Crash Safely: Reduce your risk of injury by understanding and practicing mountain bike crashes.




Crash Safely: Reduce your risk of injury by understanding and practicing mountain bike crashes.

Crashing Safely

Crashing is part of mountain biking and there’s an art to it. If you understand the dynamics and stay relatively calm you’ll be able to carry on riding even after a nasty fall. Crashing safely helps you avoid serious injuries. Overcoming the fear of falling off your bike is an important step.

Always wear Protective Gear: crashes often follow the same sequence, and certain parts of your body will deal with the impact first. Reduce the severity of injuries by protecting your head, hands, knees and back. While you’re at it, protect your elbows too. Nothing compares to a full-face helmet for protecting your pretty face, and the back of your head. Body armor with back protection will cushion your spine in the event of impact. Knee pads and gloves are required gear for any off-road ride, as your hands and knees will make contact with the ground in almost every crash. Choose gloves and knee pads that have that balance between comfort and protection.

Learn Proper Falling Techniques: you always have a second or two to assess the situation, so use any bit of control you have to minimize injury. Shove the bike away from you. Try to roll with the fall rather than bracing yourself with outstretched arms, which will increase the risk of wrist or shoulder injuries. Tuck your chin to your chest and roll, trying to distribute the impact across your body as evenly as possible.

Stay Relaxed and Flexible: tensing up during a crash can increase the risk of injury, so stay as relaxed as possible. Keep your muscles flexible and allow your body to absorb the impact rather than resisting it. This can help reduce the force transferred to your back and spine.

Protect Your Head and Neck: in a mountain bike crash, your head and neck are particularly vulnerable to injury. Try to keep your head up and look ahead to anticipate obstacles, but if a crash is imminent, tuck your chin to your chest and raise your arms to help protect your neck. A properly fitting helmet that covers the entire back of your head, will provide crucial protection for your brain..

Assess Your Surroundings: before attempting any risky maneuvers or descents, take a moment to assess the terrain and potential hazards. Choose your line carefully, and be prepared to adjust your speed and trajectory if necessary to avoid crashes or collisions.

Know When to Bail: sometimes the best way to avoid injury in a crash is to bail out before things get out of control. If you feel yourself losing control or heading for a crash, try to bail in a controlled manner, aiming for a clear landing, away from obstacles.

Seek Medical Attention if Needed: if you experience a bad crash, especially if you suspect a back or spinal injury, seek medical attention immediately. Avoid moving unless absolutely necessary, and wait for trained EMT’s to assess your injuries.

Remember that mountain biking is inherently risky, and crashes will still happen even when you take precautions. But taking proactive steps to protect yourself can help reduce the severity of injuries.

Common types of crashes and what to do:

Over-the-bars: this classic crash is usually caused by a sudden shift in your weight to the front of the bike, due to an unseen root, rock or hole in the trail. It can also come as a consequence of a jump gone wrong or a nose-heavy drop. Expect to be thrown upwards and forwards, over the bars and onto the trail ahead.

Depending on the speed of the crash, and with a bit of practice, you might avoid hitting the dusty trail if you jump off the pedals and over the bars as you crash, pushing your bike down and out of the way. With luck, you’ll land on your feet. At higher speeds, especially when using clipless pedals, push the bike out of the way, use your arms to protect your head and neck and do your best to roll as you hit the ground.

High-side crashes happen in a flash. 

You may have overcorrected a rear-wheel slide, hit a large rock with your back wheel or clipped a tree with your bars. Either way, your bike violently changes direction, slides and then grips again, suddenly.. Expect to be thrown off the side of your bike in a high arc. This crash happens so fast and so violently that your best move is to let go of the handlebars and unclip your pedals and put distance between you and your bike. You’ll likely be spinning and somewhat disoriented, so the best you can do is aim for a spot that avoids a tree or a rock. If you can’t land on your feet and run it out, then tuck and roll on impact.

Low-side (washout)

These crashes are often caused by a sudden loss of grip. As the tires slide out the bike drops to the opposite (low) side, and you hit the dirt. Watch for these on flat turns or loose berms. Again, you’ll have only a moment's notice. It’s sometimes possible to save a washout by brushing the ground with your inside foot. Since you’re much closer to the ground in this type of crash, use your bar to take the brunt of the impact and tuck your knees and elbows.

Practice Crashing

The key is to stay calm and use any control you have left to improve your situation.

Stretching, yoga and strength work will help you become stronger, more elastic and better off in a crash. You can practice off-the-bike techniques at home, like judo rolls (tumbling) and break-falls on a thick carpet or grass. 

With a low-side crash, learn how to slam your bar into the ground, so it takes as much impact out of the crash as possible. Practice by slowly riding alongside a steep slope and then let yourself fall toward it. Take the impact on the bar end, while keeping your fingers, elbows and knees tucked in.

In a front-wheel washout, practice stepping off the bike. Ride at a comfortable pace, then steer to the right and quickly step off on the left side of the bike. Then practice the opposite. This way you’ll learn to get your foot on the ground and run out of the crash.

Over the handlebar and high-side crashes can be practiced too. Do this by riding along at an easy pace and as you come to a stop, let your bike start to fall in one direction, quickly jumping off the pedals (with both feet) in the other direction. You’ll be vaulting the bike and landing on both feet. You can also practice vaulting over the handlebars and landing on both feet in front of the front wheel. Practice on grass to protect yourself and your bike.

If you're going to mountain bike, you're going to crash. Be prepared!

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