I used to always try to mountain bike with someone because it made my mom feel like I was safe. Then I started riding further and faster than most people cared to go. Eventually, I had to ask myself, “Is it safe to mountain bike alone?”
After some research and weighing the risks I found my answer. Yes, it is safe to mountain bike alone with the appropriate precautions.
So what are the appropriate precautions? Can you really take the proper steps to make solo mountain bike rides safe? Why would you want to ride alone anyways? You’ll find all these answers and more in this article.
What Are the Risks?
Sure there are a lot of risks involved with mountain biking alone. The first step to being safe out there riding solo involves listing out and planning ahead for all of the risks. If you can plan ahead for all of these scenarios then certainly even Mom will agree that you are safe on the trails alone.
The most important thing to do in order to protect yourself from wild animals is to research. Every animal should be handled in a different manner. For example, if you encounter a moose you should run away or curl up in a ball. If you encounter a bear you should back away slowly while speaking in a calm voice. If you encounter a mountain lion you should make yourself big, yell, and make every loud noise possible.
It is important to spend a bit of time researching the animals that you might encounter in your area and create your own survival plan if you ever stumble across one. Although, the truth is, even if you were riding with someone else you could still be in danger from animal attacks.
I always feel like it’s silly to be nervous about hunting season when I’m out on the bike. This feeling is quickly diminished when I hear some shots fired in the distance. The likelihood of them mistaking me as an animal is quite slim I always reassure myself, however, that slim chance would be catastrophic.
During hunting season I always wear bright colors on the bike. My favorite accessory is my bright orange Camelbak. In addition, if I begin to hear shots around, I hoot and holler. While I’m sure this disgruntles the hunter, I feel much safer.
In some breaking news, just as this article was being posted it was reported that a British mountain biker was shot and killed riding in the French Alps. Riding a popular trail a 22 year old was shot by a hunter. It appears to be an accident, the MTBer was wearing bright clothes and riding a bright bike. Please read more at the BBC in the article British Mountain Biker Killed by Hunter in French Alps. (Link to article)
I believe that this is likely the biggest risk of mountain biking alone. If you are injured and stuck on the trail by yourself, what is the plan? Well, if you are riding with someone and get injured on the trail, what is the plan? Most severe injuries would require 911 and an ambulance. This means that you can be equally as safe as riding with someone else if you have a phone, cell reception, and the knowledge of where you are. If your injury is tragic, leaving you in a state unable to call 911, this is when being alone is much more dangerous.
This brings me to the number one rule of mountain biking alone: Always tell someone where you are going and how long you plan to ride for. Doing that always gives me extra piece of mind when riding trails alone.
I’ve done this so many times it almost doesn’t even scare me anymore. Getting lost can be an ominous risk hanging over the solo rider’s head. The best way to combat this is to download Trail Forks App. It works whether you are in or out of service and it shows you where in the trail system you are. This world-wide trail map should help you navigate your way out of any navigational error.
Additionally, if you do become so lost that you no longer have your whereabouts, stay put. Find yourself a safe area and set up a small camp. Rest assured that you told someone when you would be back and they should be looking for you. Hopefully, you also brought along some items from my mountain biking alone survival kit.
A ride ending mechanical is every mountain biker’s worse nightmare. The only way to truly be safe from this is to ride in an area where you can either call for an emergency pick up from a friend or to only ride in a radius that you could hike out of. In order to greatly diminish the risk, however, the best advice is to educate yourself on the mechanics of your bicycle and to bring the equipment necessary to fix a mishap.
Is it Safe for a Female to Ride Alone?
As a female mountain biker writing this article, my answer would have to be, “Yes”. In this day and age it seems like it is becoming more and more nerve-wracking to be a woman on the trails by myself. While there are always unforeseen circumstances I follow the standard rules on the trail. I don’t talk with strangers and I don’t tell strangers my planned route.
I have turned around early when suspicious persons have arrived on the trail, but I’ve never felt unsafe. In fact, I’ve felt more unsafe riding on the road alone, and taking photos of license plates that have been following me for some distance. Ladies, don’t let the fear of others hinder your riding experience. Pay attention, and carry your phone.
Mountain Biking Alone Survival Kit
Now that you know the risks and have done your research, it’s time to hit the trails alone. But first, pack your Camelbak (or pockets) with some very important equipment.
- Search and Rescue Whistle
- Waterproof Matches
- Compression Dressing
- Waterproof Jacket
- Quick Link
- Mini Pump
- Derailleur Hanger
- Portable Phone Charger
Yes, this is number one of the list. All other items help you get out of a difficult situation, a simple phone call can often stop a difficult situation from occurring. Always carry a phone, and if you are riding alone never leave cell phone range. If you enter a no service area, then make sure you are willing and capable of hiking back into range.
There is no feeling more hopeless than wondering if anyone knows what is happening to you out on the trail. Humans thrive on hope, and the simple hope that someone is coming can help you endure a lot.
Search and Rescue Whistle:
I got this idea from a stage race I did earlier in the year. Buy a whistle that is for search and rescue. These little guys pack a big punch. It can be heard from very far away. Plus it can help ward off unwanted wild animals or even people. As a guideline buy Fox40 whistle or better.
It may seem a bit overkill, but it hardly weighs anything and can easily sit in the bottom of your Camelbak. You don’t even need to unpack them. These will come in handy if you ever become so lost that you are staying in place and waiting for your rescue.
A compression dressing is exactly what it sounds like. It’s just a long piece of cloth or gauze that can be wrapped in a way to compress a wound that is bleeding. If you know what to do with it, it can be helpful on the trail. If you haven’t taken a CPR or First Aid class that might be something to look into.
This depends on where you live. If you live in Southern California you can probably leave this out of your pack, but if you live somewhere like Hawaii or British Columbia where the skies can open up without notice you might consider packing a jacket.
Tube, Quick Link, Mini Pump, Derailleur Hanger:
It’s important to bring all of the stuff that you need in order to fix a flat or semi-minor mechanical. The further away from civilization that you plan to ride, the more prepared you need to be.
Almost as importantly as having the equipment, is to know how to use it. It is helpful to take a couple of mechanic courses at your local bike shop. You also need to practice those skills that you learn. If you just can’t wrap your head around those skills, then you can at least hope that a stranger can help you on the trail. If you don’t have the equipment, however, no one can help.
Portable Phone Charger:
This is the last thing I would worry about on the list. However, if you are tackling some long ride all on your own it’s not a bad idea. Extended networks, roaming, Google Maps, and Pandora playing in the background- all of these things will suck the juice out of your battery rather quickly. A back up battery or phone charger will give you piece of mind when you see the dreaded, “10% remaining” pop up on your screen.
Why Ride Alone?
Yes, there are some inherent risks of mountain biking alone, however with the appropriate precautions, it is safe. While you might spend a little extra time packing your bag for a solo ride, I think you will find it well worth the effort.
Not only will solo mountain bike rides end the days of you begging for your friends to get off the couch and join you, it will forever change your view of the world we live in. It is often on my mountain bike rides alone that I feel the most connected with nature and the most inclined to stop and smile at the vastness of our trails and mountains.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun to go out and shred with all of your buddies, but riding alone will give you freedom that you just don’t have when you’re bargaining over what trails to ride or what hour to start. Riding alone gives you new insight into trails, even ones you’ve ridden over and over. So what are you waiting for? Get out and ride…and don’t be afraid to do it alone.