 shots……..
Excellent point. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way.
Dress for the crash, not the ride…….
I agree to a point. Too much body armor can hinder your movements, and cause an otherwise avoidable crash. It’s a balancing act.
Yes. And hot……
But all this new lightweight armor will help. I wish there was a jersey with armored sleeves. That lower arm can get shredded too.