Road or Mountain Biking: Is one safer?

Almost 3 weeks post concussion I did my first mountain bike ride today. We rode the Prospect Trail in Telluride. The Dr. warned me to not ride for a week or two after my fall. A secondary concussion is serious and he didn’t want me to risk further brain damage.

Which got me thinking that maybe I should just road bike for awhile. Road biking is probably safer, right? I kept thinking about road vs. mountain bike safety after my crash. Is one really safer?

We are a road and mountain bike family. We do both about equally while dabbing in a few road or mountain bike events and races throughout the year.  I have had one bad crash on my road bike and now two bad crashes on my mountain bike. In between I have had dozens of smaller mountain bike crashes and no other road bike crashes.

I would say that most of our friends fall into either the mountain bike or road bike camp…not both. Roadies think mountain biking is too dangerous and too risky and mountain bikers say the same about road biking. We have a friend that says his wife will not allow him to do any type of road race because of the danger yet he races and rides pretty extreme mountain bike terrain.

Road biking does have an easier learning curve. If you can ride a bike you can get on a road bike and call yourself a roadie. And you can minimize your chance at crashing by riding slow. Going slow does not hinder your safety as it does in mountain biking.

But when you crash it’s usually bad and not your fault. Because you are riding with traffic and/or in close proximity to other riders you can’t assure your safety.

When I crashed on my road bike I was on a training ride in Boulder with 10 other women. They were all pro riders except for two junior women. As our group came to a sudden stop the juniors failed to warn those behind them (me). Since we were riding in a tight pack I had no time to respond to the sudden braking in front of me. I touched a wheel flew and off my bike into traffic. Cars missed me (thank goodness). I was able to get up and ride back home but I had some serious road rash. It took me a long time to ride in a group after that and I’m still selective of those people that I road ride with. On the occasion I do a road race or crit, you’ll find me up front in the first few riders or way off the back. I guess you can say that crash still has me a little nervous.

Mountain biking involves skill and the right amount of speed and momentum to stay safe. As your confidence and skills grow you crash less.  But when you’re confident enough to go 30 MPH down a rocky slope and you crash- well it sucks!

When I was asked to go biking on Prospect I was excited and ready but I did have a bit of reservation. Prospect is not buff singletrack. It’s rooty, rocky, muddy and 100% backcountry fun.  You take confidence into a trail like that, not any fear. Again I thought…maybe I should stick to the road for awhile.

Then as I was getting ready this morning I saw a post on Facebook. Saturday Dale Stetina, a former professional cyclist and father to Garmin rider Peter Stetina, was involved a road bike accident and is in critical condition. He swerved to avoid a car that pulled out in front of him. A former pro out for a casual ride and now his future is uncertain.

I’m still not sure which activity is ‘safer.’ On one hand mountain biking, while full of inherent risks, is safer because you are usually in control. Cars and other riders don’t interfere with your riding. When I crashed 3 weeks ago it was my fault. While I’m still not sure what happened, a rock didn’t just jump out at me. I made an error. On the other hand when road riding there is less opportunity for a crash. You don’t have rocks, roots, and other obstacles to worry about yet you have to worry about other people’s errors.

For me it’s doing what feels right at the time while being mindful of the risks. I can’t fully control accidents while mountain or road biking but I can control my fear and be as prepared as possible.

As for today’s ride…it was a success!  I had a wonderful ride and was able to balance caution with letting it go and having fun.

Would love to hear your thoughts…is one safer than the other?


Taking a break on the Prospect Trail.



  1. I used to lead weekly women’s mountain bike rides at a park that was beginner-friendly. One week a woman showed up on a borrowed bike. She did quite well.

    After the ride she said she was trying to decide if she should take up mountain biking or road riding. “Which is safer?” she asked. I said that in mountain biking you fall a lot more but when you go crash on the road it’s usually worse. Her response: “I think I’ll take up running.”

    Another week I got two women who also rode horses. They didn’t mind falling off their mountain bikes. “It’s a lot less painful than falling off a horse.”

  2. I asked that question myself a couple of times….we have a lot of road cyclist & mountain biker in our local womens bike club.

    If somebody asked me, I prefer to hurt myself on a mountain bike instead of getting hurt by somebody else (car)! Well I think my legs would have less scars if I would have started road cycling instead of mountain biking.

  3. Johanna Love says:

    I’ve blown out a knee (15 years ago) and separated a shoulder (this year) on my mountain bike. Never seriously hurt myself in thousands of miles of road, but I totally agree you’re depending more on other people to not do something dumb. Road is also harder on your body for chronic injury, I think, like aggravating a tight neck/shoulders already messed up from office worker syndrome. My husband doesn’t like me to tow my 4-year-old on the road because “it’s too dangerous” so we mostly stick to paths and across-town transportation. I can’t wait until she’s big enough for a tandem!

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