How to Get Hurt Mountain Biking!

There are two main causes for getting injured mountain biking, lack of skill to do what you are doing and lapses in focus.

95% of mountain bikers, certainly me for the first 12-14 years that I rode, are not riding in balance and in control and this is often the cause of their crashes.* Again, for me it definitely was, I can’t tell you how many times the old advice, “get your weight back on the descents”, and knowing to look ahead but not knowing how to look ahead caused me to endo. If only I would of known that that was out of balance and greatly compromised my control!

Now that I understand how to ride in balance and in control and have been racing professionally for 16 years (the first 4 of those still out of balance and out of control) I still manage to crash once or twice a year but now the reason for the crash is different. Now most of my crashes come when I lose focus.

We always tell our students, if you ever ask yourself, “should I take another run” or “I am tired but I kinda want to do that loop again” or anything to that effect, don’t do it! Mountain biking is your favorite activity! When you roll out of bed in Moab you don’t ask yourself whether you should ride or not, an army couldn’t keep you off the trails! So if you ever ask yourself whether you should ride more you are obviously tired and using focus. This is a recipe for disaster.

I was exhausted, it was after 6:00 pm and my front hub was loose. I told myself I should call it a day but I wanted another practice run because the lift lines were long and I didn’t think I would get many runs on the next day of practice. Well, I made the decision to take one more run (mistake #1) and time it (which keeps me focused as well as lets me know where I stand). I was so tired that by the time I got to the top of the course I forgot my purpose of timing the run and just headed down the run with no purpose (mistake #2). I was actually having a really good run (often when you are tired you are really relaxed so you ride smooth) and then, on a very high speed section of trail I landed a little cross rutted off a jump, lost my concentration, looked down (mistake #3), lost control and hit a tree. It was such a dumb mistake to take that last ride as tired as I was! I learned (painfully) for probably the 10th time in my life that when you lose focus bad things happen.

There is an old saying, “Never say “last run”or “just one more””, and for 12 years now I have explained that it isn’t superstition, it is true. The reason is when you say last run you focus moves to the next task/event. “Oh, those burgers are going to taste great I am so hungry!” or “darn, should of left earlier, traffic is going to be a nightmare”. While thinking these thoughts you are no longer in the moment and no longer focused on the task at hand (in this case riding your bike).

So to stay safe:
1. Learn to ride in control and in balance in all situations
2. Progress with baby steps
3. When tired call it a day
4. Always ride with a purpose
5. Never say “one more” or “last run”

*If you have both feet on the pedals, and hands on the bars and your bike is rolling, you are at least somewhat in balance and in control.

But where on the spectrum are you? If you were perfectly in balance and perfectly in control, you could ride forever without your front wheel ever touching the ground if you wanted too. You could wheelie/manual around the block, and jump off a 5 story building to transition smoothly. Sadly, no one is ever TOTALLY in balance and in control. So where on the spectrum are you? What is working on the trails you ride now might not work on a much more difficult trail. Everyone has their limit, and we all strive to get closer to perfect balance and perfect control.

Compared to a pro DH racer, almost all riders seem to be pretty out of balance and out of control most of the time – even if what they are doing happens to be working on the trail they are on at the moment! By upping the ante to tougher and tougher trails, the flaws in their balance and control would become more evident.

15 replies
  1. Gregg Brekke
    Gregg Brekke says:

    Wish I would have read this last Friday! Started my fourth lap (of four) in an enduro MTB event on Saturday afternoon feeling tired but eager to finish. I was a little cooked but pushed through the aid station telling myself “just one more lap…”

    The result: broken collar bone and destroyed helmet. Lost focus and my hand grabbed the front brake lever instead of the grip over a small jump. Locked up the front wheel as I landed, it turned right and I augered myself into the dirt on my left side.

    Clavicle is broken lengthwise and requires surgery next week.

    If your body says it is too tired to continue a race or ride, it probably is.

    Can’t wait to get to one of your Better Ride XC clinics but it looks like it will have to wait until next spring…

    • Gene
      Gene says:

      Wow Gregg, sorry to hear that! I hope the surgery and recovery goes well! May you can take a break from winter and take one of my camps in Arizona this winter! Great mental break from the cold and best time to learn as you can do drills all winter while the trails aren’t rideable. This helps you ingrain the new correct habits easier as you are practicing correctly doing the dills and then not riding trail and reverting to old habits.

      Create a strong recovery,


  2. Chris Cornelison
    Chris Cornelison says:

    Bummer, hope your recovery goes well. And on a more cheerier note…

    Since moving up North to Minnesota, I’ve wanted to give the downhill thing a try (at least the Midwest kind of downhill). With an appropriate bike and a borrowed full face helmet, I padded up and went to check out the course at a race in Duluth last weekend. Right out of the gate, 50 feet of semi steep, sharp left corner on sketchy loose stuff, off a ramp that lands you on a 70 degree muddy pitch. Skipped the ramp and most of the other jumps as I don’t yet know what I can and cannot do with the bike in the air. I managed the steep muddy off camber stuff even though I was on the edge of my abilities (at least in muddy conditions). I took 3 practice runs, got a little more comfortable in some spots, a little less in others, and then came the time to decide whether do the race. I really felt like 3 runs was enough risk for the day, but there was just a terrible feeling of “you’ve got to at least do a race run” in my mind. As hard as it was to do, I decided note to race that day. After finding some other really great trails to ride in the area that afternoon, I knew I made the right decision.

  3. Rick Sharp
    Rick Sharp says:

    Thanks Gene for the reminder list to stay safe when mountain biking. Its kind of funny as you told us this in camp but with time I seemed to push it to the side not paying much attention to it. Having broken several of the rules you listed.
    I rode a 6 day bike trip in southern Utah covering almost 200 miles and did a 12 hour race in Prescott AZ that Saturday night without any mishaps. I got to Tempe AZ on Sunday and went for a ride and dumped myself over a curb. I was lucky that all I lost was some pride and skin. I had no purpose for the ride and was not focused on riding my bike. I had a defined purpose for riding on my 6 day trip and on the race so my attention was sharp and focused. Its something I need to practice to keep up with my new skills I learned in several of your camps. I am going to the core 2 skill camp in Moab in Oct. to further my skills training. Thanks Gene and heal fast. I am looking forward to Sushi in Phoenix at the winter camps again. Rick

  4. Dave
    Dave says:

    Gene, wish I had read this on may 19! Out for a end of day 3 hr training ride on May 20, after a long day of work and family stuff. In last 15 min after “1 more loop”, endo and fracture c7 vertebra. Out til November!
    Good news, doc says my head saved collarbone and no permanent damage nor surgery….just time to heal.

    Great article. You can’t emphasize this message enough!


  5. Thedude
    Thedude says:

    I took a last run at diablo this weekend after riding first chair last call fOr a couple days straight, and I was super tired and I broke my wrist overjumping a table. This guy knows what he’s talking about.

  6. Anne
    Anne says:

    Healing vibes, Gene.

    That “one more run” bit me 11 years ago my first time ever skiing and really tore up my meniscus. Since then, I’ve been airing on the side of caution when I’m tired and stop riding.

  7. Dan
    Dan says:

    How about riding a really rough trail and thinking that the worse sections are all over and it’s all easy cruising from there? I did this and ran into a rough rock garden that surprised me and I slowed down a bit too much for the line I wanted to take, stalled and put my foot down and rolled my ankle. Out for a couple weeks for that.

    • Gene
      Gene says:

      Nice call Dan! That is another concentration loss accident that I have done before. “Whew, I just shredded that gnarly section” and then wham, I hit the one rock on a super easy section of tail and crash.

  8. Nick T.
    Nick T. says:

    So true. I have to make a conscious effort to keep my mind from wandering off the trail and “focus on the task at hand.” Thx for all you do. heal quickly…

  9. Texas Scott
    Texas Scott says:

    As for the focus issue. I took a trip with one of my buddies a couple of years back to Austin, Texas for a day of fun and hanging with my buddy on the bikes. Austin, unlike my home in Houston is in the Texas hill country where everything is dry and there are plenty of limestone ledges and steps on the hills to make them challenging to climb and descend.
    We were at the end of a good day and about 25 miles of eventless single track riding on the rock and almost back to the truck. The last quarter of a mile or so is flat and almost void of any obstacles at all other than some small rock fields here and there. We rounded the last corner about 400 yards from the point where I knew there was a cooler full of post ride adult beverages that were ice cold and had my name on at least half of them and could actually see the truck. My buddy who had been on my back tire all day decided that he had a little frog in him and started sprinting the last leg. Of course my mind was fully on the cooler and I was not about to let him get there first.
    Stood up on the pedals and about a 100 feet into the sprint one of the rocks sticking about 4 inches out of the ground decided that it was going to have some fun with my front tire in the form of tossing it off line at just the right moment and into a small rut. Next thing I know I am flying through the air looking at the remainder of the small rock field that was blinded from site by the cooler contents and all I could think was “man this is gonna hurt”. It did! Luckily all it cost me was 6 stitches in my right forearm and a serious bruise on my pride. The good part was the fact that the items in the cooler were a little colder for having a couple of extra hours in on ice while I was at the ER. The message here is “KEEP YOUR HEAD ON YOUR BIKE UNTIL YOUR BUTT IS NOT”!


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