How dangerous is mountain biking?
The injury rate is .37 per 100 hours for cross-country mountain biking and is 4.34 per 100 hours for downhill mtb racing. This stat was calculated using data from 31 studies concerning injuries and mountain biking.
How does mtb compare to other outdoor activities?
A study fromWilderness and Environmental Medicinetracked injuries from leisure activities over two years in the USA, using data from hospital tracking software. The researchers then calculated the injury rate for each outdoor activity. Here are the results:
Activity & injuries per 100,000 participants (injury rate):
Mountain Biking (2.6) T
Water-skiing/tubing (2.6) T
Sledding/snow tubing (7.7)
From this data, the hiker injury rate is nearly double that of the mountain bikers.
Speaking from personal experience, I have suffered several injuries from hiking, but none to date from XC or singletrack riding. As in most recreational activities, injuries are determined by the choices of the participant more so than the specific activity.
Do bicycle helmets improve the safety of cycling and MTB riding?
Yes. Bicycle helmets significantly reduce the risk of injuries and severity. A professor in Norway analyzed 55 studies on cycling injuries from 1989 - 2017. What did he discover?
The author’s conclusion,
“wearing a helmet while cycling is highly recommendable.”
Ah, you think??
The use of bicycle helmets reduced:
Head injury by 48%
Serious head injury by 60%
Traumatic brain injury by 53%
Face injury by 23%
Reduced fatalities or seriously injured cyclists by 34%(Video) GMBN's Travel Guide To Santiago, Chile | A Mountain Bike Scene Check
If you are looking for tips or helmet recommendations check out helmets.org.
Overuse injuries from mt. biking/cycling
When most people think of injuries, the first thing that comes to mind is falls, crashes, or other accidents.
While these injuries can be the most severe, repetitive or overuse injuries can nag for years, and make any activity seem like a challenge. Back, knee, neck, shoulder, and butt are all common areas that exhibit pain in overuse type injuries.
One of the best and easiest solutions is making sure your bike is properly adjusted.
A 2010 study out of Austria studied mountain bike adjustments and overuse injuries. The biggest finding, “The inclination of the saddle and the saddle-pedal distance were responsible for 2/3 of the recorded syndromes.”
The position of the saddle is the crucial point in the bike’s adjustment.
Distance from the saddle to the handlebars is also very important.
Anterior inclination of the saddle between 10 to 15 degrees was recommended by the researchers
While proper bicycle adjustments prevent many injuries, it does take some expertise to get right. The study from Austria was studying professional mountain biker and 2/3 of these pros still had poorly adjusted MTBs. If you’re not sure how to properly adjust your bike, then seek out an expert in your area. Check-in with a local bike shop or look for a professional bike fitter.
FULL SUSPENSION vs hardtail
In studies looking at injuries, hardtail riders commonly report more pain, particularly in the lower back. Hardtail bikes have significantly more vibrations and impact exposures than fullys. However, plenty of studies show that there is no difference between a hardtail and full-suspension bikes when it comes to vibrations and terrain impacts.
I like riding both hardtails and fullys. I let the trail dictate the bike I’m going to ride. Bike technology has come such a long way recently, and studies generally take time to catch up. My best guess going forward is that research will favor full suspension bikes in terms of comfort and a reduction in overuse injuries. However, not all trails require a full suspension and the lighter hardtails are nice for trails with long climbs and smooth descents.
Cause & type of injury
A 2010 study from The American Journal of Sports Medicine published a study that looked at mountain biking related injuries in the United States during a 13-year period.
Of the near 5000 emergency room cases:
70% were due to falls
14% from going over the handlebars
Fractures accounted for nearly 30% of the cases
21 % from sprain and strains
6 ways to reduce risk of injuries
While preventing accidents from happening is impossible, there are ways to prevent or minimize the vast majority of injuries. The most common are not even from falls, yet falls are oftentimes the most severe. Here are six ways to help reduce potential mtb injuries.
correct muscle imbalances
Avoid repetitive/overuse injuries. Muscle imbalances create a cascading effect of whole-body issues. It’s best to address these issues as they come up and avoid long-term chronic pain. Pedaling away while sitting in the saddle for hours on end can eventually lead to repetitive stress syndrome unless corrective action is taken.
Any activity can lead to overuse injuries if done frequently enough, including sitting at your desk. Check out our article on addressing muscle imbalances for cycling/MTBing.
According to the research,hiking causes 1.8 times more injuries than mountain bike riding. Why? Cyclists and MTBers are significantly less likely to suffer from stress fractures and muscle tears. However, repetitive stress syndrome of the shoulder and knee are prevalent in participants.
make sure bike is properly adjusted
The vast majority of mountain biking injuries are either the direct result or caused partially from improper bike fitting. This is one of the easiest solutions, yet many people don’t seek out a professional to properly fit the bike. Also, is your bike set-up for maximum performance, or safety? Unless you are a racer, having your bike adjusted for safety is far more important and will help ensure years of fun on your mtb.
dress for the crash and not the ride
No one plans on falling, yet it happens. Wearing a properly fitting bike helmet and wearing gloves specifically designed for MTBing is essential. Some riders use knee/elbow pads, chest protectors, full-faced helmets, and mouth guards. This gear is generally reserved for the bike-park or pure downhill biking in a ski area. Wear what makes you feel comfortable, but not so comfortable that you think you're invincible.
Ride within your ability and comfort level
Mountain biking like every sport/activity takes time to practice to improve. Riding with friends on advanced terrain is fine, as long as you dismount for sections that are clearly for expert riders only. The majority of ski/snowboard injuries I see are from people that are on runs they shouldn’t be on. Singletrack is different. If a section or two throws you out of your comfort zone, simply dismount and walk your bike.
well maintained bike
The number of injuries suffered from poorly maintained bikes is relatively unknown. However, I discovered one study from the ’90s that estimated 13% of all bike accidents were due to faulty equipment. Regular maintenance of your car is important, as is the routine service of your bicycle.
trail worthy mtb
The worst crashes that I have witnessed all involved bikes that should not have been on that specific trail. Unless you are trying for an epic fail video, riding a huffy from the 80s down advanced singletrack is only going to lead to an epic crash
Bike's equipped with hydraulic brakes, tubeless tires, dual suspension, a dropper post, and 29-inch tires perform significantly differently than ones with lesser parts. While top-end mountain bikes are expensive…….you get what you pay for.
Pro Bike Fitting, n0t just for roadies
For more information, click here
Jesse is a director for Pedal Chile and lives in Patagonia, Chile. In addition to being an avid singletrack rider, this author is a lover of all books. Jesse has a Master of Science in Health and Human Performance and a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology.
Additional articles from Jesse at Pedal Chile
Mountain bike glasses or MTB goggles ?
Difference between a road and mountain bike helmet
What is MTB ‘travel’?
Is Telluride Good For Beginners
Is it cheaper to ski or snowboard
How to make skiing more affordable
How Many Countries In South America
Most unique national parks in the world
What are saddle sores
Why are bike fittings expensive
Feet Slipping Off Bike Pedals?
Cheapest Road Bike Upgrade
Sources and References
Carmont, M. (2008). Mountain biking injuries: a review.British Medical Bulletin,85(1), 101-112. doi: 10.1093/bmb/ldn009
Flores, A., Haileyesus, T., & Greenspan, A. (2008). National Estimates of Outdoor Recreational Injuries Treated in Emergency Departments, United States, 2004–2005.Wilderness & Environmental Medicine,19(2), 91-98. doi: 10.1580/07-weme-or-152.1
Høye, A. (2018). Bicycle helmets – To wear or not to wear? A meta-analyses of the effects of bicycle helmets on injuries.Accident Analysis & Prevention,117, 85-97. doi: 10.1016/j.aap.2018.03.026 link
Nelson, N., & McKenzie, L. (2010). Mountain Biking–Related Injuries Treated in Emergency Departments in the United States, 1994-2007.The American Journal Of Sports Medicine,39(2), 404-409. doi: 10.1177/0363546510383478 link
Sabeti-Aschraf, M. (2014). Overuse Injuries Correlated to the Mountain Bike`s Adjustment: A Prospective Field Study.The Open Sports Sciences Journal,3(1), 1-6. doi: 10.2174/1875399x010030100001
Swain, T., & McGwin, G. (2016). Yoga-Related Injuries in the United States From 2001 to 2014.Orthopaedic Journal Of Sports Medicine,4(11), 232596711667170. doi: 10.1177/2325967116671703 link(Video) Intense Race Down the Stairs of Valparaiso, Chile! Final Run
Is casual mountain biking dangerous? ›
Contrary to what you might be predisposed to think, mountain biking is not an inherently dangerous sport, but it can be. In fact, the injury rate of mountain biking is lower compared to many popular sports. However, the severity of injuries sustained can get pretty bad.How safe is MTB? ›
Mountain biking is an inherently dangerous sport with the distinct possibility of severe injuries or even worse. No matter where you ride or how well you know the trail, you should never ride beyond your skill level and always ride in control.What is the most common mountain bike injury? ›
A broken collarbone, or clavicle, is a very common mountain biking injury and is normally caused when the rider falls onto an outstretched hand.Is MTB trail riding dangerous? ›
Mountain biking can be dangerous, but it is also a lot of fun. You just have to remember everything you've learned about it before you get out there and start riding, because this is the best way to reduce the odds of having a serious injury at some point.Is mountain biking safer than skiing? ›
Broken bones, concussions, internal bleeding, organ damage, and even a case of quadriplegia were some of the more serious injuries. Putting it into perspective with stats from skiing illustrates the risks: Downhill skiing has a ratio of about 1 injury per 1,000 skiers. Downhill cyclists suffer 1 injury per 10 cyclists.How often do mountain bikers get injured? ›
According to studies published across a wide range of medical and sports medicine journals, the injury rate can be up to a whopping 40 injuries per 1000 hours of riding. Now obviously this varies widely amongst the various disciplines that make up mountain biking, and also varies by age group and level of risk taking.Is MTB safer than road? ›
If you are cycling downhill, a mountain bike is more dangerous. But if the road you are taking is a simple terrain, a mountain bike is safer than a road bike because you will not have to ride with other vehicles, such as trucks, cars, and buses. Not to mention, but city road biking can be dangerous due to pedestrians.How can I protect myself from mountain biking? ›
- Get the Right Gear. Protect your Head at All Times and Protect your Head on All Terrains (PHAT) ...
- Inspect Your Mountain Bike. Before you hit the trails, do a thorough inspection of your bike: ...
- Assess Your Skill Level. ...
- Prepare Your Body for the Ride. ...
- Bring Supplies. ...
- Check the Trail Conditions.
Don't Do These Things When Riding! | Top 10 Things Not To Do On A BikeHow common are concussions in mountain biking? ›
Conclusions: The yearly prevalence of diagnosed concussions in mountain bikers is 6.9%. More than one-third of mountain bikers do not recognize when they have had a concussion and continue riding after experiencing concussion symptoms or with a broken helmet.
How common is paralysis from mountain biking? ›
Two more studies found that one-quarter of trauma center admissions involving spinal injuries were due to mountain biking accidents. Out of these injuries, 42% of them resulted in complete paralysis.What is the potential danger injury of cycling? ›
The knee is the most common site for overuse injuries in cycling. Patellofemoral syndrome (cyclist's knee), patella and quandriceps tendinitis, medial plica syndrome, and iliotibial band friction syndrome are a few of the more common knee overuse injuries.What is more dangerous horse riding or mountain biking? ›
Figures from Stoke Mandeville hospital have revealed that horse riders are over 21 times more likely than motorcyclists to have a serious accident.What is more dangerous skateboarding or mountain biking? ›
On the other hand, it also accounts for far fewer injuries than sports such as baseball and football. Mountain biking is over 10x as dangerous as roller skating, and it's statistically safer than cheerleading, BMX, and skateboarding.Is climbing or mountain biking more dangerous? ›
At 145, it is the most deadly of the sports and nearly thirteen times more likely to result in death than the sport in the #2 spot (mountain biking with 11.2 fatalities per million participants). At the same time, rock climbing apparently has the lowest overall injury rate out of all five activities.Is mountain biking more dangerous than road biking? ›
If you are cycling downhill, a mountain bike is more dangerous. But if the road you are taking is a simple terrain, a mountain bike is safer than a road bike because you will not have to ride with other vehicles, such as trucks, cars, and buses. Not to mention, but city road biking can be dangerous due to pedestrians.Whats more dangerous skateboarding or mountain biking? ›
On the other hand, it also accounts for far fewer injuries than sports such as baseball and football. Mountain biking is over 10x as dangerous as roller skating, and it's statistically safer than cheerleading, BMX, and skateboarding.What is more dangerous horse riding or mountain biking? ›
Figures from Stoke Mandeville hospital have revealed that horse riders are over 21 times more likely than motorcyclists to have a serious accident.Is mountain biking considered an extreme sport? ›
Mountain biking is an increasingly popular outdoor activity on the extreme sport continuum.