If you have been mountain biking for more than a couple of years you’ve visited an ER. Many of us have ridden in the meatwagon at least once. Broken bones, stitches, dislocations, concussions, contusions – a guy I know had his eyeball dislodged by a branch*; pretty much anything can happen. What I’m getting it is that mountain biking is f@cking dangerous. If this is breaking news for you I’m sorry, but your time will come. There is a price to pay for the immeasurable joy this means of transport brings us.
Whistler doesn’t publish the numbers but I’ve heard from those in emergency medicine that the injury rate in the summer vastly exceeds the winter (10x is the stat I heard). Bike parks are one thing, but each of us knows that a humiliating and painful crash can happen on our local trail on a move we have successfully ridden hundreds of times. Mountain bikers who have never been injured are as common as Muslim-Mexicans on Trump’s campaign team.
I probably think about crashing too much. I ponder the chances we take every time we ride, and the mechanics of crashing, daily. I have this hope that identifying crash mechanisms and codifying them might keep me safe – but I have no idea if this is true. Let’s push forward with the premise that knowing the enemy can keep us out of plaster… Shall we?
Below you’ll find an entirely serious and scholarly effort to categorize and name the crashes I’ve been blessed by personally, others I’ve witnessed firsthand and some I’ve only seen on a screen..
Before we get too specific, let’s identify the the broader categories. I think just about every crash can fit under one of these headings;
3) inattention or
4) skill deficit.
Watch out when any two or three come together. All four would be a tsunami colliding with a hurricane. I’m not going to categorize the crashes below (I’ve had too much Scotch) but I welcome your input.
This one fits in more than one category.
Unpredictable Pinball Sequence – a combo of two or more villains who gang up and beat you senseless. Your front wheel hits a rolling rock, sending you into some marbles which point you straight at a tree. Without the marbles it would have been an easy ride out. Without the tree… you get the idea.
Assault Without Malice – Another rider or bystander messes with you somehow. The classic is buddy stalled out or crashed below a jump, but there are worse examples – as shown below.
It can also involve clipping bars or even a head on collision.
Or sometimes your buddy stops for no reason.
Act of God – refers to debris placed precariously on the trail, whether by natural or unintended human means. Branches and rocks dislodged by nature or other riders can mess you up. Remain vigilant.
Condition Crunch – moondust hiding a rock, unseen ice, a blown out berm, roots lubed from yesterday’s rain, a hole in the puddle (aka Peek-A-Boo Puddle). Sometimes nature is out to get us..
Lemmings – everyone knows which buddy they shouldn’t follow.
Phantom Slam – you are riding the same move in the same way and then… boom! You are down. Always go back and look at the ground where you bailed, scratch your chin and ponder. Your buddy may point out that “nobody tripped you.”
Code Red Equipment Failure – Kelly McGarry (may he ride in peace) had a brake failure during the 999 steps event in China causing him to have a sickening crash. My Marzocchi Z1 steerer snapped riding Cypress in the early 2000s, slamming me hard. Another time I was riding A-Line and after landing a jump I found myself heading straight off the trail and into a tree. Upper body armour saved my collar bone but the culprit was a front wheel that had completely de-tensioned. My nastiest crash ever, getting bucked at the end of the biker cross course in Whistler in 2001, may have been compounded by a blown rear shock, but rider error likely gets most of the blame.
And sometimes you pass your front wheel in midair.
Look at me mom! (I believe I can fly) – you see someone do something and you figure you can do it too. It looks so simple seeing pros ride Crabapple Hits. How hard can it be? It can be two weeks in hospital hard.
The Common F@ck Up – sometimes we just ride off the trail. Sometimes we clip a bar or a pedal. Sometimes we’re sitting on our saddle when a jump appears, sending us skyward with heels in the air. This crash is heavy on the humiliation scale.
Runaway Roggey – this would have been the Runaway Train but Pete Roggeman showed the grace of a bull on our ride today and became the namesake. He lost traction in a steep, loose section of bench-cut trail and started to gain speed in haphazard fashion, eventually plowing into the bank out of self preservation. The bike he was riding careened into the abyss and he slid on his ass in unplanned pursuit.
Skill Level Denied – Maybe you need to bunny hop a log, or hip a jump, or get up some rock obstacle; sometimes we just don’t have the tools for the job. Occasionally a forgotten move like a wheelie drop is required and old bastards can shine. Note to my fellow OBs; this should not be counted on often. Or maybe never, judging by the vid below.
“That ain’t workin’.”
That’s Not Velcro – front wheel slide out, rear wheel or both. There’s nothing like that feeling of your front tire slithering above the top of a berm. Nothing scarier, that is…
OTB – This one doesn’t need a new name. Going ass-over-teakettle (as my mother used to say) can happen in several ways. The worst is the high speed buck where, with your weight on your rear wheel, you get placed in a Monty Python catapult. More commonly we’re a little heavy on the front lever when we contact an immovable object. Or we’re just stiff like plywood when we need to flow like steamed Red Bull.
This kid demonstrates about the worst case OTB scenario but he ends up okay.
Actually this may be worse…
Nothing to see here… – I used to do this a lot when recovering from injury. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I came back without core strength. I’d bobble and put a foot down and think I was fine – and then be propelled to the ground with an elastic, often banged up as badly as from a regular crash. Lesson learned; these days I do my best to return to the bike in decent condition.
Assault With Malice – When your buddy (or some other mean-spirited human) deliberately messes with you. Maybe you are behind him or her on a steep, tricky climb and just before the top he or she slows down, causing you to tumble into the rhubarb. The Skull Saboteur, and those of her ilk, fit into the Assault with Malice category as well.
Where ya Been? – Your memory writes cheques your rusty skills cannot cash. Similar to Skill Level Denied, except more deceptive, because your memory is just as responsible as your current lack of talent.
Canon Carnage – someone – anyone – has a lens pointed at you and It’s your chance to shine. POD coming up, bitches. Except the POD captures the moment your clavicle is ground to dust.
Scorpio – What’s that? You’re a Taurus? Well, sometimes your ankles go over your ears, and not in a good/pornographic way.
What the EFF? – This is a scary one because you wake up and don’t remember anything. But there’s loam in your ears and your mouth, and bloody snot bubbling out of your nose. Yeah, that helmet’s days are done. Hopefully your noggin’s ok.
This is my long way of saying – play safe out there. Crashing is inevitable but… Oh forget it. Who the f@ck am I kidding? If we had any sense we’d be flying in wingsuits or slacklining blindfolded – sports with much lower injury rates.
But seriously – please play safe.
*my friend Matt rode in an ambulance from Whistler to VGH with a small piece of branch attempting to pry his eyeball from his head. He made a full recovery.