1. You have to put a foot down for balance. Also know as 'dip'
When we ride technical trails like the Tapeworm in Renton we count dips. You get minus one point for every time you have to put down a foot for balance a plus one point for every obstacle you ride that you could have ridden around. My personal best (twice) is no dips and all but one obstacles. Not because I could not ride it, but because I always overlook it.
2. Don’t lose bike. Both feed down.
This has happened for me too many times to count, however, the most clear example of this kind of fail is on the steep technical rock sections of Tiger. There are sections which I have never seen anyone actually manage to ride up. But you also don’t really fall. You just head at it and eventually have to give up and put both feed down.
3. Lose the bike but don’t fall
My best example of this kind of fail was on a ride at Paradise. It was dark, I did not have a light, I was alone, cold, and really just wanted to go home. I took a shortcut and my bike got stuck in mud and disappeared under me. I walked through the air, landed on my feet, ran a bit and stopped. Picked the bike up and rode on.
4. Lose bike and you are on the ground but don’t get hurt.
This happened to me riding downhill on Mount Hood. It was Sunday, race day, and I went down on my first practice run but I did not realize just how much till much later. It felt like a category 3 fail, but after my second practice run when I pulled up to the camp, and started taking my gear off, I noticed that I had dirt on all of my left leg and all of my left arm. I would like to thank our sponsor 661. Without 661, this would have been a category 5 or 6 fail.
5. Fall and get flesh wounds
This has happened a lot for me but is best exemplified by a cross country ride at Duthie Hill. Well, it was a night of mostly cross country, but we also did this intermediate jump line and I tried a line I normally don’t take and paid for it. My left leg and arm were quite bloody but nothing serious. Just flesh wounds. Took a bit of paper towels to be ready for dinner but all good fun. Still have the scars.
6. Fall and get hurt and you are limping for more than a day but less than a week. Bruises.
It was a Thursday night ride. It was dark. Autumn. Steep. One of my favorite spots near Seattle and someone had dropped in before me and I thought I could catch them so I let go of the brakes. My front tire got caught in a root and I went down hard, my left leg caught between the frame and the handlebars. By Saturday evening I could sort of walk normally again. By Sunday morning I felt alright. As of this writing, two weeks later my leg is still blue and yellow from the bruises but the hurt has gone away.
7. It really hurts. You aren't out of riding, but walking or lifting things is annoying for a couple of weeks
Port Angeles (PGA) Downhill. Race run. I let go and go too fast through a rocky section. I go down. Slide through the rocks and my knee protection slides down. I got up again as if this had been a category 5 fail but fell twice more during that run. Turned out I had gotten really badly hurt on the top of my knees and I had a terrible time driving the four hours home and did not walk normally for at least three weeks. Worst thing is I had another category 7 fail at PGA earlier in the season where I really hurt my left arm.
8. You are out for a bit. Can ride with pain killers, may have permanent nerve damage
Ever extended yourself beyond what you should be doing? I have. Duthie hill. Had been practicing on Semper Dirticus jump line and wanted more. Went to the DWB jump line and dropped in. The first part is easy and forgiving but the first big step down is preceded by three small bumps and I just could not get enough speed to do the step down. Eventually I figure the bumps out and did the step down. I was super excited. Whoo'ed as I went through the air and was just happy so I did it again and again. On the third time down I was so happy that I forgot to pay attention and just continued over the next double, came in super nose heavy and crashed very very hard on my front. My gear took most of the impact but my front right upper leg got badly injured. Eventually a big something appeared on my leg, filled with some kind of fluid. It has since gone away but I have almost no sense left in my upper right leg. This was a Tuesday. On Friday I went to Port Angeles for my first time down hilling ever and got the category 7 fail on my left arm in practice. I was out that Saturday but raced Sunday. Not a good week for riding in my book although making that step down felt good.
9. Break something and you cannot ride for a while. May need surgery
I have fortunately not ever been in this category but Larry whom I ride with broke his collarbone at Whistler, Eric has broken his foot, Al has broken both his collarbones, and Clinton is due for surgery on his arm soon. So not at all unlikely. I will try to remain rubbery as I will much rather have a category 8 or 7 fail than a 9 or above.
10. Fully or semi paralyzed. You will probably never ride again.
I have fortunately never hear about anyone to whom this happened on a mountain bike. Its probably because of the protection we wear. Again I would like to thank our sponsor 661 for saving my bacon on more than one occasion. I have seen this happen for people on skis and rock climbing, but when I flew 8 feet through the air and landed on my head against a big log, I walked away pretty much unharmed because I was wearing a 661 helmet.
Death happens a whole lot less in mountain biking than it does in for instance rock climbing and mountaineering. I think this is due to two factors. We are never that far off the ground so the impacts are smaller, and we typically wear a decent amount of protection. Personally I wear a lot of protection, but even some of my 529 team mates who do not wear a whole lot of protection, still wear a helmet, kneepads, and some body armor when racing downhill.