While skiing this past winter I had a morbid question on my mind: do more people die in skiing related accidents or mountain bike accidents each year? One article I read in the local paper mentioned there had been something like 5 deaths on the slopes in Aspen alone that winter which seemed high to me, especially compared to the usual dearth of news concerning mountain bike deaths during the summer months.
While it’s tough to get absolute numbers I did come across a website that mentions there are around 1,000 bicycle related deaths in the United States each year, 75% of which are due to head injuries (need another reason to wear your helmet?). In fact, the site claims that bicycling is the most common cause of sports or recreational related injuries in America (though not specifically deaths). Of course this includes riders of all ages (a fair number of them kids skinning their knees) and I’d imagine a lot of these accidents also involve automobiles and pavement.
So what about mountain bike specific deaths? This summer I read of at least one person killed by a bear on a mountain bike trip but that wasn’t really the bike’s fault (I suppose a hiker would have been just as vulnerable). Despite the risks that mountain bikers often take, there just isn’t a lot of evidence that mountain biking is any more dangerous than downhill skiing, a sport more than 10 million Americans participate in each year.
In fact, I’d argue that mountain biking and cycling in general SAVE the lives of many more Americans each year. Mountain biking is an easy and fun way to get a low impact workout for anyone struggling with weight or other health issues. Cardiovascular fitness and weight loss are just two side effects from mountain biking in addition to the psychological lift you get from having fun with friends. Downhill skiing is fun but I don’t know of too many people who have lost weight by doing it.
Mountain biking can sometimes get a bad rap from land managers afraid of risking lawsuits that may arise from such a “dangerous” activity. But giving children and adults a safe place to ride away from the streets could actually save lives and prevent injuries–if only we give it a chance.