Mountain biking comes with some significant risks, especially if you venture into remote places where there is unlikely to be any help around, and you may not be able to get a mobile phone signal. Safety is your own responsibility, and the inclusion of routes on my site shouldn't be taken as a recommendation that you try them yourself - it's purely your decision. It's also worth noting that the conditions on routes may have changed since I last cycled them. Erosion, land management and many other factors may introduce new hazards or detours.
I've probably done a couple of hundred trips, and seen several minor accidents and one major one that resulted in concussion, a nasty facial injury and a stay in hospital. I've personally fallen off my bike twice, but not hurt myself. I don't tend to take on major technical challenges for their own sake, though - I'd have fallen off a lot more if I didn't carry or push my bike through the trickier obstacles.There are no doubt some people who fall off on most sessions, because they have fun going out of their way to test their limits (e.g. downhillers, aka nutters!).
Either way, the upshot is that if you ride off-road, you should probably expect to fall off at some point, and the more risks you take and the more challenging routes you ride, the more often you'll fall off. Even riding carefully, accidents can happen though. Three friends fell in one incident in Glen Almond on a wide wooden bridge that looked perfectly safe but turned out to be damp and extremely slippy. Beware of damp wood (and cattle grids, which can cause similar accidents).
The one and only serious accident was when we were travelling downhill at speed on a forestry track (at Blackcraig Forest) in poor light (it was getting dark) and one friend hit an 'invisible' bump and came off his bike face first. His helmet was broken, and presumably that would have been his head if he hadn't been wearing the helmet. A full face helmet might have spared him further injuries.
So I'd recommend wearing a helmet.
Beyond that, if you are venturing off the beaten track you should take a medical kit, and some basic tools and spares for if you have mechanical problems. In around one hundred trips with 3 or 4 people, we've had three or four punctures and a couple of chain failures, one unrecoverable problem when a rear mech sheared off, and plenty of minor issues with accessories of dubious quality (mudguards, bottle holders etc...)
You should also have a detailed map, a compass (even if you have a GPS receiver too) and a mobile phone (mine is turned off unless I need it).
My medical kit contains:
• Sticking plasters
• Sterile water for cleaning inuries (or grit/insects from eyes)
• A small bottle of disinfectant
• Sterile contact lens solution
• Painkillers (just for headaches, really)
• Bandages, gauze, cotton wool, sterile strips (for holding together cuts).
• A small pair of scissors.
• Safety pins
• Insect repellent
• Tweezers (for removing ticks)
It isn't enough just to carry the bandages - you need to know how to tie them too.
My toolkit contains:
• Puncture repair kit and spare inner tubes.
• Spare chain (but be aware that a new chain on worn cogs won't function pefectly)
• Chain tool
• Spanners, allen keys and screwdrivers for all the components of your bike
It's useful to regularly refresh your memory of what you have in your medical kit and toolkit. If you don't look at them from one month to the next, it's easy to discover one day that all along you've been carrying something that you didn't know you had, and would have come in really useful if you'd remembered you'd had it.
If you are cycling in the countryside any time approaching evening (or deliberately in the dark, which offers a new dimesion to familiar routes!) you'll need halogen lights and spare bulbs and battery.
You should take spare clothes on longer trips. You might want to consider packable waterproofs and spare base layer. A fairly warm sunny day can suddenly turn cold and wet, and if you don't have suitable clothing that's probably the end of the fun.
When out on in the countryside, what seem like wildernesses will often be very managed landscapes. Away from the more heavily used-routes there will probably be traps set for managing 'vermin' such as stoats or mink (e.g. in dry stone walls). Whenever you see a mechanical contraption or wire that you don't recognise, don't touch.
Aside from the legal activities of the majority of gamekeepers, there are also illegal.ones and you may come across poisoned baits. Don't touch any substances (e.g. blue crystals) on carrion or suspiciously placed meat. If you think you have encountered poison or blatantly dangerous traps, you might want to report it to the police, e.g.: http://www.tayside.police.uk/wildlife/wildlife-crime-officers.htm.
At certain times of the year, deer stalking takes place in the Scottish countryside (and at all times of the year, poaching). You may encounter people with guns. This is very unlikely to be a danger to you, but you should be aware that your activities are probably affecting theirs. See access for more information.
You are very unlikely to come under threat from wildlife. An accidental encounter with an adder is a potential hazard in upland glens, such as Little Glenshee and Glen Mark. Livestock is more likely to pose a hazard, but sensible precautions usually are enough to avoid any risk. The most important thing is not to come between a mother and its offspring, especially when it comes to cattle. For the benefit of wildlife and livestock and yourselves, you shouldn't ride at high speed past them, or approach closer than necessary.
Ticks are probably the most dangerous wildlife you'll encounter, as they can carry Lyme disease. You should check yourself for any ticks on your return home, and gently remove any you find with tweezers. The objective is to remove them in one piece, without leaving the head in your skin.You are most likely to pick them up if you have been brushing past bracken or tall heather. If you find one on you, keep checking for more - it's not unusual to have collected several at once. If you find them and remove them within a few hours the chance of getting disease from them is remote. You should however see a doctor if you get a circular rash around the bite in the weeks afterwards, or suffer an otherwise unexplained illness.
Ultimately, the most important factor in your safety is common sense, and properly evaluating the risks. On each trip, consider the scenarios for something unfortunate happening, and have a rough plan for how you'll get home or get help if you have an accident or a mechanical failure. The majority of people who run into real trouble did something foolhardy or weren't as well prepared as they might have been. Part of the fun of mountain biking can be the risk involved, but it's best to limit the risks to those that are exciting - and there's nothing especially stimulating about not bothering with a medical kit or toolkit.
As for the bike itself... mountain bike technology has moved fast over the last ten years or so, so any bike from a proper mountain bike manufacturer or specialist shop (see retailers) will likely be very suitable for the the vast majority of the routes on this site. You need to make sure to get one that's the right size for you - a good shop will let you test it out. You need to check that you can comfortably straighten your leg while pedalling without having to adjust the seat height too close to the minimum or maximum.setting.
I have a lightweight, front suspension-only bike (a Cannondale), but good full suspension bikes are now widely available. Disc brakes are also standard now on good bikes.
An expensive bike will let you travel faster, especially downhill, which that means that if you do come off you'll hit the ground harder. Your own skill and judgement are more important than your technology when it comes to safe completion of your ride.
Safety and Equipment
MOUNTAIN BIKING in East Scotland
All photographs on this site copyright Chris Stamp, except where otherwise indicated