How Much Does Protective Gear Help When Mountain Biking?

Last Updated on April 6, 2021

Does Protective Gear Help When Mountain Biking?

Every rider needs some level of protection. After all, a crash could happen at any time, even on the most passive of trails, where it’s common to get into the low 20mph range while whizzing between pine trees.

But how much protection is enough, or too much? 

That’s what I plan on answering for you today so let’s jump in so we can all start mountain biking in a safer way.

Helmet

It goes without saying a helmet is an essential piece of kit for mountain bikers. The chances of slipping, crashing, or bumping into a tree or rock are much higher than for commuters or most road cyclists, so head protection is crucial and a sure-fire way to decrease the chance of you sustaining a severe, potentially fatal injury.

Helmets designed specifically for mountain biking generally have an integrated peak, which helps keep sun and rain out of the rider’s eyes and deflect low-hanging branches, this is going to help reduce the likelihood of accidents and we definitely recommend you get a helmet with this feature. A mountain bike helmet also sits lower around the back and sides of the head to provide better coverage unless you opt for full-face helmets.

Knee Pads, Elbow Pads, And Armor

No one likes a scraped knee. Other than your hands, they’re the easiest part of your body to injure in a crash. Knee pad design is constantly improving and newer pads use flexible armor that’s light and breathable. This makes the pad more comfortable when pedaling. In the event of an accident, the soft armor will harden to protect your knee leaving you with minimal scrapes if any.

Trail riding knee pads come in two basic forms. They will either hold themselves up with velcro straps or sleeve-style pads that have armor sewn into a tube of fabric. 

Elbow pads are another useful piece of protective gear, but they’re not used by mountain bike riders as much as they probably should be. This may be an aesthetic decision as they’re not looked on as being stylish or as necessary as other pieces of protective gear.

If you are riding your mountain bike cross-country and downhill, then you’ll want a bigger, more heavily armored padding. To be extra safe, torso armor may also be prudent.

Armor is less common among cross-country racers riding in cycling kits because it adds weight, feels hotter, and can inhibit movement. 

Riding in armor is a personal choice. Some riders may feel skilled enough to not need it, or their local terrain may not warrant protection, while others won’t venture out without the extra insurance of knee and elbow pads.

Shorts

Mountain bike shorts are made of synthetic materials so they’re breathable, quick-drying, and protective. They should balance mobility and trim fit to avoid catching on your saddle while riding. Mountain bike shorts also rise up higher in the back than casual shorts.

Mountain bike shorts can be paired with a liner short, or cycling shorts that are worn underneath. Liners and cycling shorts have a padded chamois sewn into the bottom to relieve pressure and increase comfort on your bike saddle. You can also combine this with Chamois crema if you’re experiencing butt soreness which is common for those with hard saddles and incorrect legwear.

Dedicated cross-country riders often wear a standard lycra cycling kit. A cycling kit consists of a cycling jersey and cycling shorts. A kit fits tighter than casual clothing or mountain bike clothing so there is no excess material to get in the way while riding meaning you’re less likely to snag on any stray branches. They are extremely light, breathable, and designed for hard pedaling. 

The downside of a standard cycling kit is that it provides little to no protection in the event of a crash. This is usually not a problem for cross-country racers trying to stay light and maximize performance.

Gloves

If we fall while mountain biking it’s instinct to put out our hands and attempt to break our fall. This makes your hands one of the most vulnerable parts of your body during a crash, while not the most vital part of your body. Full-fingered gloves will keep you from skinning your palms if you hit the deck, which trust me when I say hurts a LOT.

Any protective work glove is acceptable, but mountain bike-specific gloves have very thin leather or synthetic palms that gives you great dexterity and feel without sacrificing protection. They’ll provide more grip and control, especially for riders like me that are prone to getting clammy hands. The backside of the mountain bike gloves is breathable and often has an absorbent wipe around the thumb useful for daubing off sweat.

Gloves made for downhill trail riding will have additional armor or padding on the back to protect your knuckles from branches, trees, and rocks. 

Jersey

Most MTB jerseys will have a loose cut and will come in short-sleeve, three-quarter, or long-sleeve options. Though they might be hotter, some riders prefer 3/4 sleeve and long-sleeve jerseys because they protect your arms from the sun plus they provide a small amount of additional protection during crashes.

A short-sleeve jersey will keep you cooler in the heat of summer whereas a long-sleeve jersey will offer a little more protection for your arms, both from the sun, nettles, thorns, and branches. Some long-sleeve jerseys will also have mesh panels to improve breathability.

Types Of Injuries

Unfortunately, it’s a certainty that anybody, no matter what gear they have, can have an accident on their mountain bike and sustain injuries ranging in severity. It’s important to know what can happen and how they happen so you can be the judge on what matters to you most in terms of protection and that you know the risks if you decide not to invest in protective gear.

Bone Fractures

Fractures are prevalent injuries in mountain biking communities around the world. They are also a prime reason for grinding a biker’s career to a halt. You should note that while a mountain biker can sustain a fracture in any part of the body, studies show that they’re more likely to happen on the upper body, the Clavicle bone or collar bone is often the most likely to be affected in the event of an accident.

Other body parts that often sustain fractures are the proximal femur, tibia, and thoracic, distal radius, lumbar spine, pelvis, and cervical. Rib and scapular fractures have also been reported.

Soft Tissue And Skin Injuries

When we talk of injuries to soft tissues and skin, you probably think of abrasions, lacerations, and contusions. While some mountain bikers may sustain deep cuts or wounds, these types of injuries often heal fast so long as there is prompt medical attention given.

In cases where the damage is not severe, a biker can get back on track with their mountain bike and continue cycling. Tissues and skin injuries also include back strains, sprains on the joints and neck.  

Chest And Abdominal Injuries

When it comes to abdominal injuries, children are the main victims. Severe damage to internal organs is a cause for concern, especially when kids knock themselves on the handlebars.

In Australia, rising cases of handlebar-related MTB injuries promoted legislation requiring the removal of straight unpadded handlebars. Nowadays, the incidences of injuries to the liver have reduced significantly so there’s less reason to worry about this one but you can never be too careful with your kids.

Injuries to the joints

When it comes to mountain biking, injuries resulting from cycling accidents have also included those inflicted on joints after falls, skids, or just poor control. Studies show that acromioclavicular injuries are the most common but sprained ankles, knees, wrists, and fingers are also commonplace.

Mountain bikers who take part in competitive downhill cycling are the most affected, accounting for a large percentage of those who sustain injuries on cruciate ligaments and lateral menisci. The dislocation of elbows and knees are also some of the most frequent, and nasty, causes of joint injuries resulting from biking mishaps.

Facial And Head Injuries

Injuries to the head and face are among other results of mountain bike accidents. Severity often depends on the impact. Studies focusing on types of mountain bike injuries have pointed out that cerebral concussions are the most common.

While intracranial bleeding is not a common occurrence, there have been a few incidences. It brings to light the need to wear strong cycling helmets. Conventional MTB helmets are designed to protect the head and cushion it from a strong impact in case of accidents. Helmets somewhat reduce serious injuries and studies have shown that mountain bikers who wear helmets suffer less serious injuries than those who do not.

Frequently Asked Questions

What protective gear do I need for mountain biking?

Downhill mountain bikers need the most protective gear, including a full-face mountain biking helmet, padded mountain bike shorts, a solid mountain bike neck brace, knee protection, and elbow protection.

Why do mountain bikers wear baggy shorts?

Mountain bikers wear baggy shorts because they have extra pockets, are abrasion-resistant, are more comfortable than Lycra. they also offer more range of motion, are warmer, and just generally look better.

Why do mountain bikers wear long socks?

Mountain bikers wear long socks because they offer protection from ticks, poison ivy, low bushes, and branches. They stop sand and pebbles from getting into socks and prevent sweat from getting into your shoes.

Summary

So, now you know exactly what kind of protective gear is going to keep you injury-free while mountain biking. It’s much easier to enjoy gliding down a trail when we have the right gloves, full-face helmets, knee pads, etc. to prevent any serious scrapes, cuts, or worse.

Stay safe while mountain biking and ensure you invest in high-quality gear because if you get a cheap material then you may as well ride in your pajamas as cheaper gear is more likely to tear, split, or shatter in the event of an accident.

So, armor up before going on your ride, and of course…

Keep pedaling!

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