18 Tips for Avoiding Mountain Bike Injuries

A few tips on how to avoid common mountain bike injuries, by Mike Brcic, Sacred Ride Mountain Bike Adventures
August 20th, 2014

Let’s face it, injuries are a regular part of mountain biking – it’s a riskier sport than, say, hiking. But that doesn’t mean you can't avoid or minimize your mountain bike injuries. A little bit of preparation and a dose of smarts can help you avoid a lot of injuries. 

 

Mountain bike injuries fall into 2 general categories:

 

A) Wear-and-tear type injuries as a result of poor preparation/overtraining/riding too long

B) Injuries sustained through crashes

 

How to Avoid Common Mountain Bike Injuries

 

The key to avoiding injuries of type A is some basic preparation. The key to avoiding type B injuries is not being dumb. 

 

1.     Get fit: the best way to prevent wear-and-tear injuries is to get as fit as possible - especially with respect to back injuries, which are common for mountain bikers due to our hunched-over position and repetitive strain on our core. Get in the groove of a regular strength training program, and make sure you’re training your core: bicycle crunches, lateral raises, etc…

To get you started, here are a few training tips and exercises from our friend Steven at Monvida Sports.

 

 

2.     Get limber: make flexibility a regular part of your fitness routine. Start and end each workout session with 5-10 minutes of flexibility training. Get into yoga – yoga and mountain biking are a perfect complement to each other, like peanut butter and chocolate. The added flexibility and strength from your yoga practice will serve you well on the trail and help you ride better and more injury-free! (BTW we’ve got some amazing yoga/MTB camps for women). And here are a few suggested stretches you can make part of your regular routine.

 

3.     Warm up before you ride: riding without warming up is a great way to get injured! Take 5 to 10 minutes before your ride to warm up (I suggest the classic burpee for an all-body warmup) and do a light stretch. If you don’t have time to warm up, then at least try to start your ride off with 15-20 minutes of easy riding so you can warm up before you get into the hard stuff. 

 

4.    Plan your ride: know where you’re going and how long it will take to finish your ride. One of the most common causes of injury is fatigue: when you’re tired you’re more prone to wear-and-tear injuries as well as crashes.  Poor planning can mean your 2-hour ride turns into a 6-hour epic, riding the last 2 hours on empty, and/or riding in the dark.

 

5.     Make sure your bike is in good shape and give it a full inspection before you ride: nothing ruins your day more than taking air off a jump and having your front wheel come out of the fork because the axle wasn’t screwed in (trust me on this one). Make sure all the bolts and quick releases are tight, check your frame for cracks, etc… check out our ‘Top 7 Tips on Keeping Your Bike in Tip-Top Shape.

 

6.     Wear a helmet:I shouldn’t even have to write this, but it amazes me that to this day I still see people riding trails (often difficult ones) on $3000 bikes without a helmet (that they can buy for $40). Don’t be a fool.

 

 

7.    Wear cycling glasses: the 2nd best way to ruin your day (other than your wheel falling off mid-jump) is getting a branch in the eye because you forgot to bring your cycling glasses. You can get a decent pair of clear glasses at your local bike shop for under $30, or at the very least, throw on a pair of sunglasses (not recommended if you are riding in forested areas as you will find it hard to see)

 

8.     Wear body armour: knee and arm padsare inexpensive (compared to the cost of a mountain bike), andunless you’re riding a trail that you know for sure you won’t wipe out on, there’s no good reason not to wear them. They can save you a lot of skin. If you’re riding something super-gnarly, then full-body protection is a good choice as well.

9.     Set up your bike properly: having your bike set up and tuned to your body will reduce wear-and-tear injuries, particularly on your wrists.  Having your wrists under- or over-rotated because of poorly set up brake levers is an easy way to having ongoing wrist problems, which can often take a really long time to heal. So set up your bike properly!

 

 

10. Keep well-hydrated: a good rule of thumb is to carry at least 50% more water than you think you’ll need. You never know what might happen, and getting dehydrated is a quick way to hit the wall and deplete your energy stores, which leads to fatigue and injuries. Use electrolyte powder to replenish your sodium and other electrolytes - it's possible to overhydrate and flush out your electrolytes, which can be as bad as - or worse than - dehydrating.

 

11.  Keep your glucose levels up: bring plenty of energy bars, energy gels, or energy drinks with you and snack along the way to keep your energy level up and prevent bonking. 

 

12.  Know good body positioning: Stay centred in your cockpit, with your weight evenly distributed between your front and back wheels. This requires moving your body back and forth in the cockpit as you climb/descend, and will help you stay on your bike (as opposed to off it, on the ground).

 

13.   Get out of your saddle: one of the common mistakes beginners make is always staying seated. Getting out of your saddle takes the weight off your saddle and onto your pedals, moving your centre of gravity lower and making you stable (think Formula One car versus double-decker bus: which would you rather be in when taking a corner at 200 km/h). So when the going gets rough (i.e. technical terrain) or when you’re going over undulating terrain, get out of your saddle.

14. Scope Out Your Drops: If you’re going to take air, scope out the jump and the landing before you drop. You should never hit jumps and drops blind – this is a quick ticket to the hospital.

 

15.  Don’t get cocky: building your mountain biking skills and confidence is all aboutsmall gains and progression. Build your skills in small steps and don’t overestimate your skills. If you get cocky and decide that you can go from a beginner trail to a Whistler Bike Park double-black-diamond, or go from 2-foot-drops to 40-foot gap jumps, you’ll quickly discover the error of your ways. Nothing shatters your mountain bike confidence more than a big crash, so push your limits gradually!   

 

16.  Look ahead: when I’m riding I like to look at least 40 feet ahead on the trail. This allows me to see what’s coming up and prepare myself; while looking ahead I can still see what’s directly in front, but if I’m looking down at my front wheel I’m going to get surprised by trail features and probably wipe out a lot.

 

17. Know how to eject: even if you do all of the above, you’re still going to wipe out from time to time. Knowing how to eject can save your hide. One great way to eject is something our lead instructor Johanna calls the ‘North Shore eject’, where you lift your leg over the top tube and jump off to one side of the bike (this is especially effective when you’re riding obstacles that are off the ground).

 

18.  Take a mountain bike skills course: there are dozens of great mountain bike skills camp providers around the world. You’ll be amazed at how a day or two of instruction with a great instructor can improve your riding and help you build confidence.

 

Tell us about your worst mountain bike injury in the comments below!