What if…?

Our work experience boy Ben returns with some musings on the possibilities and penalties of the unforeseen accident. When good trails go bad…

You’re out biking with a friend, it’s late and you’re catching the last of the sun on a trail. It’s a little trail and not a lot of people come by, in fact you’re probably the last one out. Your mate is riding on a bit and you lose sight of him.

Sim down! Sim down!

After a while you catch up and he has crashed and is unconscious. What do you do? Ring for help? No, you your phone is out of charge. Ride on? No, you haven’t got a map and you could easily get lost in the dark. You’re the last ones out on the trail so there is no chance of someone coming along and helping you out. What’s more you don’t have a bike light or torch and the light is going. You don’t know first aid, you haven’t got a first aid kit and your friend could be in need of immediate medical attention. A disaster. Most of us go out riding without a worry of this kind of thing and you shouldn’t have to, that spoils the fun. But you need to be prepared in case of something like this happening.

In 2010 Mountain Rescue in England and Wales has to deal with 54 Mountain Biking incidents, 44 of which were serious injuries and 2 of which were fatalities. It’s easy to assume that it’ll happen to someone else but one day it might happen to you. Mountain Rescue suggest several simple steps that every rider can do:

  • Prepare and Plan – make sure you are aware of the abilities of the group you are going with and of yourself. Make sure you have the ability to cope with the route you have planned and know how to read a map. Know the basic principles of first aid including breathing, circulation and the recovery position. There are plenty of more in depth outdoor specific first aid courses out there such as the REC course – they can also qualify you for your day job as well, which can be useful.
  • Wear suitable clothing and footwear – make sure you have plenty of warm gear, especially in winter, so that if a rider does crash you can keep them warm until help arrives. Make sure your clothes are appropriate for the conditions and what they might change to. Be aware that for each 100m gained the temperature drops around 1°C. It’s worth making sure that you have an item of clothing that stands out against the surroundings should you need attract attention.
  • Carry food and water – this is a relatively simple one but very important. You should always carry food that is high in calories and energy like chocolate and dried fruits in case you need energy fast. Water is absolutely crucial, even in cool weather as it is all to easy to become dehydrated.
  • Carry the right equipment – a map and compass are vital pieces of equipment when going out into the wilds.  You should also have a phone that is at full battery but don’t rely on it as mountainous areas often don’t have phone signal. Have some form of backup light, whistle and helmet (obviously) on you at all times. In some ways they are more important than a pump and puncture repair kit.
  • Before you set out – check the weather forecast, eat well, charge your phone battery, and make sure someone knows where you’re going and how long you plan to be. It’ll make finding you a lot easier.
  • Whilst on the hill – while riding make sure you keep your eye on the weather and be prepared to turn back should you be in bad conditions. Make sure you ride to the pace of the slowest rider and don’t let them get left behind.

Are you napping? That or someone's cut his strings...

Sometimes it’s the simplest things that we tend not to do, having a charged phone in your bag for example. It seems like the obvious thing to have but it’s easy just to forget to put it on charge over night and find that when you go to call 999, you’re faced with a blank screen.

If you’re worried about taking your fancy smartphone out on a ride with you, consider getting a cheap Pay As You Go phone and SIM card, which will enable you to make emergency calls if required. Make sure it’s charged and keep it in a dry bag or ziplok baggy.

It might be helpful to write a pre-ride checklist, ticking off the things as you go. This might not be entirely necessary if you’re just doing a little local route with nothing large involved but when planning a larger mountain adventure you’ve also got to plan for the unpleasant possibilities; yes unlikely, but possible.

It is essential that you are prepared for a ‘worst-case’ scenario. There is nothing worse than being out on the trail and not being able to help an injured friend. What’s more that person could be seriously hurt and there’s nothing you can do, plus you’re losing out on one more wallet to buy in another round at the pub afterwards. What could be worse?

However there are obvious things you can do to stop that from even happening, don’t like the look of that steep boulder section? Are you in a remote area? What are the chances of being rescued or moving to safety. Don’t ride it; it’s not about proving something to your mates, well maybe a little bit, but first and foremost it’s about you having a good time. There are times and places for taking bigger risks. You’ve got to balance how hard you want to ride and how much risk comes with it. There’s always the chance that you can hurt yourself, no matter how cautious you can be, but by being well prepared you can reduce the likelihood of a really bad outcome. But most importantly go and have fun… safely!

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