Expert riders stress safety gear |

Expert riders stress safety gear

Downhill mountain bikers at Deer Valley Resort on Friday wear safety gear like helmets and elbow guards. Bikers say the safety equipment is essential when they ride. Grayson West/Park Record

At 16 years old, Joel Bain would likely rebound quickly from lots of mountain-biking accidents.

But Bain, who is from Perth, Australia, and in Park City this weekend for the National Mountain Bike Series races at Deer Valley Resort, says he does not want to risk getting beaten up by trees and rocks if he falls.

Bain, a downhill racer, describes what he and other hardcore mountain bikers call ‘body armor,’ the getup that they wear when they are screaming down a treacherous, rocky trail, saying that it is critical to protect themselves if they crash.

"If you can’t pedal, you won’t be able to race," he says, as he discusses why he wears the safety gear.

The racers began arriving at Deer Valley at midweek, a few days after a mountain biker died in a crash on an experts-only trail at the resort. Tommy K. Crawford, who was 51 years old and from Gilbert, Ariz., crashed on the Thieves Forest trail. A medical crew was unable to revive him at the scene.

People in the mountain-biking community, like Bain, say that wearing safety equipment is critical when someone rides onto the trails, regardless of their skill or the difficulty of the terrain they plan to ride.

The Park City Police Department says Crawford was wearing a helmet and gloves when he crashed.

Bain says that he typically wears gloves, a helmet, knee guards, shin guards and elbow guards under most circumstances. If a racecourse is rocky or if he expects that he will be riding fast, he puts his body armor on, using protection for his chest, back, shoulders, forearms and elbows.

"You can make it as dangerous as you want. The faster you go, the more dangerous it becomes. One of the most dangerous sports in the world," he says about downhill mountain biking.

Many people likely do not consider mountain biking a dangerous sport but with the advent of lift-serviced biking at numerous mountain resorts, including the three in the Park City area, bicyclists of differing experience levels can easily reach expert trails.

Fatal mountain-biking accidents are rare, with Crawford’s death being the first known fatality in 2006 or 2005, according to the International Mountain Bicycling Association, an advocacy group.

Tom Spiegel, the owner of Team Big Bear, the promoter of the National Mountain Bike Series, suggests that people on mountain bikes wear, at least, a helmet, gloves, proper shoes and goggles or glasses. He says they should also make sure that the bicycle is in good condition.

He calls mountain biking safer than road biking since people riding on streets are at risk of being struck by a car. Spiegel says mountain biking is a "pretty safe sport for the recreational rider," noting that advances like the appearance of full-suspension bicycles — bikes that have shocks in the front and back — have made the sport safer.

"The normal result of a road-bike crash with a car is typically serious. The normal mountain-bike crash is not typically serious," Spiegel says.

Spiegel adds, in addition to wearing safety gear, mountain bikers should stay on trails within their skills and avoid the "macho factor" that leads them to more advanced terrain.

Someone who is not reasonably athletic and has never ridden a mountain bike before should take a class before riding on trails, he says.

"It’s probably the No. 1 (problem) you have. People don’t ride within their ability," Spiegel says.

Tom Noaker, the head coach of the Young Riders race team, a Park City riding group for kids, agrees that precautions are needed before mountain biking, including wearing the right safety gear.

He says, sometimes, riders are not warned of the danger of expert runs and other times riders attempt a downhill run with a bicycle that is not made for that sort of riding. People riding what he calls cross-country bikes, such as those built with less weight and a less advanced suspension system, should not ride on a downhill run.

Noaker says Young Riders organizers do not want the kids to ride on downhill runs unless they have adequate bicycles, the right safety gear and have had training.

With the racers at Deer Valley preparing on Wednesday for the weekend’s competitions, there was not much talk about the fatality days before. The riders and the crews were tuning the bicycles and the organizers were setting up.

James Schwanke, a 20-year-old racer from Mammoth Lakes, Calif., was among those preparing and, like others at Deer Valley, stresses that mountain bikers should wear appropriate safety gear, including riding shorts. He stresses that people should not attempt trails that are too difficult.

"Make sure you know what level you’re actually at. Don’t assume you’re better than you actually are," Schwanke says. "That will lead you in right over your head."

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