I’m a professional mountain biker. I’ve been racing on a bike for 13 years, I’ve been a professional for 4 years, and I’ve ridden on trails all over the world.  A lot has changed over the years of racing. Bikes have gotten lighter, trails have gotten gnarlier, and I’ve gotten faster, but one thing never has and never will change: If you ride a mountain bike, beginner or expert, you’re going to crash. Here are my tips on how to fall off of a mountain bike without getting hurt:

  • Always wear a helmet
  • Tuck, Roll, and Relax
  • Keep your arms close to your body
  • Wear cycling gloves
  • Loosen Up your pedals (if you’re clipped in)
  • Make sure your bar end plugs are secure
  • Bail before it gets really bad

Always Wear A Helmet:

 This is by far the most important tip in this article. If you learn nothing else from this article, it was still a success. Always wear a helmet. My helmet has saved my life and other helmets have saved my friends’ lives. It doesn’t seem real until you are sitting on the side of the trail holding a helmet bashed in from every side and you feel completely fine. There is never an excuse to go without a helmet.

The University of Minnesota completed research on helmet use and the risk of head injuries. Their sources indicate that the use of a helmet while cycling reduces the risk of head injury by 85%.1  Helmets have come a long ways in the last couple of decades. MIPS (multi-directional impact protection system) is arguably the best and safest design for helmets to date. Simply put, it adds protection against rotational motion and redirects outside forces. Next time you buy a helmet, look for the MIPS sticker attached.

Tuck, Roll, and Relax: 

This can be tricky to achieve in the heat of a crash, but if you know that you are going down think tuck, roll, and relax. Tuck your head in toward your chest. That reduces the risk of hitting head first on the ground. Once you hit the ground, focus on rolling. If you stop dead on impact the force is greater and increases your risk of large contusions and broken bones. If you hit the ground and slid the risk of road rash (or trail rash) is greatly increased. Rolling is the best way to avoid serious injury. Finally, relax. If you relax your body and muscles you are more likely to move with the impact and avoid injury.

Keep Your Arms Close to Your Body: 

When you fall off of your mountain bike, do not reach your arm out to catch your fall. This mechanism causes injuries so frequently that medical personnel actually have an acronym for it. FOOSH: Falling on out-stretched hand.  By falling on an out-stretched hand, you place all of your weight through your arm. The bones in you arm flex and can break at the weakest point including the hand, wrist, forearm, humerus or even the infamous broken collarbone.

Wear Cycling Gloves: 

I hear a lot of people abandoning gloves because they feel closer to their bike with their naked hand gripping the bars. Personally, I don’t like the feeling of my naked hand sliding through the gravel, getting punctured by a stick, or gashed open on a rock. No matter how hard you try to avoid a FOOSH your hand will probably drag on the ground at one point or another.

I recommend full-fingered gloves. The amount of cushion you pick is up to you. Some gloves have gel inserts on the palms that can help avoid those big impact bruises, whereas others are just a small piece of fabric to avoid skinning your hands. If you still need more reasons to wear gloves while riding a mountain bike and you wear a ring, look up “degloving ring injuries.” I don’t think you will ever ride without gloves again.

Loosen Up Your Pedals (if you’re clipped in)

A lot of beginners choose to ride with flat pedals, in which case you are already safe from this crashing danger. Some beginners, however, come from a road background or are seeking extra watts on the trails and decide to clip in. If you are new to clipless pedals on the mtb, loosen then up a bit before hitting the trails.

pedals loose mountain biking

pedals loose mountain biking

In the heat of a crash, it isn’t always easy to think about rotating your foot to break free from your bike. On the mtb, your foot should unclip automatically when jolted by an oncoming crash. Some of the most painful crashes that I have been in are when my feet have remained in the pedals and the weight of my bike pulled my body in the opposite direction than I desired.

 Make Sure Your Bar End Plugs Are Secure:

This is probably the easiest thing you can do to avoid a catastrophic injury. You can find some online for less than a dollar. Bar end plugs aren’t just for looks, they help avoid impalement injuries. By riding with bar end plugs, not only are you protecting yourself but you are also protecting others. You can’t always control where your bike goes once you fall off of it. On the mountain bike, the handlebars are wide and can act as a sword. The bar end plug makes the end of the bars dull instead of sharp carbon or aluminum. It prevents the bars from impaling your abdomen or leg once you crash.

Bail Before It Gets Really Bad

Sometimes the safest thing to do is to force yourself to crash. This is your last ditch effort or your worst-case scenario. Falling off of your mountain bike isn’t always a bad thing, but sometimes you know that you are about to get hurt. For example, you’re riding down the trail, ripping around a corner and a tree is down in the middle or you are pedaling up over a small hill only to discover a five foot drop on the other side. These are both examples of when you employ the other strategies detailed in this article and lay the bike down.

If you are going to get “clothes lined” by an object or fall over a small cliff, the safest thing to do is fall to your left. By falling to the left you preserve the derailleur and hanger of your bike. Allow your feet to unclip from the pedals, fall away from the bike, keep your arms close to your body, and roll. Then get up laugh, smile, and keep riding. You just fell off of your bike without getting hurt, and it wasn’t that scary after all, right?

Injuries Related to Falling Off Of Your Bike:

Now that you know how to avoid getting hurt falling off of the mountain bike, you might be asking, “What injuries am I avoiding anyways?” An article published by American Family Physician estimated that 85% of competitive mountain bike athletes get injured every year.2 Some of these injuries are traumatic or acute which occur due to falling off of the bike, while other injuries are chronic and occur due to overuse. Of these traumatic injuries 22-40% of them are head injuries. The most commonly discussed head injury is a concussion. Other common injuries include separate shoulders, broken collarbones, and contusions.

Concussion: The word concussion comes from the Latin root meaning “to shake.” Concussion occurs when the brain is shaken either by whiplash or direct contact with another object. Symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness, vision issues, emotional disturbances, sensitivity to light and more. The best prevention is to wear a helmet, and the best treatment is complete rest.

Separated Shoulder: Separated shoulders (or AC Joint Sprains) occur due to a direct force on the shoulder or falling on an outstretched hand thus forcing the collarbone and shoulder blade away from each other.3 This painful injury should be treated with ice, a sling, and depending on severity, surgery.

 Broken Collar Bone: This is one of the most common fractures in all of sports. It occurs due to direct contact or falling on an outstretched hand. It should be treated with a sling and immobilization for 6-8 weeks.3

Contusion: A contusion is just a fancy word for bruise. Depending on where they are on the body, they can be extremely painful.  Contusions of bones and muscles can be temporarily debilitating. They should be treated with appropriate amounts of sympathy, ice, and rest.

I wrote an indepth article about the common injuries – Read it HERE

 How to Avoid Falling Off of a Mountain Bike:

With all of these risky injuries that could occur due to crashing, the most optimal scenario is to never fall off your bike to start with.  While crashing is inevitable on the mountain bike, there are certain skills that can aid you in staying on the saddle.

 Get Low: When riding downhill, get low, bend your knees, and bend your elbows outward. By getting low you lower your center of gravity and create a better balance point on your bike.

get low down hill

get low down hill

 Heels Down: On technical sections of the trail, push your heels down toward the ground. This allows your body to become centered over the bike and pushes your weight downward. When your weight is down in the pedals it becomes less likely to slip or fall to one side or the other.

 Shift Your Weight Behind The Saddle: The steeper the gradient, the further you need to shift your weight behind the saddle. When a downhill becomes very steep, your bike has the tendency to want to tip forward creating the “endo” crash. When you move your weight behind the seat your weight anchors the bike onto the steep downhill.

 Outside Foot Down in Corners: When you come into a corner, lower your outside foot to 5 or 6 o’clock. The weight in the outside foot will prevent the bike from sliding out from underneath you. Additionally, this will cause the inside foot to be upward, and prevent it from catching on the ground while turning.

Finally, the best advice I can give to a new mountain biker who is nervous about crashing and the repercussions of crashing is to Practice, Practice, Practice. As you get more comfortable on the mountain bike, your body will create new motor patterns and the ideas and concepts expressed in this article will become second nature to you.  Before you know it, falling off of the mountain bike will become less frequent and the repercussions less severe and demoralizing. You will no longer fall off of your mountain bike purely by chance, but because you are pushing your limits and becoming a better rider. All experienced mountain bikers have epic crash stories, some of how they ‘almost got hurt’ and others where they did. So, the next time you crash, smile. You are one step closer to becoming a seasoned rider.

Sources:

 1.“PubH6120: Traumatic Brain Injury Bicycle Related.” Radon:

Preventing/Controlling Exposure, enhs.umn.edu/current/6120/bicycle/prevention.html.

  1. Thompson, Matthew J., and Frederick P. Rivara. “Bicycle-Related

Injuries.” American Family Physician, 15 May 2001, www.aafp.org/afp/2001/0515/p2007.html.

  1. Prentice, William E. Principles of Athletic Training A Competency-Based Approach.

McGraw-Hill College, 2014.