What Hurts?

Is MTB A Dangerous Sport?

Trail Safety

There is no doubt that Mountain Biking falls into the category of potentially dangerous sports and there is plenty of medical evidence to back this claim.

Mountain Bike Accident StatisticsCrash 1

In a study in British Colombia, Canada, of 898 MTB accidents, 86% were male (average age, 26 years), 31.3% were non-Canadian. 1,759 specific injury diagnoses were made, including 420 fractures in 382 patients (42.5%). Upper extremity fractures predominated (75.4%), 11.2% had a traumatic brain injury, and 8.5% were transferred to higher level care.

Almost one in seven patients suffered some degree of brain trauma and 23 people suffered life-threatening spine and neck injuries.

If you are interested in the numbers, here they are:

Face (8, 1.8%) Face 8
Vertebrae (21, 4.7%) Neck 2
Spine 21
Torso (38, 8.5%) Ribs 32
Pelvis 6
Upper extremity (330, 74.2%) Shoulder (includes clavicle) 122
Humerus 12
Elbow 37
Forearm 8
Wrist 109
Hand/fingers 42
Lower extremity (48, 10.8%) Hip 4
Femur 1
Knee 4
Lower leg 1
Ankle 25
Foot 13
Total 445

One of the unexpected findings of the study was that 11.2% suffered head injuries. Most of these were not serious but 8 people showed a marked decline in neurological function.

They went on to suggest that further research relating to helmets is necessary. Answering this question was beyond the scope of the study but they did ask:

  • Did the user fail to tighten the straps adequately and the helmet fell off?
  • Do helmets need to be improved?
  • Is this level of risk acceptable?

Increased odds of severe injury were also found among:

  • Females
  • People Riding a new bicycle
  • Cycling on grass compared with dirt

Mountain biking injuries in rural England

A similar study was conducted in England. Here’s the short version, you can read the full text via the link at the bottom.

“Background—Off road mountain biking is now an extremely popular recreation and a potent cause of serious injury.

Aim—To establish the morbidity associated with this sport.

Methods—Data were collected prospectively over one year on all patients presenting with an injury caused by either recreational or competitive off-road mountain biking.

Results—Eighty four patients were identified, 70 males and 14 females, with a mean age of 22.5 years (range 8–71). Most accidents occurred during the summer months, most commonly in August. Each patient had an average of 1.6 injuries (n = 133) and these were divided into 15 categories, ranging from minor soft tissue to potentially life threatening. Operative intervention was indicated for 19 patients (23%) and several required multiple procedures. The commonest injuries were clavicle fractures (13%), shoulder injuries (12%), and distal radial fractures (11%). However, of a more sinister nature, one patient had a C2/3 dislocation requiring urgent stabilization, one required a chest drain for a hemopneumothorax, and another required an emergency and life saving nephrectomy (removal of a kidney).

Conclusion—This sport has recently experienced an explosion in popularity, and, as it carries a significant risk of potentially life threatening injury across all levels of participation, the use of protective equipment to reduce this significant morbidity may be advisable.”

View Full Text



Jeys LM, Cribb G, Toms AD, et al.

Mountain biking injuries in rural England

British Journal of Sports Medicine 2001;35:197-199.

Avoiding Injury

This isn’t an area without opinion and anecdotal evidence, but it should be taken seriously if you want to avoid unnecessary injuries. It’s also worth pointing out that most crashes do not involve other riders. They result from:

  • Failing to control speed
  • Riding trails above a rider’s skill level
  • Trying to keep up or compete with more experienced riders / better STRAVA times
  • Pushing too hard to impress others
  • Lack of body or head protection

I’ve had plenty of crashes since I started riding and I can honestly only think of one that was unavoidable, and it happened just a year ago. I was moving fast on gritty forest terrain when my front wheel dropped down a hidden (beneath leaves) hole in the ground, producing a spectacular spin through the air.

The impact threw my ribs to the bars before an ENDO and I landed on the side of my head, but the bike had the last word with a firm frame kiss to one of my legs as it passed over me.Endo

I was riding alone that day on terrain well inside my limits and crawling around on the ground trying to breathe again was not funny. Even worse after recovering my breath and realizing that I couldn’t see straight. On inspection, I found a bump just above my right temple and a dent and crack in my helmet. The headache lasted three days, the bruised ribs and other bruises considerably longer.

Fortunately, my bike escaped injury and the 5KM freewheel via an escape route I knew was manageable. It may well have been a different story.

Could This Have Been Avoided?

Well, I was pushing the limits, but this is Mountain Bike Riding so probably not. However, I chose not to wear arm or leg protection that day because I didn’t think it necessary. Wearing it would have saved some painful leg bruises.

Body protection would have helped too and there are plenty of good products around that might well save a helicopter rescue, even fatal injury and there has been some of those.

Go back to the bullet points above and ask yourself those points as questions. If you answer “yes” to anyone of those, you need to consider protection or, and I know this is a tough one, maybe you need to tune down your riding a little. After all, there’s nothing worse than an MTB crash followed by weeks watching your buddies trail videos and wondering when or, if you will get back out there doing what you love.

I take it as a given that all MTB riders should wear helmets. Sadly though, I have seen too many without and that is plain reckless.

Explore The Links

Chain Reaction Cycles and Tredz Limited both have some excellent quality and affordable protective gear. If you can’t afford it today, save, write to Santa Claus, ask for an early birthday present.

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Just Ride Hard, Ride Fair, Nobody Hurt

Comments and Questions

I love to hear from you and welcome all MTB related questions, please don’t hesitate to leave them below.

Coming Soon

Specific Safety Product Reviews for MTB Riders

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10 thoughts on “Is MTB A Dangerous Sport?

  1. Wow, I didn’t realise it was such a dangerous sport. Not sure I should have encouraged my teenage grandson to take it up now.

    However, from reading I realise he needs good quality protective clothing and a very good helmet. He probably needs to do some reading up on the do’s and don’s before heading out.

    Thank you for an interesting and informative article. I will share on social media for others to read.

    1. Hi Linda, Thank you for your kind comments and social media share. Protection is vital as are good and practiced ride skills. I read a post a couple of hours ago about a dad who broke some ribs because he purposefully dropped his bike to avoid hitting his son. Brave dad but he’s now wondering whether to ride again because this wasn’t his first crash. Protection would probably have helped. It’s interesting to know too that one of the biggest age groups involved in MTB crashes are 26 year old men. Your grandson has a way to go before then so learning what he needs, getting the right protection and practicing safe riding; now is a great time to start. Most protection is easily hidden under outer clothing too so no need for teen embarrassment 🙂

  2. Thankyou for this great article. I was wondering if mountainbiking is dangerous. It seems like some of the dangers can come from bumpy and un-even or un-predictable terrain. I’m sorry you had that accident. It sounds unavoidable to me too. The graphic you provided gave a good connection to the story. 

    Mountain biking is a great thing to do. There are risks with it but for those of us who enjoy mountain biking, all we can do is maximize our safety. Many physical activities have risks, but we still need physical activity. I think you put all the information together very well and it will encourage people to stay safe. Thanks!

    1. Hi C, You’re welcome and thank you for your comments. I suppose many sports are dangerous in their own way but so long as we focus on what is essential like safety equipment and skills development, we will minimize risk and maximize our riding pleasure. Best regards, Steve C

  3. I hate the phrase “no excuses” (from your top banner). Its an annoying phrase because there are valid reasons why someone might be unable to do something. For example when you got injured you couldn’t have kept biking at the same level. That’s just one example of why there ARE valid “excuses” and there are many more. “No excuses” is a 100% FALSE and not only that its harsh.

    1. Hi Howard, The way I look at this is that there are valid reasons to do or not do something. If I’m injured because of a mountain bike crash, that’s a reason for not riding rather than an excuse. I see an excuse as not riding today because it’s raining and I don’t want to get wet even though training in those conditions is a positive step and helps me in several ways. I agree that an image and its text can be misleading but in this case it relates specifically to mountain biking. The guy who made that leap over the Tour de France this year did so because he could and he placed all reason not to aside. Best regards, Steve C

  4. Hi Steve,

    Really interesting stuff.  The statistics from those studies are kind of scary, but of course they are from a pool of people who crashed, so I suppose that says more about the danger level of mountain bike crashes rather than mountain biking itself – probably most people who go mountain biking don’t crash (hopefully, anyway).

    Still, the numbers reinforce how important it is to be smart as riders – not just wearing helmets, etc., but knowing our own abilities, as well as adjusting our riding style based on where we’re riding.  One of the things that struck me about the Canadian study was that over 30% of the people who were injured were not from Canada.  I would assume that means most of them weren’t very familiar with the trails/terrain they were riding, which very likely could have played a part in their crash.

    I think a lot of times as riders we focus on the trail itself (and of course we have to) but forget about the fact that if we crash, we probably aren’t going to land just on the relatively forgiving dirt of the 3-5 foot wide trail, but will also hurtle into the trees and boulders that are on either side.  The stats in these studies, along with your story, definitely remind me why I have gradually adopted a more restrained style over the years.  Anyway, thanks for this article, and enjoy the ride!

    1. Thanks for those comments Jordan. Yes the stats are scary and interestingly there are other stats where people don’t report their injuries (especially true in places where insurance is a challenge). That said, “Smart Riders” is key and that’s why I advocate great ride skills and protection (even though I was only wearing helmet, gloves and eye protection in that crash I mentioned). I think you’re right about Canada, and the same is true wherever there are “out of town” riders. People enjoy the buzz and don’t ease off where a local rider might. A restrained style is a good style, it’s all about enjoying the ride and I hope your ride enjoyment continues 🙂 

  5. What an interesting post. I always thought mountain biking was an extreme sport and this confirms my suspicion. However, I have a feeling most of the injuries reported are due to riders not minding the common-sense safety rules of riding a bike on mountainous terrain. Helmets save lives. We have known this for years. I hope people read your article and are reminded to stay safe while mountain biking. If you love a sport, you should respect it enough to keep yourself safe while doing it, especially when kids are looking up to adults who tear it up on the trails! Thank you for some great information and interesting statistics. I would love to see an article with your recommendations on the best safety gear on the market for MTbing, elbow pads, knee pads, helmets, etc. Keep up the great work.

    1. Thank you for those great comments Ashley. I’ve just published an article about safety gear and you can see it here 🙂 Mountain Bike Body Protection I hope it helps. You are exactly right that people should respect the sport enough to keep safe and the majority do. I had a nice comment from a lady recently who told me that she will be “leaning” on her grandson as far as his MTB safety is concerned.

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