Is mountain biking dangerous? Most people consider mountain biking to be an extreme sport. And cyclists do sustain various mountain biking injuries. However, mountain bike riding isn’t the most dangerous sport in the world.
Surfing, ATV riding, basketball, football, rugby, and baseball are actually more dangerous sports than is mountain biking. I bet you found that claim quite interesting, but that’s a fact.
All of the sports I’ve listed above see a higher injury rate per 1,000 exposures than mountain biking. That said, some mountain biking injuries can be severe. And while mountain biking-related fatalities are rare, they still happen.
So, ALWAYS helmet up and wear good shin pads before you mount that bike and ride like the wind. If you’ve yet to get good shin pads and a certified cycling helmet, I’ll point you in the right direction.
For good mountain bike helmets, read these Triple 8 helmet reviews. And if you’d like to check out a few decent cycling shin pads, read: Best MTB Knee Pads.
7 Common Mountain Bike Injuries
Here’s a list of 6 common mountain biking injuries:
- Forearm fractures
- Broken hands or wrists
- Fractures in the shoulder
- Knee injuries (especially from overuse)
- Face trauma
- Head trauma or concussion
- Spine injuries
- Low-back pain
Forearm fractures, broken hands or wrists, and fractured shoulder or clavicle are the most common mountain biking injuries. Other common MBT-related injuries include trauma to the face and concussion or trauma to the head. Spine injuries also happen, and they happen more to mountain bikers than they do to road cyclists. Learn more about spine injuries while mountain biking below.
Unless you’re new to mountain biking and haven’t ridden much, you’ve likely flown over your bike’s handlebars at some point. Ask me or my hubby, it happens all the time.
When you’re rocketing through the air after your bike trips on some wet log, the first thing you think about is safety. And unless you know how to fall safely off a speeding MTB, you’ll likely put out your arms to catch yourself. That’s why you’re highly likely to end up with a fractured hand or wrist. You might also get a broken shoulder bone.
Head injuries are also pretty common. Most head injuries happen when you land on your head instead of your feet. That’s why you want to wear a decent cycling helmet, one with great aerodynamics and proper safety certifications.
Helmeting up isn’t an ironclad guarantee you’ll keep head injuries and concussions at bay forever. It just means you’ll suffer less of them. There’s tons of anecdotal evidence of cyclists who’d have died had their helmet stepped in and saved the day.
Spine Injuries Sustained While Mountain Biking
Mountain bikers remain exposed to all kinds of injuries. But spine injuries happen to mountain bikers at a significantly greater frequency than they do to road cyclists.
A road cyclist worries a lot about colliding with an oncoming car or crashing into a stationary one at speed. Spine injuries also happen to road racers, but they’re less common among these cyclists.
Mountain bikers are always doing tricks, jumps, flips, and many other kinds of crazy maneuvers. If you’ve ever watched freeriders demonstrating their riding skills on youtube, you know it’s terrifying.
Related: Different Types of Cycling Sports
These mountain bike riders seem to be focused on one thing: death. When they’re not turning like a fighter jet in the air, they’re dropping down cliffs. And as they come down, they must do so with an insane level of accuracy. Otherwise, the cyclist will miss the steep trail below and fall onto pointy rocks head-first!
With all these fast and precise maneuvers, some cyclists end up on their back instead of their feet or bum. Do you now see why spine injuries occur more often to mountain bikers than to road bikers?
Knee Injuries and Skin Abrasions
Knee injuries can happen when you fall and hit your knee on a pointy rock. Wearing good-quality knee pads sure helps. But if your injuries originate from bike/cyclist anatomy mismatch, have a consult with a knee specialist and an expert bike fitter.
For knee injuries caused resulting from overuse, see a doctor. According to kneeclinic.info, a cyclist can make up to 5,000 pedal revolutions in 1 hour. Those repetitive knee movements can result in knee pain.
Riding extremely long distances, riding too hard, or riding too often can cause problems. Again, talk to your doctor if your knee needs some attention.
As for skin abrasions or scrapes, they happen all the time. Bruises and scrapes can come from falls. And face slappers can injure your face in some cases.
And when you’re riding a really flowy trail and get in the zone, it’s easy to ride too near trees and get glazed. A rider I’m friends with once passed through a tree gate at speed and got really nice bark tattoos.
If you feel your scrapes or abrasions need medical attention, simply get it.
It’s normal to experience back pain after a long cycling tour especially if you’d carried a heavy backpack. But according to a sports physiotherapist Enduro MTB interviewed, Phil Mack the pain usually goes away in a few days.
However, if your low-back pain persists, talk to a good chiropractor or osteopath.
Most MTB-related Injuries Happen When Riding Downhill
According to the University of Utah, the majority of injuries in biking occur as riders descend downhill sections of trails. That’s because even when you’re not spinning your pedals, the gravitational pull is still at work. If the trail is pretty steep, gravity can have you build up tons of momentum. And the greater the momentum, the more forcefully you hit obstacles on your way down the hill.
Dr. Stuart Willick, MD. of the University of Utah advises downhill riders to stay alert the entire time. Another thing this cycling injury expert says to do is to stay within your riding ability.
But you also want to overcome your fear of downhill cycling and become a better mountain biker. Dr. Willick says to spend more time learning how to ride through technical terrain.
7 Ways to Avoid Danger and Injuries While Mountain Biking
Let’s face it — you can’t avoid danger and crashes 100 percent of the time while out riding the trails. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything you can do to minimize undesirable occurrences.
Below are seven strategies you can use to keep biking injuries at bay, at least some of the time.
1. Keep Your MTB Properly Maintained (Fix or Repair Wonky Parts)
Keeping your bike in great condition ensures all parts are intact and functioning as intended. Riding a bike with loose or faulty parts can put you at risk of falling and getting injured. Your bicycle needs to stay in tip-top condition if you want to ride safely most of the time.
Some of the areas that often need care and attention include the tires, rims, spokes, brakes, drivetrain. Before you get on your bike for a spin, check everything to make sure every part is working right.
Look at the drivetrain and repair or replace the derailleur if need be. Check the pedals and tweak the tension if necessary.
Inspect the brakes and tighten, loosen, repair, or upgrade them. Maybe your bike needs disc brakes instead of the existing braking system? Examine the gear shifter — is it working correctly?
If you crashed bad in the last MTB touring you had and your wheels got tacoed, true the wheels or replace them. Replace damaged spokes, too.
Take care of your tires as well. Many MTB beginners find they’re falling all the time while riding berms. Some of the time, the cause for these falls is worn-down wheels or improperly aired-up tires.
So, make sure to inflate your tires to the recommended pressure. Also, get in the habit of replacing wheels once they lose traction.
2. Stay in Good Shape for MTBing
As a mountain biker, you should prioritize staying fit. There’s a reason the best mountain bikers on Earth keep strength-training and getting better physically.
You may not get an athletic body, but you’ll get stronger the harder you train and practice.
A fit rider has enough agility to react fast enough in a crisis. A possible scenario is when you’re riding into a huge tree at speed and have to bail.
3. Wear Proper Cycling Gear
The importance of wearing proper, well-maintained cycling gear can’t be overemphasized. I’ll say it again — wear a good brain bucket and wear decent shin pads.
4. Stay Alert While Riding
Sometimes a cyclist crashes or finds themselves an inch away from a rattlesnake before they’re not careful enough. It’s easy to get distracted while riding.
Good music from your fave band. Obstacles that show up instantly, before you see them. Looking ahead 100 feet while ignoring what’s happening right under your nose. All these are little ways you can lose your concentration while cycling.
But if you stay awake throughout a ride, chances are you won’t make errors and fall.
5. Get a Trainer or Ride with Better MTBers
Perhaps proper training is the best protection against bad MTB crashes. You may not need to pay a coach for MTB lessons if all you want to do is enjoy a few leisurely rides each week.
But working with a certified MTB coach can help to quickly your confidence around MTBing fast while making you a better rider. A good rider knows how to ratchet through technical rock gardens without crashing. Or at least without falling on every ride.
If you’re planning on entering the world of competitive mountain biking, I strongly suggest hiring a trainer. Find someone certified to train in your discipline and join their training program. Whether you’re interested in cross-country racing, enduro, downhill, freeride, or pump tracking, find a qualified coach. And train hard.
Don’t want to work with a coach? That’s OK. Start riding with better mountain bikers, folks who’re willing to support you in your career. Find people who’ll push you to ride better. People who’ll guide you on improving your technique or fine-tuning your cadence.
6. Stay Adequately Fueled-up
Whether it’s a sunny summer day or a cool wintry day, stay adequately hydrated. Carry your hydration pack if it’s a long ride, or use your bottle cage if it’s a short, casual ride.
Bring some snacks, too. You’ll sweat a lot, and soon, you’ll bonk and start losing focus. So, gulp down a healthy meal and take enough water before mounting your bike.
And if your muscles need a little glycogen after hours in the saddle, grab a snack and drink more water. If you’re still gassed after fueling up, rest a bit before getting on your bike to complete the trip.
7. Learn How to Fall Safely (Bailing)
In some situations, getting off your bike (bailing) is the safest decision you can make. Yes, your bike might get ruined, but you can always replace it or repair it.
Broken wrists or fractured collar bones? These ones, too, can be treated. But you sure don’t want to spend months strapped onto some hospital bed and worrying about the ever-growing medical bills.
Google offers tons of good videos about how to bail on a mountain bike. Watch the best ones you find and practice the heck out of what you learn.
Mountain Biking Safety FAQs
1. Is Mountain Biking Dangerous?
Yes, most people consider mountain biking to be an extreme sport. However, mountain bike riding isn’t the most dangerous sport in the world. Surfing, ATV riding, basketball, football, rugby, and baseball are actually more dangerous sports than is mountain biking. That might surprise you a little, but all these sports see a higher injury rate per 1,000 exposures than mountain biking. That said, some MTB injuries can be severe and mountain biking-related fatalities aren’t rare.
2. Is Mountain Biking Alone Safe?
Mountain biking alone can be dangerous in some situations. If there are venomous snakes or other wild animals around the trails, or evil people lurking in the woods, riding solo can be dangerous. And if you ever get mechanical issues in the middle of nowhere, you’ll be all alone in a deserted area. If an angry wild hog or a danger noodle in the bushes attacks you, you’ll need all the luck in the world.
3. Is Mountain Biking Hard on Your Body?
Mountain works really well for certain parts of the body, but it doesn’t treat all your muscles the same way. Riding a mountain bike can do a whole lot of good to your lungs, heart, legs, and arms. However, riding a MTB for exercise can cause undesirable imbalances in your body. Mountain biking tends to strengthen certain muscles of the body while neglecting others. And in some cases, mountain biking can even cause overuse injuries along with tight IT bands. So, MTB can be really hard on your body.
4. Can You Die from Mountain Biking?
Yes, you can die from mountain biking, but mountain bike riding-related deaths are very rare. But that doesn’t mean you should be enjoying your MTB without a helmet and shin pads.
5. Is Mountain Biking More Dangerous Than Road Cycling?
No, existing cycling injuries data shows that road biking leads to more injuries per 1,000 exposures than mountain biking. In fact, road biking sees almost 2 times more injuries than mountain biking.
These two cycling disciplines lead to similar types of injuries, though. Most severe injuries in both road biking and mountain biking result in trauma to the head, chest, face, extremities (limbs — hands and legs), and abdomen.
Road cyclists are always at risk of being hit by a moving vehicle or ramming into one at speed. But while road cyclists face a greater risk of cyclist-motor vehicle collisions, spine injuries are more common in mountain bikers. Mountain bikers typically get spinal injuries from falls as well as from bike tricks and jumps gone wrong.
Mountain Bike Injuries: Final Thoughts
Mountain biking isn’t as dangerous as it’s made up to be, but you can’t afford to be careless or stupid. Spine injuries are common just are hand/wrist injuries, facial injuries, and head injuries including concussions.
Knee injuries, broken collarbones, abdominal injuries, and scrapes to the skin also happen. Fortunately, there are many ways to reduce the odds of getting injured badly.
Wear adequate biking gear. And never ride a bike with wonky parts. Be extra careful when pinning it on steep downhill runs.
Stay alert at all times. You can also hire a certified MTB coach or train with better riders to improve your MTB skills.
Stay full and properly hydrated during rides. And if you bonk, rest a little while enjoying a snack to replenish your energy. Finally, learn how to fall safely off a mountain bike.