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.