The Outdoor Foundation estimates that nearly 7.1 million people ride mountain bikes. That’s a lot of legs pumping and hearts beating.
Why is mountain biking so popular? For one thing, riding through awesome scenery on a rugged outdoor trail is an extreme adrenaline-pumping workout. Of course, the word “extreme” translates into the “potential for injury.” Shoulders get dislocated, tibias and fibulas snap and soft tissue incurs bruises, cuts and scrapes.
Luckily, biking injuries have dropped 56 percent since the mid-1990s, in large part due to the improvement of equipment. The most common injuries are upper extremity, shoulder, and clavicle fractures, usually from falls or being thrown from the bike.
According to Dr. Scott Levin with Somers Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine Group, girls and women are more prone to injuries that require hospitalization.
To increase the odds of coming off the trail all in one piece, Dr. Levin suggests riders prepare themselves physically and practice proven safety measures.
“Perhaps the best preparation is staying strong and flexible, which can both prevent injuries and help riders walk away with fewer problems from falls or crashes if they do occur.”
Dr. Levin offers five tips for staying safe on the trail.
Wear the proper equipment
Since falling accounts for the vast majority of traumatic trail-biking injuries, equipment that cushions the body is indispensable.
- Wear a helmet at all times and replace it after an accident. Choose a helmet with an ASNI- or Snell-approved sticker.
- A tinted pair of safety glasses will keep the sun as well as trail debris out of your eyes.
- A pair of gloves made specifically for biking can improve grip, prevent blisters and protect your hands in a fall.
- A good pair of elbow/knee pads won’t hinder flexibility but will protect joints in a fall.
Be cautious on the trail
- “Read” the trail: Scan the ground right below the wheels and the terrain far ahead to prepare for coming challenges.
- Ride in a group and stay together.
- Be cautious when trying new tricks or jumps.
Make adjustments to protect your knees and wrists
Raise or lower your bike seat to protect your knees and relax your grip on the handlebar to reduce the risk of wrist or hand pain. The saddle-height calculator at ebicycles.com can help you determine proper seat height to accommodate your pedaling downstroke.
Prepare your muscles by working out your core
To avoid overuse injuries strengthen the back and lower abdomen with conditioning activities such as Pilates. Also, don’t forget to stretch after your ride.
“The mere act of staying well-hydrated…is especially important while mountain biking,” Dr. Levin says. “You may not notice during the exhilaration of zooming down hills or making jumps that your body is rapidly losing fluids, which can trigger muscle cramps.”