Pumptrack riding is getting more and more accessible. It’s a sport perfect for kids to enjoy or to do a quick after-work ride to get the body moving. And for anyone looking to get into the sport, the risks associated with it may be a concern. With the potential dangers in mind, you may ask yourself “is Pumptrack safe?”
Pumptrack is statistically safer than contact sports, but consequences for mistakes can be painful. The safety comes from a consistent track layout, good grip, seperated lanes and protective gear. The risks are the hard surface, fast speeds, jumps, skill over-estimation and lacking maintenance.
Anyone who has gotten into pumptrack will tell you how exciting the adrenaline rush is and how satisfying a good lap can feel. But riding over rollers and jumps is not without some dangers.
The Dangers Of Pumptrack
As you’ll see, most of the risk factors are in the individual rider’s hand.
Either limit them by good preparation or avoid those dangerous situations altogether.
Knowing yourself and what you’re getting into is half the battle!
Track features & obstacles.
Riding uneven terrain takes some getting used to. And tracks loaded with obstacles to ride over are fundamental to pumptrack riding. While the types of obstacles used are generally the same all over the world, the track design and layout is always different. And so might the track surface be.
Sighting laps are always encouraged before going at speed. And so is testing jumps. Jumping itself may be a challenge to some beginner riders. It’s not something you normally do. It’s definitely a skill to learn, just like the actual pumping.
Overestimating skill level.
Still, riding over your limit is a risk for every rider, regardless of experience. You can always go faster than you feel comfortable with. You can always try jumps you’re not sure you can make. And it’s easy to get peer-pressured into going out of your comfort zone.
Which is a good thing and also what makes bike riding so fun, but it has to be kept in check. Try to only marginally go over your limits, instead of completely going overboard and out of control.
That’s how to minimize the large majority of rider errors. They mostly happen because of being in over your head. And in pumptrack things happen quickly.
It’s also possible to just not pay attention enough to the details and overlook something or go “off-line” – meaning not ride a good, smooth line that would be ideal over a given obstacle.
Inappropriate protective gear.
A way to increase the inherent risk of pumptrack riding is to not wear the appropriate riding gear. Especially protective equipment. In other words: The gear you wear has a huge impact on reducing the risks associated.
Keeping your own body going is only half of it. There’s also the bike underneath you. Mechanicals are part of the sport, but unexpected ones can be avoided by proper care and maintenance. After a fall, make sure the bike is still mechanically sound to ride.
If your bike makes weird noises, like creaking or clicking, it’s time to give it a thorough check-up. Chances are parts got loose or bearings are dry. Ideally, that’s done before any of the worrying noises happen.
Traffic on track.
Like with any form of transportation, more traffic means more potential hazards. You can control your own riding to be more passive when more people are around. But at the end of the day, you can’t control anyone else.
Big crowds mean large fluctuations in rider experience and skill. There’s a high chance of riders going off-track, holding up faster ones, stopping and re-entering, or generally doing something else unexpected.
Types Of Injuries That Happen Riding Pumptrack
road rash is by far the most common. Can happen on asphalt surfaces, as you would expect, but also on hard dirt surfaces.
Soft tissue & skin injuries.
“Road rash” is the most common type of injury of them all in pumptrack. Those are abrasions occurring from the contact between skin and asphalt. Even cuts, contusions or lacerations can happen but are far less likely. Most can be treated using a regular first aid kit on-site and won’t end your ride immediately.
Head injuries, on the other hand, are by far the most critical and worst kind of injuries to sustain. Obviously, the head, the housing of your brain, is the most valuable body part. You only got one, and it doesn’t heal as well as other body parts, so take appropriate preemptive care.
This one is often looked over! Generally there’s no sun screen or roof over a regular pump track. They’re all out in the baking sun with no shade nearby. So it’s not always straightforward to combat heatstrokes. The sun heats from above while the asphalt does from below. Combined with high-intensity pumping the body can overheat quickly.
So, bring enough water, sunscreen, sunglasses and maybe even an umbrella to rest under.
Wrists, ankles and elbows are the most susceptible joints. Knees too, but injuries are uncommon because most riders wear knee protection. There are also wrist and ankle braces to wear, that don’t impede mobility too much, but those are often worn after an injury occurred rather than preemptively.
Most of the impacts in pumptrack are blunt. Bruises or bone fractures can be the result of violent impacts.
The impact force can be mitigated by rolling, but that’s sometimes not possible to do when things get out of control. The first step to avoiding these is to not ride out of control or completely outside your comfort zone.
Organ damage is rare, but is still worth a mention. There is still a chance of happening when impacts get so violent or out of control that mitigation is not enough to prevent the upper body to take a hit.
While the speeds in pumptrack are not as high, and the tracks not as technical as in Downhill MTB, stupid, awkward falls can be enough to damage internal organs by hitting parts of the bike or track features at the wrong angle.
Those are the potential risks that can occur with various probabilities. Some minor ones may happen regularly, while more severe ones rarely occur. In any case, the likelihood of any of those happening can be decreased proactively!
Here are some ways to mitigate risks in pumptrack.
Pumptrack Safety Tips
With all that talk about risks and consequences, most of them are in YOUR direct control. You just have to know what to look out for and how to prepare.
No helmet is a no-go.
A proper helmet is non-negotiable. Generally, not road helmets but low-cut MTB helmets or half-shell BMX lids are used for pumptrack. This is the absolute minimum.
I personally prefer to wear my full-face downhill MTB helmet or the convertible Giro Switchblade MTB helmet. Even if it’s a little warmer and harder to breathe in. That’s the price I’m willing to pay for protecting my face.
There is no right or wrong. Whatever you choose to wear, the only bad choice is no helmet.
Wear the appropriate riding gear.
I’m not only talking about protective gear, which can provide a comforting feeling and is most helpful in case of a dismount.
I’m also talking about the right shoes, gloves, and sunglasses. In other words: anything that impacts your comfort level and handling of the bike.
A good riding kit is essential to rider confidence and safety.
Maintain your bike and gear.
Dedicated pumptrack bikes require very little maintenance anyway. There are not as many moving parts as on a regular mountain bike. Even less so on completely rigid BMX bikes. Those things are very sturdy and can take some abuse.
Still, mechanical issues can happen. And when they do, it’s often because of lacking care beforehand. Loose bolts, worn brakes, deflated tires and old chains are easy to prevent by checking over your bike before every ride.
Stay in control and don’t override your personal limit.
Most crashes come from a lack of control either from not knowing the track or speeds to fast for the rider’s skill level. Either way, it’s always the rider’s fault. And it can so easily be avoided.
Yes, there’s going to be a rider faster, smoother and better than you – almost guaranteed. But don’t get peer pressured into going above your personal limits.
Learn from your mistakes.
And if you do eventually crash or have a near crash, take the opportunity to reflect on what went wrong and why. There’s always something good to take away. You just have to be willing to be critical of your riding and not shy away from highlighting errors.
Remember: Pretty much all variables are in your control. And if they aren’t, try and avoid those altogether.
Avoid crowded hours.
Even if the lanes on a pump track are only wide enough for one rider, traffic is one of the biggest risks in Pumptrack!
This is because it’s an uncontrollable variable. Riders with a variety of skill levels and sometimes riding equipment (bikes, scooters, skateboards, etc.) come and ride the same track. At different speeds and using different lines.
It’s not uncommon for beginners, kids or bikers riding over their limit to go off-track accidentally.
Don’t ride alone.
Luckily this is easy to avoid as most pump tracks are visited regularly, especially in warm weather and during afternoon hours or weekends. Even if having other riders around won’t save you from crashing, see it as a safety net in case something does go wrong.
Fellow riders are generally quick to help and get you the assistance you need.
Even if crowded tracks bring their own set of potential risks.
Be careful on track intersections.
Some tracks have a layout that allows for some optional lines or shortcuts. This leads to certain spots where lines come together or run parallel to each other. Always know where these spots are and keep an eye out for potential traffic.
The most dangerous situations I’ve seen on pump tracks is where riders can’t keep their line and cross into someone else’s.
Ride in the designated direction of the track.
While most pump tracks can technically be ridden in either direction (different from BMX tracks), there is always a designated direction to go in. This is signaled either by arrows on the ground or on the nearby track map.
In case of uncertainty, just go in the same direction as everybody else. Even if they all go against the directions the arrows are pointing. Some tracks just run better in one than the other way.
Keep the distance from riders in front.
Especially if you don’t know them well. Yes, big party trains with the crew can be the funnest thing ever, but also one of the riskiest. One rider’s error can end in a pile-up. So, my tip for pumptrack trains: run in order of skill, and only with people, you can trust to ride predictably.
This is basically common MTB trail etiquette and nothing new for my fellow mountain bikers.