Wednesday , 16 October 2019


The third and final part of the South African MTB Crash Survey, presented by Gert Nel Attorneys, focuses primarily on mountain bikers’ worst crashes, reveals which bones are most at risk of breaking in a mountain bike crash (this surprised us!) and shares some shocking details of the extent of injuries that have been sustained in a mountain bike fall.

A total of 1680 participated in the TREAD 2017/2018 SA MTB Crash Survey, presented by Gert Nel Inc. Attorneys. If you’re familiar with open/public South African sports surveys, you’ll appreciate that it’s a very good response. What is the sample size in relation to the size of the market? That’s hard to tell because nobody really knows how many mountain bikers there are in South Africa. Estimates range from 500 000-800 000.



We ran the survey via our TREAD Survey Monkey account and promoted it via a link on our website and our social media channels for four weeks. Because the survey was so extensive, we have broken it down into three separate reveals.

Here are the results and analysis from the third and final reveal:

When was your worst mountain bike crash?

The greatest number here (64%) is ‘more than a year ago’.

What was the reason for your worst crash?

Rider error (myself) is by far (81%) the biggest reason for the cause of our respondents’ worst mountain bike crash. This highlights just how high-risk mountain biking can be. But it also confirms the importance of mountain bikers becoming responsible for their own safety and minimising the risk of crashing. At 8%, ‘Another rider’ is the second highest cause of our respondents’ worst mountain bike crash. Often these crashes are unavoidable, but being aware of the presence of other riders (and scanning them for signs of inexperience), understanding the terrain or conditions and being aware of what physics are at play and can be used in your favour, can all minimise this risk, or at least the risk of becoming seriously injured.

How serious was your worst crash?

Answer Choices Responses
Not too serious 40,87% 687
I went down hard 45,45% 764
Very serious 12,73% 214
Life-threatening 0,95% 16
TOTAL 1681

Unlike ‘how serious was your most recent crash?’, which we published in Part 1, we expected the percentage to be high for ‘I went down hard’. After all, this is related to ‘your most serious crash’. Unfortunately, most mountain bikers that have had a serious crash will have a rather painful tale to tell, which will likely involve broken bones and/or some blood, as can be seen by the responses to our next few questions…

Photo credits: Sam Clark/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

Have you ever broken any bones?


Answer Choices Responses
Yes 42,18% 709
No 57,82% 972
 TOTAL 1681

That’s a high percentage of bone breaks.

Which bones have you broken?

Answer Choices Responses
Foot 3,08% 23
Ankle 6,16% 46
Lower leg 2,95% 22
Knee 5,62% 42
Upper leg 1,74% 13
Hip 2,95% 22
Pelvis 2,41% 18
Ribs 41,90% 313
Spine 3,88% 29
Neck 3,08% 23
Hand 20,88% 156
Wrist 21,02% 157
Lower arm 4,55% 34
Elbow 9,77% 73
Upper arm 2,01% 15
Shoulder 17,00% 127
Collarbone 28,11% 210
 TOTAL 747

We expected collarbone to be the most broken bone among our respondents, but no, collarbone was a rather distant runner-up to ribs! But upper limb (arm region) is by far the highest risk region for mountain bike crash injuries. Respondents could choose more than one option.

Hand:               20.86%

Wrist:              20.86%

Lower arm:     4.44%

Elbow:              9.69%

Upper arm:     2.02%

Shoulder:         17.09%

Collarbone:      27.99%

TOTAL            102.95%

It’s human nature to stretch out an arm to cushion a fall. This becomes instinctive from when we first learn to walk. However, while it may be an effective way of reducing the impact of a fall while walking, or running, an outstretched arm is hardly going to cushion your fall off your bike. In fact, we’d say most upper limb injuries are caused because of an outstretched arm – or arms.

Have you ever required stitches?

Answer Choices Responses
Yes 33,73% 567
No 66,27% 1114
 TOTAL 1681

A third of those that have crashed have required stitches to close a wound. Just shows what a high risk there is of cuts/lacerations in a crash. In our collective experience among our TREAD crew, knees and elbows/lower arms are the most common places where stitches are required in mountain bike falls.

Have you ever injured anything else?

Answer Choices Responses
Yes, ligaments 39,71% 666
Yes, tendons 24,75% 415
Yes, ears 1,55% 26
Yes, eyes 1,91% 32
Yes, nose 4,77% 80
Yes, teeth/jaw 8,11% 136
No 45,62% 765
 TOTAL 1677

We neglected to include skull in our bone-break options and didn’t include it in this list either. But a number of those that commented, mentioned that they’d sustained a skull/facial bone injury. Next time we’ll be sure to include this in the options, but found that teeth/jaw was rather higher than we’d expected. Ouch!

Have you ever required surgery under general anaesthetic?

Answer Choices Responses
Yes, once 17,79% 299
Yes, twice 5,06% 85
Yes, three times 1,25% 21
Yes, more than three times 1,07% 18
No 74,84% 1258
 TOTAL 1681

We reckon orthopaedic surgeons in particular and anaesthetists in general must love mountain biking. Not necessarily doing it (although we know a few that do), but the kind of steady flow of work it brings them…

 What is the longest time you have been off work?

Answer Choices Responses
Zero days 44,02% 740
Up to 3 days 18,32% 308
Up to 5 days 10,77% 181
Up to 10 days 5,65% 95
Up to 14 days 6,48% 109
Up to 21 days 2,62% 44
Up to a month 3,09% 52
1-3 months 6,66% 112
Longer than 3 months 2,38% 40
 TOTAL 1681

40 people were off work for longer than three months due to their worst mountain bike crash. The cost of that to yourself and/or your employer, not to mention your medical aid fund (assuming you have one) is significant! Another 112 were off for between 1 and 3 months. That’s some serious crashing that leads to that kind of time off…

 Have you ever done a skills clinic?

Answer Choices Responses
Yes, one 19,69% 331
Yes, more than one 17,19% 289
No, but I probably should 23,56% 396
No 39,56% 665
 TOTAL 1681

So 63.14% haven’t done a skills clinic in a sport/activity that involves speed, stability (physics) and unpredictable terrain and gradients. Why? They’re happy to spend thousands or even tens of thousands of Rand on a bike, gear, entry fees and event travel, but don’t see the huge benefit of investing a few hundred bucks in know how to ride with more confidence. This remains a mystery… It’s good to see that almost half of those that haven’t done a skills clinic think they probably should.

We didn’t ask whether those that have done a skills clinic did it before or after their most serious crash. Remember, even if you have done a skills clinic, there’s still a chance you can crash, but the risk becomes much lower.

Since your worst crash, have you become a more cautious/slower rider?

Answer Choices Responses
Yes 30,10% 506
No 48,66% 818
Hard to tell really 21,24% 357
 TOTAL 1681

This confirms the confidence loss that comes from a hard fall. It’s quite normal, but that confidence gradually grows if you can overcome certain issues, part of which are skill based (how would you avoid that crash next time?) and part of of which are mental (nobody wants to revisit the same pain and suffering twice).

Choose the one that’s most appropriate to you: The risk of crashing…

Answer Choices Responses
Adds to the thrill! 17,85% 300
Is something at the back of my mind 57,11% 960
Is always a concern 21,53% 362
Makes me so nervous 3,51% 59
 TOTAL 1681

Interesting breakdown of answers here. With improved skills/confidence, more would undoubtedly choose ‘adds to the thrill’…

If you had an extra R2000, which of the following would would you spend it on?

Answer Choices Responses
Skills clinics to improve my confidence 28,49% 479
Skills clinics to help me go faster! 24,03% 404
Components to make my bike lighter 23,20% 390
An eating plan to help me lose some weight 5,77% 97
A training plan devised by a performance coach 18,50% 311
 TOTAL 1681

We like that more than half would use the cash for a skills clinic. Funny thing is, most MTB skills clinics cost less than R2000, yet most mountain bikers don’t consider booking one, well most of those that took our survey anyway. Imagine having the ability/knowledge/skill to prevent a crash that could cost you tens of thousands or Rands in medical fees and create huge personal, family and work disruption? Well, you don’t have to imagine it; it’s very possible. There are a number mountain bike skills clinic options in South Africa that you can attend. Ensure that the instructor you book with has exceptional experience and patience though. For most, improving skills is a process, not a quick fix.

Have you ever had to miss an important event/trip due to a mountain bike crash?

Answer Choices Responses
Oh yes! Grrrr… 23,26% 390
No, luckily not 76,74% 1287
 TOTAL 1677

More than one fifth of our respondents had to change their plans due to injuries sustained in a mountain bike crash. Some events are kind and will allow you to carry your entry over to the following year if you’ve had a serious plan-changing accident/incident. Some events aren’t too sympathetic and you lose your spot and entry fee…

Comments: We had a comments section for those that wanted to add more detail to their broken bone selection. Here are just some of the many we received. Confirmation that mountain biking is a very high risk sport/activity…

“Tore both hamstrings (2nd-degree tears) as well as tore my adductors. Then promptly fell in the shower and dislocated my shoulder badly!”

“Of course it was on tar just behind my house! Fixed my brakes the night before we had a break-in and I went chasing burglars. Brakes worked VERY well, preventing me from sprinting into an intersection with a car in it… and no, the bike was not okay.”

“Sustained severe concussion when I broke my hand and ribs which was worrying due to the fact that I am a brain surgery survivor with Chiari malformation. Shouldn’t be riding mountain bikes, but life is short!”

“Broke ankle walking over a log with my mountain bike.”

“Shattered radial head, got a replacement radial head (a nice titanium one… not sure if it is XT?)”

“Didn’t break bones, but had a branch go into my leg, which took almost two years to heal properly.”

“Had to have both total hip and knee replacements!”

“Every bone in ankle broken + tibia and fibula + dislocation. Surgery required and now an Eiffel Tower of metal in my ankle.”

“The collarbone shattered and a little fragment got stuck in my artery. Great paramedic saved my life by not fiddling.”

“Three major crashes – one on the road on a mountain bike, when a car pulled in front of me. Torn cartilage in hip – operation required. Two mountain bike crashes in races going downhill on both occasions, one my fault – fractured vertebrae and ribs; other downhill on inside line other cyclist did not brake and we touched handle bars and both went down – both shoulders fractured and broken ribs.”

“Six breaks in one tumble.”

“Both collarbones 10 years apart and a shoulder blade five years ago.”

“Complications from collarbone break caused disection of my vertebral artery which lead to a stroke later.”

“No bones broken, but ripped a hamstring off the bone…”

“Smashed my wrist to mush! Three operations, almost lost my thumb, six months off the bike, over R200 000 in costs, complete loss of cycling confidence and ongoing pain all because my boyfriend (still…miraculously) rode into the rider in front of him on a straight farm road and fell, landing on top of me.”

“Went over a fence lying on the ground and it caught my rear derailleur…. Pulled the bike back where it came from and I did a flying tackle into a tree stump.”

Photo credits: Sam Clark/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS

“Three teeth, 40 stitches in my face, eight broken bones, collar bone, humerus, six ribs, one race, two crashes 55km apart. Bones broken in both crashes rode 55km with broken clavicle (the cause of the second crash).”

“Handlebar on a ‘Hybrid bike’ broke off during a 15-degree descent. Broke both arms and brake lever pierced my thigh.”

“Rider error. Back wheel slipped out on wet patch. Went down doing less than 5kph and broke tibia above ankle and fibula below knee. Tibia pierced through skin!”

“Went over jump without skills – cracked vertebrae 2 and 3. Medics were on site immediately luckily.”

“With my last crash I fell on my face and right shoulder… The whole right side of my face was bruised and had to have stitches in my chin. I could not lift my arm because of my shoulder. My right side of my chest also had some bruises.”

“No bones broken but just ate some gravel after a racist dog caused me to crash.”

“My handlebars caught on the end of a tear drop flag that was standing outside a water table at a race. The wind blew it onto my handlebars as I was riding past at 25km per hour and yanked me sideways and I fell on my elbow and chipped a piece of bone.”

“Broke my jaw when I high-sided – flew over the handle bars and landed on my jaw. Also broke the little bones in my ear canal, and my little finger.”

“My crashes (including my worst crash) have generally been due to my lapse of concentration when riding on an easy non-technical jeep-track type of road.”

“Most recent serious injury was soft tissue, i.e. my brake lever impaled my inner thigh and somehow missed the femoral artery – eight months to full recovery!”

“I got no sympathy from my wife!”

“Thankfully my broken bones were not all at the same time!”

“Base of skull fracture (I was wearing a helmet).”

“Upper jaw fracture from landing on my face.”

“Shattered clavicle, titanium plate and 11 screws required to attach everything back in place.”

“No broken bones, but I was impaled by a branch of a tree at Isuzu 3 Towers race.”

“Broken nose and cheekbones.”

“Broken jaw, torn disc in my neck from face planting.”

“Rebuilt ankle with enough wires holding it together for 10 life times.”

“My worst injury was severe concussion, spent five days in hospital and took five months to fully recover.”

“Broke femur into four pieces; both trochanters broke off.”

“Complications from collarbone break caused disection of my vertebral artery, which lead to a stroke later.”

“Huge concussion. I wish I could post a pic. Six months off cycling, no driving for three months, no work, no TV, no reading. Brain fried.”

“Sprained both wrists a few times, sprained a shoulder, broke my scapula, broke two ribs properly and fractured another rib. Also had seizures and memory loss from a head injury.”

“Facial reconstructive surgery. Chin and upper.”

“I was switched by another rider (who didn’t stop) in a race and just had a really unlucky fall, breaking my femur and clavicle on one side, requiring a heli lift out of Grabouw mountains. Rehab was tricky cause I couldn’t use crutches.”

Did you miss the first two parts of our South African MTB Crash Survey, presented by Gert Nel Attorneys? There are more fascinating statistics right here:

Part 1

Part 2

SA MTB CRASH SURVEY: THE RESULTS – PART 3 Reviewed by on . The third and final part of the South African MTB Crash Survey, presented by Gert Nel Attorneys, focuses primarily on mountain bikers’ worst crashes, reveals wh The third and final part of the South African MTB Crash Survey, presented by Gert Nel Attorneys, focuses primarily on mountain bikers’ worst crashes, reveals wh Rating: 0

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