Riding Smart

Story by Emily Roberts// Photos by Emily Roberts
April 14 2021

As riding season begins, let’s make sure we saddle up for a memorable and safe experience.

This past summer, I was grateful to stay local and spend more time in the dirt. I’m pretty critical about wearing all the gear, but one particular day I threw caution to the wind and neglected to put on my elbow pads before a ride. As the sun climbed higher, my riding buddies and I were getting into some more serious off-road terrain as we rode up steep loose and rutted hills littered with rocks. As I climbed one of the trails, my front wheel veered sideways and I was thrown from the bike. I quickly picked the bike up and finished the climb. Once I had made it to the top of the hill, I looked at my elbows and saw blood had soaked through my jersey.

I could feel my jersey bonding to my wounds throughout the rest of the ride – an unpleasant feeling, to say the least. I had another two full weeks of work and riding ahead, and I wasn’t sure how this injury would affect my riding.

The swelling and bruising made wearing armour as painful as the initial injury, and peeling off the scabs every time I changed the dressings made for a daunting task. Two months passed before my arms felt normal; now, over six months later, I’m still dealing with residual pain.

We owe it to ourselves before we get on our bike to take into account our gear, our mindset and the external factors that you can’t control.

Check Your Gear

Have a thorough look at your gear before your first ride and make sure its integrity is not degraded by rips, abrasions or general wear. Try on your safety protection – perhaps it doesn’t quite fit the way it used to (you can blame the pandemic for that) or you realize that your gear isn’t suited to the type of riding you’re doing. Do your research and pick the gear that suits your riding style and offers well-placed protection. Spending money on something that could save your life as well as protect you from the elements throughout a trip is worthwhile.

Helmet

Does your helmet fit your head properly? Is there any loose space around the circumference of your head? Your head shouldn’t move inside your helmet if you hold the front of it and try to move your head side to side. Over time, the foam will pack down in our helmets, creating space; if you have looseness just in the cheek area, you can usually buy thicker cheek pads for your helmet to improve the fit. Any space inside your helmet can amplify the force of an impact on your skull. In fact, having a helmet that’s too large can cause you to have two impacts: one when the helmet hits a solid object; the other when your head hits the interior surface of your helmet.

Note when you first purchased your helmet: if the helmet is more than five years old, it’s time to get a new one. After about five years of use, a helmet’s integrity, particularly the foam liner that designed to absorb an impact begins to deteriorate.

What style helmet do you have? Is it modular? Open-faced? Full-faced? Can someone access your face easily after a crash? Paramedics are trained to remove helmets, but having to pull off your helmet to ensure your airway is open increases the possibility of a spinal injury. If your helmet is modular or open-faced, your mouth and airway are much more accessible in emergency situations. If your helmet is full-face, check to see if it has cheek pads that are easy to remove, which makes pulling off the helmet without destabilizing your neck much easier.

Jackets and Pants

Does your suit have adequate protection at the vulnerable points on your body? Check the protection in the knees, elbows, shoulders, hips and back to ensure your suit is in good condition and the protection sits on your body in the right places when you’re wearing the gear. I recently checked my old Adventure pants and discovered both knee pads were cracked in half from a ride that turned out to be a bit too much fun.

If you have a suit that has a waterproof membrane or is water-resistant, clean and check your garment before the riding season starts. You can test the suit’s integrity by dropping a few droplets of water on the garment. If the water beads off, your suit is still water-resistant. If the water soaks in, that means that the water-resistant coating has worn off. You can reapply a similar coating, such as that made by Nikwax. (You’ll have to wash the garment before applying the water-resistant coating on the suit.) Washing your waterproof gear is important to ensure that the waterproof membrane maintains its integrity and breathability. You can find washing instructions on the manufacturer’s or waterproof membrane’s website.

Consider an airbag vest from a company such as Klim, Dainese, Alpinestars or Helite. These companies make vests and jackets that offer airbag protection in crash situations. Some vests are worn under your jacket, while others are worn on top. A good article to refer to for some insight into this technology is David Booth’s article in the March 2021 issue of Motorcycle Mojo (“Will You Be Properly Protected in a Crash?”).

Boots and Gloves

Check over your boots too – specifically, that the soles are intact and don’t have gouges from the foot pegs. Check the ankle stability and protection, that all of the buckles or laces are working and that the material of the boot is in good shape.

Don’t forget to try on your gloves and make sure they have good palm and knuckle protection and there are no holes in the fingers.

Check Your Kits

Before you set off for your trip into the great wide open, review what’s in your toolkits. When I say “toolkits,” I’m referring to the three kits you should take with you when you’re on a trip.

Primary toolkit: Ensure you have all the necessary tools to perform basic roadside repairs. Remember to take your cellphone with you – it may turn out to be your most important tool.

First-aid kit: Not only should you have a first-aid kit, you should also have some first aid training. Even taking a simple St. John Ambulance first-aid course can help save a life, whether it’s yours or a fellow rider’s. A first-aid course will give you the knowledge to help someone to the best of your ability while staying calm and safe. A first-aid kit is just a sack full of useless things unless you know how to use them. So, go through your first-aid kit and understand what each piece of the kit is for and ensure nothing is missing. I also carry some extras, such as antibiotic ointment, a pain reliever, an antihistamine and prescribed medications.

Overnight emergency kit: You never know when things will take a turn for the worse. Be sure to pack an overnight emergency kit, especially while riding off-road or in rural areas for long distances. This kit should include and small bivy or tarp for shelter as well as tinder and fire starter, protein bars or high-protein snacks, a multi-tool and extra base layers of clothing.

You also should also consider taking a riding course to refresh your skills and build new ones. If you’re transitioning into adventure riding from the street, for example, take the time to learn dirt-riding skills before you take your first adventure ride. Riding in a controlled area with experts honing in on the bad habits we’ve gained over years is invaluable. Taking a course will improve your confidence and situational awareness, whether it’s on the street or dirt.

Be Smart

Get a safety app or locator beacon. There are some great apps, such as EatSleepRIDE, that are available for your smartphone and offer crash and fall detection in addition to tracking your ride. You won’t have to wait alone injured on the side of the road or in a ditch because an alert instantly goes out to emergency services with your location once the app’s complex algorithms sense a crash.

If you’re travelling to more remote areas, look into purchasing a satellite beacon, such as a SPOT satellite GPS messenger or a Garmin inReach unit. A location beacon can be especially useful if you find yourself on the dusty trail more often than not and out of cell reception. You can also set up your beacon to notify key contacts of your location in set intervals. (In addition, you can let those contacts know if you’ve had a breakdown, stopped early, need immediate help or will just be late.) However, a beacon will not sense if you’ve had a crash – you’ll still need to press a button to notify emergency services.

Pandemic

The pandemic still plays a large role in how and where we will travel this year. When you do travel, check local guidelines of the towns you plan to visit and respect each community. Keep in mind that going to dealerships and trying on new gear is difficult right now. In some places, you can make an appointment to look at gear. Try on gear before purchasing if you can because you may find that the jacket you’re considering isn’t a good fit or doesn’t suit you. If you can, please try to shop at your local dealership rather than online. The past year has been hard for many businesses, and this is just one way you can support your local motorcycle shop.

Above all else, before and during your ride you should be conscious of your mindset and focus on riding. Riding often allows us to enter a Zen-type state while being aware of your surroundings, but fatigue, stress and lack of focus can inhibit our ability to ride safely. Make sure you eat light and healthy while you’re on the road, remember that different seasons bring different weather conditions and constantly check in with yourself during the ride.
Sometimes, we can’t control our outcome while riding a motorcycle. However, we can control how we protect ourselves and approach each ride by proactively taking responsibility for ourselves and providing our bodies with the best protection.

My elbows still hurt most days. I often think about my elbow pads that stayed in my gear bag that day instead of on my arms, where they should have been. Whether we’re on the road or the trails, we owe it to ourselves to stay safe and enjoy our sport for as long as we can.

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