I’m sure you’ve heard the saying before, “There are two types of mountain bikers: those that have crashed and those who will.” I’ve had my fair share of crashes and urgent care visits. When my friends see all of my scars they often ask, “Is mountain biking considered an extreme sport?”
The Cambridge Dictionary defines extreme sports as, “A sport that is very dangerous and exciting.” I think mountain biking is enthralling whether it be in spite of or because of its risk.
So to answer the question is Mountain Biking an Extreme Sport – Yes, mountain biking is considered an extreme sport.
Mountain Bike Pre-Ride Checklist
Types of Mountain Biking:
While all types of mountain biking involve some degree of risk, some events or styles are inherently more dangerous than others. Let’s delve into the types of mountain biking and analyze how each earns its way into the realm of extreme sports.
Red Bull Rampage: Red Bull Rampage might just be the most extreme of all forms of mountain biking. These types of tricks and courses cannot and should not be attempted by anyone other than a professional.
The Red Bull Rampage is a freeride type of mountain bike competition that takes place in Virgin, Utah. It is invitation only, and rightly so because the riders will arrive in Utah with a crew and spend the days prior to the competition building their own routes down the face of the canyon.
In 2014, one of the largest canyon gaps at Red Bull Rampage measured over 70 feet from take-off to landing. Not only will the riders risk life and limb conquering these large features, but they will throw flips and tricks in order to rack up points and impress the judges.
After a shocking injury in 2015 involving a broken back and a helicopter evacuation, Red Bull Rampage has become controversial. How extreme is too extreme, even for these professional athletes?
Incycle DH Taxco: This extreme sport takes place in Taxco, Mexico, and features mountain bike racing in an urban setting. These riders race their best mountain bikes on a course built up on the streets. The course will take them off jumps, downstairs, through alleyways, and any other urban obstacles to get the crowd roaring.
Freeride Mountain Biking: Freeride mountain biking includes slopestyle and dirt jump competitions.
Slopestyle: This competition takes the athletes through a designated course where they perform trips such as backflips, front flips, and fancy spins in order to earn favor from the judges. If these tricks weren’t enough to classify this sport as extreme, some of the jumps measure up to 50 feet.
Dirt Jump: Dirt jump competitions have increasingly become more popular in recent years. It’s the furthest deviation from what the general population does that can still be called mountain biking. Red Bull Dreamline is one of the largest dirt bike competitions.
Most dirt jump competitions are scored by judges. This means that riders must continually up their tricks in order to rack up points. The competitive atmosphere leads riders to push the limits and boundaries of what is possible.
Enduro: Enduro racing is one of the newest and most up-and-coming formats for mountain bike racing. While the previously discussed disciplines are generally only performed by pros or semi-pros, enduros present an opportunity for pros and amateurs of both races.
During enduro competitions racers have to ride through a specific course. The uphills are not timed, and the entire competition is based on the descents. The riders must complete the entire course though because the fatigue they accumulate riding uphill will impact their downhill performance.
While most of the amateur courses offer “go-arounds” in which the riders can take a slower line in order to not ride a jump or difficult feature on the trail. The goal is that this will make the race safer and more attainable.
The World Enduro Series, however, is a highly intense competition. The riders are only allowed one practice run prior to the competition. That means that they are riding many of the difficult features for only the 2nd time. Add in fatigue and adrenaline, injuries are not uncommon in this sport.
Downhill: Downhill mountain bike racing is arguably the most well known type of racing.It takes athletes down the same course and times them from top to bottom. There are no points or flare or technique, which leaves races with just one task: to go fast.
The competitors will race the course one at a time. The UCI states that World Cup downhill competitions cannot last more than 5 minutes in length and require the riders to wear full-face helmets. Dislocated shoulders, broken collar bones, broken backs, and other injuries are not all that uncommon in this high speed, high stakes version of the sport.
Cross Country: Cross country is probably the safest (on paper) of all of the disciplines listed in this article. The courses have smaller features, and the drops and jumps are kept to a minimum. The rocky mountain bikes are built for speed and so the courses have to match only what the bikes can handle.
Cross country has its own set of risks though. The riders are completing the course at high speeds with heart rates reaching over 180. When their arms are shaking and their vision in blurred from exhaustion, the stakes become much higher. I think any highly competitive cross country racer will tell you that the risks within the sport are still quite great.
Recreational: All of these types of mountain biking can easily be classified as an extreme sport, but what about for the general population? What about the people just racing for fun or the people who mountain bike on local trails on the weekend?
While you might not find this type of mountain biking high up on the list of extreme sports, I think that for the general population this is risky enough. The skills of the people behind the handlebars set the level of risk and the risk can dictate the level of excitement.
For a recreational rider, a 2-foot drop may be as challenging as a 10 foot drop for a professional. While the risk is not as great, the risk is far greater than what most of the population encounters on a day-to-day basis. In my opinion, anyone who rides their bike on dirt can claim to be a part of an extreme sport.
How fast are they going?
If you’re a recreational rider and you still insist on comparing yourself to the pros, you might be wondering what type of speeds these riders are executing the terrain at. The truth is, it isn’t all about speed. For many of these events, it’s amount physics.
The riders at Red Bull Rampage fluctuate their speeds to meet the needs of the terrain, slowing way down to navigate narrow sections and speeding up prior to large jumps or when hitting a landing.
Downhill mountain bikers’ speeds will be dictated by the course and conditions. It will change at every race. It is fairly safe to say that their top speeds can range anywhere from 30-50 mph. I wouldn’t try to match that in practice!
Injuries Involved: Based on the dictionary definition of extreme sports, the sport must be “very dangerous.” Fortunately, or unfortunately, mountain biking has a whole list of injuries that can plague its aficionado.
While a list of chronic injuries can hinder a mountain biker, a single crash can be detrimental. Common injuries seen from all types of mountain bikers include a broken collarbone, dislocated shoulders, broken bones of all kinds, wounds, and of course, concussions. These injuries aren’t meant to deter you from getting on the trail, they are just meant to add validity to your claim that mountain biking is indeed extreme.