Always wear a helmet
The #1 mountain biking safety rule is ALWAYS WEAR A HELMET.
The one thing you need to know is that brain injuries are life altering injuries and you should do everything possible to mitigate head trauma while mountain biking, and a well designed, well fitting helmet, is an essential piece of mountain biking gear. Buy the best mountain biking helmet possible.
Mountain biking is an inherently dangerous sport with the distinct possibility of severe injuries, or even worse. No matter where you ride or how well you know the trail you should never ride beyond your skill level, and always ride in control.
Riding in control doesn’t just mean being able to stop, it also means having the requisite skills to recognize and avoid potential dangerous situations on the trail. You must also be able to recognize where it is safe to stop on the trail. Avoiding accidents with other riders is an essential mountain biking skill.
Speed is one of the attractions of mountain biking and even at 15 mph you are moving at 22 feet per second and a lot can happen in 22 feet (4 bike lengths) so when you are pushing the skills envelope always be aware of the trail conditions and the potential for an accident.
The correct riding gear
Never ride without wearing a helmet. It is the one piece of essential equipment that stands between you and a life altering accident. Depending on where you ride and the type of riding you should also wear other appropriate safety gear such as body armour and leg/knee/elbow/arm pads. This body protection gear is designed to mitigate crash damage to your body and can mean the difference between a bruise and a broken bone.
Ride within your skill level
Never listen to you buddies when it comes to a section of trail you think is above your ability. Get off and walk that section. There is no shame in being safe. The more trail sections you walk the better your skill recognition will become and eventually you will walk fewer and fewer sections.
Where you ride determines your bike
Bikes are designed for different riding conditions. A hardtail bike might not be the right bike for a big rock garden just like a downhill bike would be a miserable bike on a long cross country ride. Just because you see tire tracks heading into a black diamond trail doesn’t necessarily mean your intermediate skills are up to the task of getting you down that trail safely.
Get to know the trail
If this is the first time on this piece of trail, TAKE IT EASY. Get to know the trail, walk sketchy sections, check for surprises around blind corners, and never push your limits on a trail you are not familiar with.
Slow down for blind corners
There is a great Youtube video of 6 riders who missed a turn in a blind corner and landed 30 feet down beside the trail. Watch it here and learn to always be aware of what a blind corner might surprise you with. It’s called a “blind corner” for a good reason.
You will crash
Everyone who rides a mountain bike will eventually end up crashing, it’s part of the sport. Always evaluate the trail and analyze the consequences of crashing in that section. Use the “risk vs. reward” method and decide whether the possibility of a crash is worth the reward of riding that section or trail feature.
Start out small, then go big
If you plan on making air time part of your ride you will need some specific riding skills. Practice on small features before you launch into something above your riding ability. When learning to jump your bike work on landings before take offs. Landing a plane is way more difficult than the take off, and jumping a mountain bike is no different. Your landings should be nice and smooth and not resemble a controlled crash.
Common sense isn’t all that common
Use common sense and intuition to avoid situations that in the back of your mind you sense are maybe not the smartest move. Remember any ride you walk away from was a good ride and your riding skills and trail knowledge are what determines a good ride.
When accidents happen
To prevent large out of pocket expenses related to mountain biking accidents it is prudent to make sure you have adequate health insurance for yourself, and a physical damage bicycle insurance policy for your mountain bike. You want to be back riding as soon as possible and owning the right insurance policies will guarantee you that your days off the bike are kept to a minimum.