Mountain biking has been the most popular discipline of cycling in South Africa since the mid-2000s. But it’s popularity gained an unexpected boost when the South African government locked the country down in response to the Covid-19 virus. Stock was taken, health became wealth, priorities were rearranged, mountain bikes were bought and crashes were as significant as ever. Here’s the first of a two-part reveal from the 2021 SA MTB Crash Survey, presented by Bontrager.

A total of 1010 participated in the 2021 SA MTB Crash Survey, presented by Bontrager. That’s a solid sample size by anyone’s standards. 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 six weeks. Because the survey was so extensive, we have broken it down into two separate reveals.

We ran a similar survey in 2017 and, where relevant, have included those stats for a comparison – four years later. Here are the results and analysis from the first of two reveals:

Of the 1010 that participated in the survey, 1003 said they had crashed and only seven hadn’t (yet). That’s 99.31% that have had some sort of crash while mountain biking pretty much the same as our last survey (99.40%). As expected, nothing’s really changed – crashing is part of mountain biking.

The split between sexes that took the survey was 82.67% men and 17.33% women. Physics doesn’t discriminate!

Because we wanted to find out what kind of trails or riding terrain our respondents are riding, we gave seven options that cover pretty much most South African-style riding conditions.

The routes you mostly (more than 70% of your rides), what describes them best?

2021 2017
Mostly gravel roads 3.86% 1.97%
Gravel roads & jeep track 5.25% 3.28%
Gravel roads & jeep track & smooth singletrack 30.99% 30.67%
Smooth, gradual-gradient singletrack 3.27% 2.27%
Twisty singletrack with occasional obstacles (roots, ruts, rocks) 22.97% 24.16%
Twist steep-gradient singletrack with obstacles (roots, ruts, rocks) 17.82% 19.69%
Loose-surface, twisty steep-gradient (up and/or down) singletrack with obstacles (rocks, ruts, roots) 15.84% 17.96%

There’s a fairly good mix here, with the first three answer options representing the least complicated trails and surfaces, all of which are up since 2017. And the more technical riding options are all slightly down. This could indicate a couple of things – new mountain bikers are more likely to ride less risky terrain and gradients; and there’s more focus on/interest in gravel-style riding now than four years ago. During the high levels of the lockdown, people had more time to ride and endurance riding gained its own boost. Most endurance riding/events take place on low-risk terrain.


Describe what kind of mountain biker you are?

Recreational – I ride sporadically 3.66%
Social – I ride at least twice a month 8.42%
Keen – I ride at least once a week 25.05%
Committed – I ride at least twice a week 45.35%
Serious – I ride almost every day 17.52%

More than 62% ride at least twice a week! Who said mountain biking wasn’t addictive?


What is your age?

15 and younger 0.69%
16-19 years 2.48%
20-24 years 2.57%
25-29 years 4.06%
30-34 years 7.43%
35-39 years 12.57%
40-44 years 14.75%
45-49 years 17.92%
50-54 years 15.54%
55-59 years 11.88%
60-64 years 6.04%
65-69 years 3.07%
70 and older 0.99%

Not surprisingly, the largest age groups are in their thirties, forties and fifties:

20% in their thirties

32.67% in their forties

27.42% in their fifties

Reasons? Disposable income, career stability and still young and mobile enough to be able to do an activity that’s generally regarded as tough. Also bear in mind that teenagers may take a quick occasional survey on social media, but are unlikely to spend a few minutes taking a full online survey.


Where do you live?

Gauteng 45.94%
North West 1.78%
Limpopo 0.89%
Mpumalanga 2.57%
Free State 1.19%
KwaZulu-Natal 8.32%
Northern Cape 0.59%
Eastern Cape 4.36%
Western Cape 32.77%
I currently live outside SA 1.58%

No real surprises here. This is a very good reflection of the South African mountain bike market provincial split with by far the biggest percentage in Gauteng, followed by the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.


When was your most recent mountain bike crash?

Just this past week 7.33%
In the last month 15.74%
In the last 3 months 16.83%
3-6 months ago 18.02%
7-12 months ago 13.66%
More than a year ago 27.92%
Never 0.59%

Confirmation that crashes happen all the time. But we know this, right?


What was the reason for your most recent mountain bike crash?

Rider error (myself) 86.31%
Another rider 5.75%
Incorrectly marked trail/race route 3.08%
Bike/gear failure 3.67%
A motor vehicle 1.19%

This is a similar ratio to our previous crash survey. Own error is by far the dominant cause of mountain bike crashes. Skills improvement and experience both help reduce the risk of crashing, but even skilled, experienced riders crash occassionaly, usually at higher speeds or just by taking more risks.

We added the ‘a motor vehicle’ option because a number of mountain bike event routes share some gravel and tar sections with motor vehicles. Also, those that ride from home to a trail will need to be on a road at some point. And of course, we know that some mountain bikers also enjoy road cycling.


How serious was your most recent mountain bike crash?

2021 2017
Not too serious 33.37% 40.83%
I went down hard 48.61% 45.48%
Very serious 16.83% 12.74%
Life-threatening 1.19% 0.95%

We all have the occasional tumble, get back up, check the bike, dust ourselves off and carry on riding. But when we go down hard, there’s that great Afrikaans term ‘ek het swaar opgestaan’ which loses its descriptiveness in the English translation which essentially means ‘I got back up very slowly’. Sometimes we carry on riding but sometimes we just make our way more directly to the trailhead or home. Or to the Emergency Room…

We included the previous survey stats in this because there’s a definite increase in harder falls over the past four years. This could well be because there are more gravity-orientated trails now. They’re fun to ride, but can be high risk if you’re not on the right bike (no dropper post!) or don’t really know how to handle obstacles at speed.


When was your worst mountain bike crash?

Just this past week 1.98%
In the last month 4.26%
In the last 3 months 5.74%
3-6 months ago 8.32%
7-12 months ago 11.29%
More than a year ago 66.44%
Never 1.98%

We have asked about most recent and worst crash. Most minor tumbles and slides quickly fade from memory, but a worst crash stays with you for life. And for some, a worst crash, has – usually temporarily – significantly affected their mobility as surgery to repair broken bones is usually required.


What was the reason for your worst mountain bike crash?

Rider error (myself) 79.94%
Another rider 7.35%
Incorrectly marked trail/race route 4.37%
Bike/gear failure 5.96%
A motor vehicle 2.38%

Similar to ‘most recent crash’, the major cause of a ‘worst crash’ is self-inflicted. Not intentional, obviously, but incredibly, something that can be managed/controlled through improved skills and experience. Many adults that take up mountain biking recall how easy it was to ride and have fun on a bike as a kid. The big change is that the rider’s weight changes significantly in relation to the bicycle’s weight from childhood to adulthood. A very top-heavy object is vulnerable and unstable and knowing how to lower that object’s centre of gravity (and increase confidence and control as a result) is essential and something that skills coaches teach.


How serious was your most worst mountain bike crash?

2021 2017
Not too serious 5.84% 7.01%
I went down hard 51.19% 55.67%
Very serious 39.41% 34.34%
Life-threatening 3.56% 2.97%

Very serious and life-threating are up on 2017’s survey. Taking that to actual numbers, it’s 398 who say their worst crash was very serious and 36 who say it was life-threatening. That’s sobering. Yes, we know what risks there are with mountain biking and for many, that’s part of the appeal. Our TREAD Crew experience in the past four years makes us think that this is a combination of newcomers tackling trails beyond their ability level and experienced riders trying to conquer new gravity-style trails – of which there are now many – without the right bike/gear/mindset.


Have you ever done a skills clinic?

2021 2017
Yes, one 20.30% 19.67%
Yes, more than one 19.31% 17.17%
No, but I probably should 24.16% 23.59%
No 36.24% 39.57%

Well, there’s some progress in the last four years. But not much. You’d think that with such a high percentage of crashes being self-inflicted that more than 39.6% would book at least one skills clinic. And these days there are qualified skills instructors everywhere! So there’s not really an excuse. The R500-R1000 for a skills session works out a lot cheaper than any medical aid shortfall on a crash related repairs to your body, not to mention the rehab physio and other inconveniences that come from getting badly injured in a fall…


Are you covered by medical aid?

2021 2017
Yes 86.04% 81.51%
No 3.47% 3.77%
Just a hospital plan 10.50% 14.72%

There seems to have been a slight shift from Hospital Plan to Medical Aid in the past four years. Either way, a simple fall at low speed can cause major damage that can cost tens of thousands to mend. Better to have that insurance…


Is your bike insured?

2021 2017
Yes 70.59 66.19%
No 29.41% 33.81%

A fairly decent increase in percentage with bike insurance. Besides the fact that you have a high risk of crashing and damaging your bike through your own error, there are the traditional South African dangers such as drunk drivers, unlicensed drivers and criminals that could damage or steal the one thing that can make you really, really happy.


Have you ever broken bones in a mountain bike crash?

2021 2017
Yes 47.23% 42.91%
No 52.77% 57.81%

A definite increase in the past five years of broken-bones percentage. More people riding, more challenging (fun) trails, bigger interest in the higher risk racing disciplines of XCO and Enduro  – probably a combination of those has led to the increase.


If you have broken bones, which have you broken – you may choose more than one

2021 2017
Foot 2.31% 3.07%
Ankle 5.39% 6.15%
Lower leg 2.31% 2.94%
Knee 3.28% 5.61%
Upper leg 2.12% 1.74%
Hip 3.47% 2.94%
Pelvis 3.66% 2.41%
Ribs 40.85% 41.84%
Spine 5.97% 4.01%
Neck 3.47% 3.07%
Hand 20.42% 20.86%
Wrist 19.08% 20.99%
Lower arm 4.82% 4.55%
Elbow 9.25% 9.76%
Upper arm 1.54% 2.01%
Shoulder 18.50% 16.98%
Collarbone 24.47% 28.07%
Cranium (Skull) 1.54%
Facial bones 4.82%

Ribs remain the most broken bone for South African mountain bikers. Arm-related injuries are next with collarbone, hand, wrist, shoulder and elbow all quite significant. This isn’t really surprising since most riders put their arms out when falling. It’s partly instinctive as we naturally want to protect our head/face/torso with outstretched hands/arms, which then have to take the brunt of the falling force.


Have you ever required stitches/staples to close a wound sustained in a mountain bike crash?

2021 2017
Yes 34.65% 33.69%
No 65.35% 66.31%

Not much difference here in the past four years – a third of mountain bikers that have crashed sustain deep gashes.


Have you ever injured anything else in a mountain bike crash? You may choose more than one.

2021 2017
Yes, ligaments 42.38% 39.73%
Yes, tendons 24.75% 24.72%
Yes, ears 0.69% 1.55%
Yes, eyes 2.18% 1.91%
Yes, nose 4.95% 4.76%
Yes, teeth 7.03% 8.10%
No 43.66% 45.62%

Ligaments and tendons can sometimes take longer to heal than bone. While they may not seem as serious as broken bones, ligament and tendon injuries often are.

Look out for the second part of our 2021 SA MTB Crash Survey, presented by Bontrager coming soon! Part 2 will cover mostly gear, including helmets, lights, high-viz clothing and the brand popularity of each as well as the topic of concussion.