Recently I read a number of news articles about a man who came off his mountain bike, hit his head and is now paralysed as a result. However this man fell off during an instructed skills course and is now suing the instructor for £4m because of ‘Woefully inadequate’ supervision.
I feel for the victim, as it’s a tragic accident that I wouldn’t wish on anyone and it will have a massive impact on his life. However I really hope the Judge will throw this case out of court or rule in favour of the instructor.
According to the victim’s lawyer, he was a mountain biker with 12 years experience, but was a novice on rough terrain and descents. Also claiming he was encouraged to descend the section they were riding at speed and without braking which the victim felt was unsafe. Now I take issue with this. The victim is a grown man who works as a solicitor, so we can assume he is of more than fair intelligence. He also is old enough to identify risks and if he felt it wasn’t safe or didn’t feel confident enough to do the task, then he didn’t have to. No one was forcing him. However, he fell off on the second descent of the same section of trail so he had already done it once and felt confident enough to do it again.
This also raises the question that how can you be an experienced mountain biker but a novice on rough terrain and descents. As a mountain biker myself, I know that these aspects are integral to mountain biking and essentially what makes mountain biking exactly that and not just riding a bike. Is it being claimed that merely by owning a mountain bike for a number of years then you are and experienced mountain biker? No, it doesn’t. If a mountain bike is your bicycle of choice and you just ride it on the road, to the shops or on a gentle ride with your family round Centre Parks then you are not a mountain biker. Just the same as the school run mums in big four wheel drives aren’t off roaders and participate in greenlaning at the weekend with the other mums. I could go and buy a racing car if I had the money but that wouldn’t make me a racing driver.
Ultimately, anyone with any sense will know there is an element of risk in this kind of activity. Whether you ride a mountain bike or a road bike, there will always be risks. Most sporting events carry risks of accidents and injuries. By participating you accept responsibility of these risks. Lewis Hamilton will accept that driving his Mercedes at 200mph involves a high amount of risk, but he still chooses to do so. Rachel Atherton knows there is high risk of injury when racing her mountain bike at high speed downhill over extreme terrain and doesn’t blame others if she comes off and injures herself.
We now live in a blame society and I hate it. I’ve come off my mountain bike myself during an Enduro event leaving me injured. I was off work for 4 weeks on just statutory sick pay leaving me out of pocket, I had to buy new wheels for my bike as mine had buckled in the accident and buy a new helmet as I cracked mine after hitting my head on a rock which all cost quite a lot of money. Did I look to blame someone? Did I sue the event organisers? No, I didn’t. It was an accident. I knew the risks of the sport I love before I took part. I’m old enough to know what I am capable of and I wasn’t forced by anyone to do it. I know my accident is nothing compared to this victim in question but the principles are still the same. It was an accident. There was no one to blame. Just as if you had a sneezing fit whilst driving and crashed your car into a tree and injured yourself. Sometimes, unlucky things just happen and the sooner people accept that without looking for someone else to blame, the better.
What really concerns me though is the ramifications if this case falls in favour of the victim. Worms would be spilling from the can all over the place. The knock on effects could be huge and possibly devastating for the sport of Mountain Biking and cycling in general. Would instructors stop instructing in case they are sued if someone falls off? Would guided rides be stopped in case the guide is sued because someone fell off because they failed to point out that some rocks might be slippery after a recent rain fall? Would trail centres close in case someone ignored the warning signs and hit a tree after taking on a section that was too difficult for their ability? And would bike shops be sued for not warning cyclists their new brake pads would need to be bedded in? It would open the floodgates for so many people looking to make money from their own inability to accept responsibility.
If you chose to participate in something risky, accept that risk or don’t do it and spoil it for everyone else. Its a simple choice. Accidents happen. Sometimes, and some people might find this hard to believe, there is no one to blame. It’s just bad luck.
Usually I spend the weekend standing beside a race track with my camera taking photos of race cars flying past at high speed, but this weekend was a bit different. I was still standing beside a track with my camera taking photos, but what was whizzing past at speed was very different.
On the same weekend as the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Pietermaritzburg took place, I decided to head out to take in a mountain bike event at a more humble level. Aston Hill near Aylesbury was my destination and their Downhill ‘Double Header’ event was the reason.
Despite being a mountain bike fan, I’ve never been to a downhill event let alone photographed one so I wasn’t sure what to expect. With two races taking place over the weekend, one on Saturday and one on Sunday on two different downhill runs, and morning practice runs followed by two timed runs with over 100 entrants each day, there was plenty of action to see.
I used the practice sessions to follow the runs down the hill and find some angles to photograph from. The top section seemed relatively flat, but as you followed the route it quickly became apparent just how steep and technical some of the sections were. It was difficult to navigate them on foot let alone on a mountain bike. Riders were using the practice to learn the lines, some stopping to do individual sections again and watching other riders to see what line they were taking and judging which was the quickest.
It became apparent that although this was an amateur event, these guys took it very seriously and were very good at it. There’s no place for nerves in this sport and one false move could have disastrous, and painful, consequences. Balls of steel were top of the ‘Items Required’ list and you really need to witness firsthand the speeds these riders were achieving to believe it.
Having made it to the bottom of the hill by the end of Saturday’s practice I decided that I would photograph the first group of riders on their timed run at the two big jumps just before the finish line. It was here I witnessed just how brutal downhill mountain biking can be. A rider has just lost grip before a large step down jump sending him crashing to the ground and off the jump landing heavily. The race was stopped while the Ambulance crew tended to the rider, who despite receiving cuts, bruises and ripped clothing, seemed to have avoided any major injuries. The need for full face helmets and body armour was apparent.
Racing was soon back under way and the time seemed to fly by as quick as the riders did and the end of the first timed run was soon over. The second timed runs took place after the lunch break and I started from the top of the hill this time. There were more spectators up on the top half of the route who made plenty of noise as each rider flew by. Some even had cow bells, horns and a vuvuzela to help create a great and friendly atmosphere. On the occasion a rider came off, the roar or support when they got back on and continued at break neck speed down the hill was really special. Everyone seemed to be having a great time.
After the presentation of prizes for the numerous categories of riders, the official opening of Aston Hill’s new Pump Track took place. A few of the very young riders took to it for a ride before making way for the older ones to put the track through it’s paces. It passed with flying colours and everyone seemed to enjoy the new addition to the bike park.
The final event of the day was the ‘Whip-Off’ where the more confident and probably bonkers riders competed with each over to see who could produce a Whip that even Danny Hart would have been proud of over one of the jumps on the ‘Surface to Air’ downhill run, one of Aston Hill’s many downhill routes. This was quite a spectacle to watch and the jumps were breath-taking despite the occasional close call on landing. The first day had been brilliant and I was certain Sunday’s action wasn’t going to disappoint either.
I was right, it didn’t disappoint. Sunday bought a new route to explore which encompassed fast sections with jumps and slow, steep technical sections. There seemed to be even more spectators than the previous day all there to cheer on the riders and give their support. Another rider had a heavy fall hitting his head on one of the jumps, but his helmet did it’s job and after some treatment was on his feet to the applause of onlookers. These lads (and lasses) were made of tough stuff and had more than earned my respect.
Although the weekend had flown by in a blur, I had a fantastic time and enjoyed every minute of my new experience. I watch all the Down Hill world cup events online and even have a few DVD’s so to actually get out and witness one first hand was fantastic. With my home county somewhat lacking in hills suitable for a downhill event, it was nice to be able to attend one less than 100 miles away. I hope now to attend more in the future and capture on camera. Even my girlfriend who tagged along with me for the weekend told me she had a great time and loved watching it.
Many thanks to everyone involved in organising the event and to Aston Hill for hosting it. They should be proud of their efforts. A few more photos from Saturday’s race can be seen here and Sunday’s race, here.