Rider down!

VINCE WONG | 20th Jul 2015 | FEATURES

Sitrep, stat!

Accidents are a part of life. This is even more true in the case of mountain biking, as there are plenty of opportunities for things to go awry when you’re out on an everchanging trail, far from civilization.  Here are some guidelines on what to do out on the trails when sh*t gets real.

When you or one of your riding buddies get in an accident on the trails:

Report sitrep, stat!!!

First, check for injuries. Sites of pain are a generally accurate indication of what’s gone wrong and where. Next, determine the seriouness of the injury.

Injuries can be classified as non-traumatic, non-emergency injuries, such as scratches or bruises, or acute, traumatic injuries which require fast or immediate medical attention, such as bone fractures, or LLE injuries– anything that threatens the loss of Life, Limb or Eyesight.

Non-traumatic – Keep Calm, Wrap & Roll

The vast majority of injuries in mountain biking are, according to website physioroom.com, non-traumatic. Falls from a bike usually result in nothing more minor cuts and grazes. Abrasions on the outside of the knees, hips and elbows are also common when a rider falls, especially on hard surfaces.

In these scenarios, wrap and roll the injury site to stem bleeding. Carry on after resting to catch your breath and reduce chances of another injury due to shock. For most people, their ride is probably over, and it’s time to retreat home to lick wounds.

Rider down!

However, traumatic injuries can be incurred when coming off over the bars during aggressive riding, with the shoulder region, upper arm and wrist most often injured.

A broken collar bone (clavicle) and acromioclavicular joint sprain (shoulder separation) are the two most frequent injuries when that happens. However, other injuries such as to the head can result in loss of consciousness, whilst spine injuries can be life-threatening, and deep cuts can lead to dangerous blood loss.

Fractures are often indicated by severe pain, swelling and bleeding, deformity and the inability to bear weight or use a limb or joint. Immediately immobilise the injured area by any practical means, such as shirts, hydration packs, bottles or duct tape.

Deep cuts often occur together with fractures.  Rinse the wound with clean water from your bottle or backpack. Stop the bleeding by closing the wound with whatever is available. Apply constant pressure to the wound. Serious cuts may accompany a fracture, thus immobilising the area may be a good idea.

And of course, head injuries should be pretty obvious. Look out for loss of consciousness, reduced awareness, inability to follow instructions or no purposeful movements.


In the case of other traumatic injuries, such like those to the head, practice these general first-aid steps:

  1. Check the person’s airway (open if necessary); check breathing and pulse. If necessary, begin rescue breathing, CPR, or bleeding control.
  2. Try to stay calm and reassure the person as much as possible.
  3. Control bleeding by applying direct pressure to the wound.
  4. Raise the injured area. If bleeding continues, recheck the source of the bleeding and reapply direct pressure, with help from someone who is not tired. If the person has life-threatening bleeding, a tight bandage or tourniquet will be easier to use than direct pressure on the wound. However, using a tight bandage for a long time may do more harm than good.
  5. Keep the person warm.
  6. Take steps to prevent shock. Lay the person flat, raise the feet about 12 inches, and cover the person with a coat or blanket. Keep talking to the person to assess changes in consciousness.
  7. Do NOT place the person in this position if a head, neck, back, or leg injury is suspected or if it makes the victim uncomfortable.
  8. Once the bleeding is under control, check the person for other signs of injury that require emergency treatment. Treat fractures, additional cuts, and other injuries appropriately.
  9. Stay with the person until medical help arrives.


Do NOT forget that saving the person’s life is more important than saving a body part.

Do NOT overlook other, less obvious, injuries.

Do NOT attempt to push any part back into place.

Do NOT place a tourniquet, unless the bleeding is life threatening, as the entire limb may be harmed.

– Exfiltration –

Mountain biking takes us into trails less travelled. So, you may be far from immediate or accessible help when the accident occurs. Despite this, you should call for help immediately.

Once you get through, let the despatcher know your approximate location, and whether you or your injured buddy can make it to any of the trail’s entrances or exits. If you or your injured buddy should not be moved, give instructions on how the emergency response team should reach you.  Then wait and try to stay comfortable until they arrive.

Before you ride – suit up!

Of course, you should protect yourself from the risk of injuries in the first place. This takes the form of two proactive stances: wearing protection, and defensive riding.

The most basic protection entails wearing a helmet, and, if you’re into big hucks and aggressive downhill, it won’t be just your head that needs protection. Body armour, such as chest, knee and shoulder pads, is recommended.

Don’t overpack your backpack either; when you bailout, a bad landing can result in spinal injury should you land on the wrong part, such as a shock pump.

As for defensive riding, in a nutshell: know your skills level, and ride only on the trails you are competent in. Ride in the right direction. Practice bailing. Walk the trail before you ride it.

And at the barest minimum, keep a basic first aid kit in your backpack. This should contain a small pair of scissors, some bandage tape, non-stick gauze pads, steri-strips, and antiseptic wipes.

Lastly, ride with buddies. They can save your life. Or, chances are you might end up saving them.