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 Statistics
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|
|Torso (38, 8.5%)||Ribs||32|
|Upper extremity (330, 74.2%)||Shoulder (includes clavicle)||122|
|Lower extremity (48, 10.8%)||Hip||4|
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:
- 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.”
Jeys LM, Cribb G, Toms AD, et al.
Mountain biking injuries in rural England
British Journal of Sports Medicine 2001;35:197-199.
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.
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.
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