Mountain bike risks focus of VCH ‘Shred Safe’ campaign

Peter, 58, was badly injured in a mountain biking accident last October and wants to share his message that people need to pay attention while riding.  

He went from a trailhead on Mount Fromme to a hospital bed last October and will never ride his cherished Kona full-suspension mountain bike again.

Now confined to a wheelchair, the 58-year-old Burnaby man, who asked that only his first name be used, wants to share his message that people need to pay attention when out for a ride.

But as he goes through an extensive rehabilitation process to try to get some use of his legs, he does not want to bad-mouth the sport he loves.

Peter’s trailside tragedy is happening far too often, according to emergency room doctors with Vancouver Coastal Health, and they are sounding the alarm with the launch of a “Shred Safe” mountain bike campaign.

In a video kicking off the campaign that starts Friday, Vancouver Coastal Health’s Dr. John Carsley points out ER physicians are often overwhelmed by the volume of significant injuries happening to mountain bikers.  “Every day our emergency room doctors see concussions, broken bones, internal bleeding, organ damage and head and spine injuries,” Carsley says in the video. “Last year over 100 bikers needed major emergency surgery.”

Statistics compiled by Vancouver Coastal Health show Whistler leads the way with the volume of annual injuries. In 2014-15, 57 riders were hospitalized with significant injuries. But that is lower than in 2013-14, when there were 67 major injuries, and 71 the previous year.  North Vancouver was next with 13 serious incidents in 2014-15, which is up from four in 2013-14. Squamish had 10 in 2014-15, up from seven in 2013-14.

According to the statistics, the median age last year for those having bad accidents was 31 for men and 33 for women. The average length of time spent in hospital last year was five days, down by a day from the previous year.  The bulk of serious mountain bike crashes happen between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m., on Saturday or Sunday. The worst months for accidents are July and August. The data covers only injuries that were significant in nature and required a hospital stay, and does not include the large number of minor mountain biking injuries that hospitals deal with on a daily basis.

Dr. Annie Gareau is an emergency room physician at the Whistler Health Care Centre. She was one of the authors of a major study in 2012 that examined the high rate of accidents in the Whistler bike park.  Gareau advised people to pre-ride the trails in the bike park to make sure they can handle the route. “Know what you are getting yourself into,” she urged.

An avid mountain biker herself, Gareau also warned that people need to keep well hydrated and eat food during a day in the bike park, or it may mean a visit to see her. “The biggest mistake is when they ride until they drop,” she said.   Other words of advice she offered are for those who have lapses of reason and in some cases, due to peer pressure, push it too hard: “If you don’t feel it, don’t ride it. You need to be 100-per-cent in it, head-wise.

“Don’t ride high, drunk or tired,” Gareau added.

She advised riders to keep drinking water throughout the day and get off the mountain once fatigue starts setting in. Another common problem, she said, is people who crash and think they are OK and go back up for another run.  “Often people crash and rattle their brain a little bit and go right back up and then have a second crash and it is bad,” she said.

In the Shred Safe campaign, VCH is partnering this weekend with the North Shore Mountain Bike Association (NSMBA) to promote safe riding as biking season gets into full swing. A booth will be set up near the main parking lot of Mount Fromme on Sunday, and both the mountain bike association and VCH will have representatives answering questions and offering advice on how to play safe on the trails.

According to the NSMBA’s Christine Tetrault, the association rates the trails they maintain and people should do some Internet research on the route they plan to ride before they even go to the mountain.  “Anybody who is riding the trails for the first time should be riding with caution and learn about your surroundings,” Tetrault said.  She said signs marking the trails give people a good understanding of what to expect. “We have very clear, distinctive signs giving the best rating for that trail,” she said. “All of the sanctioned trails are marked.”