(Don't) crash like the pros

How much armour should you wear? Will wearing it really reduce the frequency or severity of injuries, or needlessly hamper your movements?

By Max Glaskin

Citation: po.st/ProAmateur

To help decipher this riddle scientists from the University of Southern Switzerland have crunched the numbers to reveal how elite and amateur riders differ in the gear they wear so they don’t get hurt, and the injuries they have failed to avoid.

They interviewed scores of riders to get some serious data. Pros and semi-pros were classed as elite, the rest as amateurs. Before getting on to the grizzly stuff, they checked out what they wore to protect themselves during the two- and five-day events at the Swiss Epic XC stage race.

We know that MTBers like you and us are famous for our exceptionally high IQ so it’s not surprising that everyone interviewed wears a helmet. But twice as many amateurs as elite XC riders wear armour on their upper body and three times as many when it comes to shielding their lower body.

The scientists went on to ask them about all the injuries they could remember. Weirdly, the proportions of elites and amateurs who have had at least one severe injury in their XC lifetimes is virtually the same – roughly two thirds in each category. Up to 40% of them had broken bones at least once and about 25% had a joint injury. Only a handful of amateurs admitted to having suffered concussion and no elites did.

The scientists drilled down to find that the majority of severe injuries are to the knee and lower leg, although this seems to happen twice as often to elites as to amateurs. It’s the other way round for injuries to the hip and upper leg – amateurs get hurt there twice as much as elite riders.

One big take-home message for mbr readers is that amateurs seem to be four times as likely to have seriously injured a shoulder and twice as likely to have hurt an arm. These knocks are common from going over the bars and not falling well. Take heed.

The upshot when the researchers combined all the protective gear data with the injury records is that they could see that there was no link. “No correlation was found between the amount of worn protective gear items and the number of injuries ever had due to mountain biking,” they say. So that suggests it’s your skills that keep you safe, rather than what you wear.