How to Safely Fall Off a Mountain BikePublished on 05/13/2023 · 7 min readFalling is a part of riding mountain bikes, but learning to fall safely can keep you injury-free and improve your riding style!
Falls happen! All photos courtesy of Gunnar O.
Mountain bikes have made the outdoors accessible to many people. It’s amazing how far you can travel on a bike with a little leg power and some determination. But as mountain bike technology progresses, there has been an increase in the difficulty and danger of the terrain we ride.
It is easy to get hooked on the feeling of cruising down single-track ribbons through the woods. But there is always an inherent risk and the inevitable danger involved in riding mountain bikes. Every rider with a bit of experience knows falling is not only something that can happen, but will happen.
Falling as a part of riding took me a long time to learn. When I was new to the sport, I would ride cautiously to avoid falling down. I rode defensively, hoping to avoid any pain or worse from falling off of my bike.
I dreaded the idea of an imminent crash and let my anxiety translate into a stiff riding style. This not only caused me to crash more often but also made my crashes worse. The more I rode, the more I fell. I gradually learned how to expect to fall. Many mistakes later, I have improved on the bike and how to fall off of it too.
Preparing for the inevitable can make riding a more enjoyable experience. A fall is bound to happen, but pain or subsequent injury doesn’t need to be a part of it. Assuming you have the safety gear for riding bikes and a solid understanding of the fundamentals, here are some tips to fall safely off of your mountain bike.
For more on the philosophy of falling, check out On Falling: Risk, Fear, and the Reward of Mountain Biking.
Acknowledge the Fall
As we fall, we make instinctual choices in a split second. As much as we try to train ourselves for these moments, much of our reaction is automatic behavior. Our tendency is to fight for control. But trying to force any last semblance of it can actually make our crashes worse. The best course of action when falling is to recognize the impending crash and accept the loss of control. The earlier you can acknowledge you are falling, the sooner you react.
Evaluate Your Situation
The next step is to evaluate your situation. Did my front tire wash out around a loose corner? Was that rock ledge taller than I expected and I’m now catapulting over the bars? Am I midway off of a drop headfirst towards a mouthful of dirt? Evaluate the situation to determine which direction makes the most sense to fall off the bike.
Now is the time to determine the hazards to avoid as you fall too. These insights won’t be conscious in the moment, but a quick awareness of your situation is critical. The evaluation period is a few milliseconds to prepare to react. Doing so swiftly makes the fall much more gentle.
Avoid the Handlebars
As riders, we constantly need to work on trusting our handlebars and learning how to distribute bike weight through our hands properly. This is one of the most important skills to learn to improve your riding. But handlebars are one of the first and trickiest obstacles to navigate when you fall. They are big, scary, and hard to get around.
After evaluating your situation and determining the best dismount option, you need to clear yourself of your bike. Many injuries during falls can be prevented by successfully navigating getting tangled up in the handlebars. Dismounting quickly when a fall is inevitable can prevent you from going over the bars.
Starting your crash early also stops the continued momentum of your body and keeps you from getting twisted up with your bike. Falling off of the bike early gives you more chance to bail to either side or off of the back. Both are highly preferred to falling over the front.
Over the Bars
The scariest fall on a mountain bike is when your body mass shifts forward abruptly. This lifts the rear tire off of the ground and your bike bucks you forward over the bars. Safely falling over the handlebars requires nimbleness and a quick reaction time.
When headed over the front of the bike, get your body up and over your bars as soon as possible. This can be done by leapfrogging the handlebars or tossing your bike to the side as you jump over the frame. It’s critical to get your legs over the bars to free yourself from your bike.
Get Away From the Bike
Once you have successfully navigated your handlebars, you need to separate yourself from your bike. Bikes are awkward and getting tangled in them during a crash is no fun. The sooner that you free yourself when falling, the better.
Sending the bike towards the ground with the handlebars turned downwards quickly stops the bike. This is also the most natural way to dismount. It’s another step that is almost never conscious, but one to keep in mind.
Legs Bent, Arms In, Chin Tucked
Now that you are cleared from your bike and headed towards the ground, keep your arms in, chin tucked, and your knees bent. Trying to stop your body's momentum with your legs or sticking your arms out straight to brace for impact leads to further injury. Avoid head injuries by protecting your noggin with the rest of your body.
The best plan is to keep your arms tight in front of you in a defensive position around your head and your legs bent and ready to push off of any obstacles. The goal is to form a ball to slow your body’s momentum naturally to avoid injury.
Tuck and Roll
The moment you hit the ground, you are past the crux of the crash. The next goal is slowing your momentum without forcing yourself to stop. Maintain your tucked position and use your momentum to roll until you naturally come to a rest.
The roll not only avoids injuries, but it also helps deflect off of other obstacles on the trail. Roll until you stop and wait for the dust to settle. If out of danger from other riders or hazards, inspect yourself for injuries.
Brush off the Dust
When you’re sure you aren’t injured, it is time to brush off the dust. Inspect your bike next for any mechanical issues that may have been caused by the crash. If you’re not hurt and your bike is mechanically sound, then get back in the saddle and try the feature that provoked the crash again. This is the best way to defeat crash anxiety.
Learning to mountain bike can be intimidating. But often the dread of an impending fall is far worse than the fall itself. Progress on your bike skills also means falling. Bikes are fun and falling can be scary, but learning to dismount properly avoids injury and translates into a more confident riding style!
Although falling safely is a great technique to learn, it’s always best to ride within your limits. Keep your progression slow and constant and learn to ride the fundamentals before trying more difficult terrain. Proper safety gear is crucial to your success as a mountain bike rider. Replacing old gear, especially helmets, after a heavy fall is a must.
Falling off of a bike sounds scary to new riders. We build fantasies in our heads of horrendous crashes or horrifying experiences. Don’t let these ideas change your riding style to a more defensive position. Falling off a bike can easily be demystified and learning to do it safely is a skill anyone can learn.
If you are going to ride, learn how to fall. Once you embrace this, you can develop skills to fall off of a mountain bike safely. Happy riding!