With the excitement of mountain biking comes a level of potential danger, and knowing a few basic mountain biking safety tips can mean the difference between an exhilarating day outdoors and a trip to the emergency room. The three main mountain biking safety issues which arise most frequently are injury due to improper biking technique, injury due to bike malfunction, and getting lost. The following safety tips should be followed each and every time you head out on your bike for the day, to the point that they eventually become ingrained, automatic habits.
Tempting though it may be to play the tough adventurer and forgo a bike helmet in an attempt to impress others, head protection is positively necessary when mountain biking. Taking a serious tumble with your head exposed can easily lead to concussions and unconsciousness. If you find bike helmets uncomfortable and annoying to wear, it's quite possible that you're wearing the wrong size helmet and/or not strapping it down properly. A well-fitting bike helmet comes down an inch above your brow, sits in place without sliding backward or forward, and doesn't need to be continually adjusted. Helmet side straps should be pulled upwards and should not cover your ears, and your chin strap should be pulled tight enough that when you open your mouth, you feel the helmet pull down slightly.
Going off trail when mountain biking is not recommended, but even if you stay on what you believe to be designated biking/hiking trails, the possibility of getting lost still exists. Letting someone know where you'll be biking beforehand is a good way to be more easily located in the event that you find yourself lost. The best way to let someone know where you'll be is to present them with a trail map of the area you'll be biking in, where the trailhead is on the map, and where the trail exit lies. It’s also a good idea to bring a compass and a cellphone. Even if you can't get phone service where you're biking, the GPS tracking device in the phone will help a search team pinpoint your exact location much more quickly.
Having a basic understanding of how to deal with common mountain biking medical situations will put you ahead of the game in terms of safety and preparedness. Problems that may arise while mountain biking include heat stroke, severe sunburn, substantial cuts and bruises, concussion and broken bones. Taking a class in basic first aid can be a life saver for yourself or a biking partner. In the event that there are no introductory first aid classes in your area, studying an up-to-date first aid book from your local library or purchased from an online bookstore can also make a tremendous difference. To make this knowledge truly worthwhile, bring a first aid kit with you, stashed away in a small, lightweight backpack. If you're biking with a partner, be sure that you're aware of any recurring health problems or conditions they may have, and how they're feeling before you hit the trails.
Unless you're a highly experienced mountain biker with years of experience riding on a wide variety of terrain, the best way to avoid a disaster is to find out ahead of time what difficulty level a trail has been designated. Stick with trails which are best suited to your experience level. If you ride with a partner or group, don't let yourself be talked into taking on a trail you're not ready for. To this end, sticking with riding partners who are at or near your skill level is the best way to avoid being peer pressured into taking foolish chances.
Taking a quick inventory of the condition of your bike before you hit the trails can help prevent a world of (literal) hurt later on. Important things to check include braking ability and condition of the brake pads, air pressure in your tires, areas in need of oil lubrication (e.g. the bike chain), and parts that have been jostled loose from intense impacts, and which are need in of retightening. Having a good lightweight backpack with you is ideal for not only carrying the aforementioned first aid kit, as well as water and high carb snacks, but also a small bike repair tool kit. Finding yourself miles from the nearest paved road with a bike malfunction you can't take care of is, to say the least, a mood killer.