The point of this list is to go beyond the safety tips that are borderline condescending with their implications: Always wear a helmet. Don’t forget to drink water. Learn how to ride a bike before you go mountain biking. While certainly sound advice, tips like those are better suited to people struggling to stay ahead of natural selection. The list you’ll find below is for mountain bikers whose most basic desire for self-preservation makes a reminder to wear a helmet redundant.
But even as experienced mountain bikers, we’re all occasionally guilty of complacency when it comes to safety. The longer we go without a humbling reminder that mountain biking comes with its fair share of risks, the easier it is to relax our safety standards.
The following five safety tips are in no way a comprehensive guide to incident-free mountain biking. Consider them a friendly reminder of the safety standards we all normally apply, yet occasionally ignore.
Bring More Water Than You Need
Bringing more water than you anticipate drinking isn’t ideal in the weight department, but it’s the responsible thing to do. Whether you take a wrong turn while exploring a new trail system, suffer a major bike malfunction and end up lugging your rig all the way home, or spring a leak from your water supply, there are a lot of ways to end up without adequate hydration out on the trails.
A great way to avoid this dilemma is to use a mountain biking hydration pack and water bottle in conjunction. With a 2-liter hydration pack as your main water supply and a water bottle secured to your bike frame in a bottle cage, you can significantly reduce your chances of ending up in a parched predicament.
And if you’re riding outside of your normal and trusted crew, it’s nice to have some extra water for friends who didn’t come as prepared as you. Consider it a karma booster.
Ride With Friends
I use this one more in terms of general practice than a steadfast rule. A solo ride can be a great way to move at your own pace, work on technique, and catch a little quiet time. That being said, things don’t always go as planned out on the trails, and having at least one other person with you provides some reassurance that you won’t be left fending for yourself.
If you do head out for a solo ride, stick to trails that you know and make sure you’re prepared for the potential hiccups you may encounter.
Know Your Trail Etiquette
Mountain biking’s growing popularity is outpacing trail development, and it’s putting a strain on trail networks all over the country. Making sure that you are well versed in proper trail etiquette ensures that you won’t be the cause of any unpleasant bike-on-bike encounters. In high traffic areas, all it takes is one moment of recklessness to cause a serious accident. For more on this subject, check out our blog Trail Etiquette Refresher for Mountain Bikers, written by Jans Expert and professional mountain biker Evelyn Dong.
Learn the Trail System
When you’re exploring a new area, making sure that you have a solid understanding of the trail network will prevent the lengthy and/or unwanted detours that can leave you in a bind. From uphill-only routes to rowdy downhill courses, trail systems these days feature a wide range of options designed specifically for certain types of riding. Being certain you’re on the right trail, and headed in the right direction, will prevent potentially dangerous surprises.
There are tons of excellent websites that provide free access to thorough and interactive trail maps – a favorite of ours here at Jans is Skidmap. Also, most bike shops will have detailed maps of the local trails and a knowledgeable staff that can point you in the right direction.
If you happen to be in Park City, stop by our Jans Park Avenue location or White Pine Touring and pick up a copy of the current Mountain Trails Foundation Summer Trail Map. A small donation of $5 is suggested, and all proceeds go back to the Park City Trail System.
Ride Prepared for the Unexpected
As burly and invincible as they seem at times, mountain bikes are delicate machines. From flat tires and broken chains to loose bolts and broken spokes, there are a lot of ways your bike can break down. Having a proper bike repair kit, and knowing how to use it, is a must for mountain biking. For an excellent article on riding prepared, check out bikeradar.com’s Trail Tech: What to pack for long mountain bike rides.
Being prepared for the unexpected also entails knowing the weather forecast before heading out on the trails. In mountainous areas, inclement weather can move in quickly and fiercely. If there’s a chance of storms, pack proper rain gear and plan your potential bailout routes in advance.
Mountain biking is one of the fastest, most exhilarating sports in the world. But it can also be dangerous. And if you don’t respect the sport’s inherent risks and make safety a priority, you’re asking for trouble.
In theory, we all know how to ride safely. So don’t let complacency put you in harm’s way. Before heading out on a ride of any length, remind yourself that no matter how many problem-free rides you’ve had in a row, the potential dangers of mountain biking cannot be ignored. Stay diligent when it comes to mountain biking safety, and live to ride another day.
Nate Tomlinson, Senior Content Writer