I could write 100 pages on how to be safe while mountain biking and it still might not be completely sufficient. I can’t stress this enough: Safety has to be your number 1 priority while you’re out on the trail (or any time really). Part of the fun involved with mountain biking is the excitement you get from going across rustic trails and being with nature. These beautiful things also pose some serious health risks and every area has its own set of problems to deal with.
There are a lot of ways to improve mountain bike safety. Some will argue, including me, that wearing a helmet is the single most important step you can take. However, the second most important step should never be overlooked; you should always ride in control.
Riding in control not only helps prevent crashes, but it also keeps others on the trail safe as well. When you ride out of control, you lose the ability to adjust to the terrain and environment as you pass through it. This can and does lead to dangerous crashes and injury to yourself and others.
Mountain biking is inherently dangerous and we all like to push the limits sometimes, but there is a fine line between pushing the limits safely and pushing them recklessly. Follow these steps to stay safe on the trails and on the right side of the danger line.
Steps For Safe Mountain Biking
- Gear Up
Always wear a helmet and any other appropriate safety equipment for the riding conditions. If you are riding in an extremely rugged area I suggest kneepads and if you plan on doing any stunts or going down large hills then a chest plate can prevent some particularly nasty injuries from twisted handlebars.
- Never Ride Beyond Your Abilities
There is no shame in walking sections of the trail you don't feel confident enough to ride and don't let anybody tell you otherwise.
- Use Appropriate Equipment for the Terrain
Some bikes are better for different situations. Just because you can see tire tracks, doesn't mean you can ride it with your bike.
- Keep Your Speed In Check
Always keep your speed at a level that will allow you to adjust to any unforeseen obstacles or changes in trail conditions.
- Know The Trail
Never push the limits on a trail you are not familiar with. You need to get to know the trail you are riding at slower speeds before you can ride it like the trails you're used to.
- Slow Down for Blind Corners
You never know what or who is around a corner when you can't see past it.
- Stop and Look
Stop and look at sections of the trail that look like they may pose a challenge before you ride them.
- Plan on the Crash
Always look at the consequences of crashing in a particular section or on a particular stunt before trying to ride through it. Sometimes a section can look easy to ride but can have deadly consequences to a crash.
- Start Small, Go Big
Work your way up to obstacles and stunts. Find ways to practice moves in less difficult and dangerous situations or at lower speeds before committing yourself to something more dangerous.
- Play It Smart
If you think what you are doing is not the smartest, you are probably right. Think about what you are doing and trust your instincts.
- Approach animals with caution.
Wild animals are very unpredictable so approach them with caution. Never startle them by shouting or making any loud sounds.
- Be aware of your surroundings.
Safety against criminals is something you have to look after. Be wary of suspicious people you see on the trail. Always ride in a group and avoid using the same trail often.
- Avoid riding in the dark
We’ll talk about night safety in a minute but my general rule of thumb is that you should only ride in the dark if you know the area very well and usually if you have a friend riding with you. Unless you absolutely need to ride at night I don’t recommend it.
- Plan your ride
Know more or less how long it takes. If riding in the dark is unavoidable, be sure to have reflectors on your bike and on your clothing. Headlights will also be useful.
Mountain Bike Night Safety
Many people find biking during the night to be extremely exciting and a bit more thrilling than “regular old day riding.” For others, the night is the only time for them to ride, being busy with things like school and work. Regardless of your reasoning, night time is the prime time to keep your eyes on safety. As I said earlier I really don’t recommend riding at night unless you have to; there are substantially more risks involved with riding a bike at night, especially if you’re biking in an extremely suburban or extremely rural area. In the city you have to worry about cars and people; in the wilderness, you have to worry about large animals and hidden obstacles. Here are a few tips to keep you out of harm’s way during your night mountain biking sessions:
• Avoid riding alone. If you can ride with a friend then it’s really the best way to ride, especially in the wilderness. Having a riding buddy is not only great for safety but it’s usually a lot of fun to have a person to share your mountain biking experience with.
• Invest in a good lighting system. A lighting system is the most important thing in night mountain biking. Lighting systems include headlights (attached to the handlebar), taillights, and may also include helmet lights. It is advisable, however, to have both a headlight and a helmet light since headlights only let you see where your handlebar is pointed, while helmet lights allow you to see where your head is turned. Taillights are necessary for riders behind you to see where you are going. Get headlights that are lightweight, bright, and can last for a long time. Helmet lights should also be lightweight, but not as bright as your headlight.
• Check the duration of your lighting system. It’s important to know how long those lights are going to last. If they are only going to last for 4 hours, then don’t ride beyond 4 hours. Otherwise, you’ll be left in the darkness.
• Never ride alone. If an accident occurs while riding in the night, no one might be able to help you. So always ride in a group, and never stray away from it. It’s also a good thing to carry a warning device such as a whistle or a horn to alert your fellow riders in case of an emergency.
• Familiarize yourself with the trail. Go through the trail a few times during the daytime before riding it in the night. Things will look different once the sun goes down, so it is best to have a good knowledge of the trail so as to prevent confusion. Also, exploring new trails during the night can lead to accidents and even getting lost.
• Slow down. The night makes things harder to see, so it is recommended to step your riding pace down a bit. Take a little more time to examine what’s in front of you, and adjust accordingly. With that said, expect night rides to be a bit longer than daytime rides.
• Wear bright clothing. This will make you more visible in the dark. Neon colors like yellow and orange should do the trick.
• Wear protective eyewear. You can never tell if some bugs or low-hanging branches are about to poke you in the eyes, so you’ll need to protect them all the time. A pair of clear glasses or goggles is what you need.
• Bring a small flashlight along. Flat tires and other bike-related accidents are inevitable. A pocket-sized flashlight will come in handy when taking care of these things. Using it instead of your helmet light will allow you to conserve the latter’s battery life.
• Train, train, and train. Mountain biking is a physically-demanding sport, so make sure you go through the proper training exercises before trying this activity so as to prevent injuries.
These are just some basic safety guidelines for mountain biking during the night. Make sure to follow them each time you and your friends decide to go for a ride after sundown. And as you go along with this activity, you will probably learn new things that are not mentioned here. So the best way to get better at night mountain biking is to do it often. Just remember to stick to these safety tips so that you may live to ride your bike another day.
Have All The Supplies You Need
To ensure your safety during a ride, you need to be prepared for anything that can happen. This also means that you need to bring some kind of survival kit or first-aid kit that can help you with the first problems you encounter. When riding on trails, it would be good to bring a few essential things that you might need. These may vary with the distance of trail riding you will be doing.
The list for short distance trailing would probably fit in a small CamelBak Hydration Pack with small compartments. However, for long distance Mountain Bike trailing, a daypack would be more appropriate with the amount of stuff you will be bringing. This is why it’s always a good idea to bike with a buddy or two so that you can split the emergency supplies up and not have a bunch of stuff weighing you down.
Short Trips (Under 10 miles)
- Cellular phone
- Pump with repair kit
- Compact multi-tool
- Energy bars or fruits
- Money (Have some cash and a card)
- Identification with medical info
Long Trips (Over 10 miles)
- Map of the trail you will be using
- Cellular or satellite phone
- Compass (GPS, if you have the budget)
- Small flares
- Bicycle headlight and tail light
- Windbreaker or Jacket (depending on the temperature)
- Compact multi-tool set
- Whistle or Horn
- Pump and repair kit
- Allen wrenches
- Chain breaker
- Emergency Money
- Identification with medical info
- First-aid kit
- Food and drink (take extra just in case)
These are the basic things that should be included in your Mountain Biking Survival Kit. Of course, it is up to you if you want to bring more equipment. It really depends on what you think you will need on your trip. It is so important to be proactive and forward thinking when it comes to safety.
Next Up: Mountain Bike Maintenance