My twelve-year-old recently tried downhill mountain biking when we were in Lake Placid. He found it thrilling and would like to continue with this new sport now that we are back home. I am hesitant for him to practice this sport on a regular basis because of safety concerns. We allow - basketball (with mouth guard) - soccer (with shin guards -- by the way, should he use the mouth guard as well when he is playing goalie?) - swimming - tennis - cross country skiing - ice skating for fun

We do not allow games with a stick -- ice hockey, lacrosse. And we do not allow American football or downhill skiing.

I'd like to be reasonably consistent with our existing policy!

Where does downhill mountain bike riding (on an established track at a reputable ski center) fit, on the scale of things? He has asked for a full-face helmet and elbow and knee pads, because that's what he was given to use as part of the fee at Lake Placid.

Clarification: I'd like to avoid fractures, of course, but I'd mainly like to avoid really serious injuries and things that might leave him with longlasting health problems such as a knee or back that is never the same again.

I'm not worried about scratches or bruises.

  • 2
    In 17 years of playing and watching football on a nearly daily basis, I have not once seen a football goalkeeper use a mouth guard. Though I have seen pretty hard shots that hit their heads a few times now (I was responsible for one of them), this did not result in any serious injury to their teeth. I think that is mostly due to a football's ability to deform and spread the impact over a larger part of the body. Besides that I think that his fellow twelve-year-olds are not able to kick the ball hard enough to inflict serious damage with it. Jul 28 '15 at 11:16
  • @Braamstruik Thank you, the question in the parenthesis is taken care of .... Any thoughts about the downhill mountain biking? Jul 28 '15 at 22:48
  • You might check Bicycles and see if this would be on topic there - they have a larger community and so might get better answers.
    – Joe
    Jul 29 '15 at 17:04
  • @Joe Thank you, will do. I didn't know about that site -- sounds perfect. Jul 29 '15 at 17:35
  • Here is a link to the corresponding question on Bicycles Stack Exchange: Safety comparison, downhill mountain bike vs. downhill ski.
    – Martin
    Mar 21 '19 at 5:09

Downhill mountain biking is definitely a dangerous genre because of the speed, the obstacles and the elements you should pass through. On the second hand, it is the most exciting, fun and self improving sport. I have tried various extreme sports (Snowboarding, wakeboarding, surfing, kite surfing, skiing and some more..) and this one satisfied me the most.

Things to do before starting DH on a regular basis:

  1. Buy all the protection accessories that you need: Full-Face Helmet, Goggles (are much better then glasses), Gloves, Knee Guards (you can buy it with shin guard), Cycling shoes (for better handling, very important!), Neck brace (recommended for higher speeds and jumps) and for the beginning I would recommend a kind of Pressure suit for the whole upper body.
  2. Kids learn very fast but still it's important to go step by step and not diving into extreme trails before you know the basics. Start riding some Cross-country / All-mountain trails and after gaining some experience try to go and ride a downhill track.
  3. I think that taking a few private lessons with a MTB guide will give your kid the basic skills and put him on the right way.
  4. If you think that it can be too early for your son (and it can be), you can look for some group courses for children that ride together with a guide on a regular basis. If you have DH tracks in your area than you should have groups and guides also. And I didn't mention it because its obvious - never let him ride alone.

Kids get injured much less than adults do but still it is important to explain them that they shouldn't take unnecessary risks. They should progress at their own pace and be careful when comparing themselves with their friends.

In conclusion, this is the ultimate sport! You meet great people, learn how to overcome obstacles, you get fit, and all this is in the nature! And there are many more advantages. I would recommend you also read some articles about mountain biking, it's great and very interesting! And how could I forget?! Buy a DH bike!!! :)

I hope that was helpful, sorry for my bad English (I am Israeli and I'm practicing it :)) and feel free to contact me privately for more questions :)


  • 1
    Thank you. Extreme sports are definitely out. When my son is paying his own medical and dental insurance and expenses, he can choose for himself. Your post cemented the decision -- very helpful. Aug 27 '15 at 4:50

My downhill cycling is limited to short runs that were incidental to the mountain biking trails I was riding, but I have 37 years of downhill skiing experience with only one injury, albeit a serious one, in which I shattered the proximal end of a tibia. It is on that experience and road cycling training that I base my advice.

Practice in an escalating scale of risk is the way to train and part of an athlete's training is learning to assess risk. Every twelve-year-old is different, but at some point in your young athlete's development, if he or she is to be an athlete, the assessment and management of the risk must fall to him or her.

My own 8 and 11 year-old children engage in tennis, swimming, ice skating, sailing, soccer, and basketball. They've not been much interested in alpine skiing since my introduction of it starting 8 years ago. American football is off the list for them, and I have reservations about field hockey which have not yet come to a point of requiring a ruling. Just to say I understand your sports reservations.


No, I'm a Dutchman, we don't have hills ;)

On a more serious note: I only ride a race bike, so this answer is based on my general knowledge of cycling (and cyclocross). I think this really has to do with the difficulty level of the courses he wants to ride. If he is going to ride downhill on a regular basis, he should get the proper training (from a trainer at a club) in which he should learn to get good control over his bike and maybe even a training on how to crash with limited damage. This obviously involves starting on easier tracks and subsequently learning to ride more difficult ones.

Of course, when he will be doing this regularly, he will crash. That is part of the learning process. Most often, he will get some minor injuries such as scratches and bruises. Incidentally, this might even lead to a broken arm or collarbone or so, but I cannot properly estimate that risk. In the end, the crashes will be a lesson and toughen him up.

When he will be riding an established track that has the required safety precautions and he will get the proper training from an experienced rider, the injuries should in general be limited. However, when not accompanied with the proper training and instructions, unrestrained enthusiasm and elation might cause him to pay a high tuition fee in the form of an unnecessary hard crash. This might lead to him getting fear of downhill and losing his interest in the sport.

One final remark, you might want him to start with cyclocross first. I know this sport is not that popular in the US, but it will teach him great steering skills and would provide an excellent basis before starting to ride downhill. Injuries tend to be less severe, since one is generally riding slower and there are less height differences. Furthermore, he might love passing the obstacles and riding through the mud.

  • Does cyclocross require special equipment and a special track? Jul 29 '15 at 17:33
  • Yes, for more basic information on cyclocross, check Wikipedia. Jul 30 '15 at 13:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.