Trail Safety for Cyclists

Trail Safety for Cyclists

Human bones are whiter than a Hollywood smile. I discovered this lay in the dirt of a rough mountain bike trail, alone and telling myself that the pool of liquid I was staring at wasn't coming from my leg. It was. Blood was leaving my body through a hole you could fit a ten pence piece through (warning: graphic image). Thankfully, I carry a first aid kit on the outside of my hydration pack. Applying pressure to a wound dressing slowed the bleed. I taped the dressing to my injured leg and, channelling my inner Rambo, pedalled home using the other one.

I am in no doubt about how lucky I was that day. But equally, the saying that "you make your own luck" has a lot of truth to it. Many a time I had been tempted to forgo carrying a first aid kit but good sense had always won me over. There are two morals to this story. One is to wear knee pads, even if you are only trail riding. The other is to think about what could happen and be prepared for the worst.

Bike packing and gravel riding have grown massively in the past 5 years. Inspired by epic rides like the Transcontinental Race and GBDuro, people are exploring further and more remote routes. Even if you ride only on well groomed paths and bridleways there are still numerous things that can go wrong. Here we've gathered together lots of useful advice from the people who may end up having to rescue you.

Your phone could save your life - but don't depend on it

Your mobile is a fantastic tool for exploring. As well as maps and the ability to find routes, the What3words app lets you find your precise location even when there is no phone service. What good is knowing your location if you can't share it? Just because you can't make a call, it doesn't mean you can't reach help. Emergency calls to 999 are connected to any available cell tower, so even if your particular mobile provider has no signal you may still be able to get a connection. To increase your chances of being able to raise help in remote locations you should register your mobile with emergencySMS. Orginally designed to allow people with hearing or speech impairment to make 999 calls, the service has proven to be a vital lifeline when signals are intermittent or even when high winds make hearing and being heard difficult.

Of course, all of this amazing technology is useless if your battery is dead. It's suprising how quickly a 50% charged battery can be drained when you are running navigation apps, snapping pics for your social media and making calls. As well as ensuring your phone is fully charged before every ride, it's worth considering a power bank if you're planning an overnight bikepacking adventure. For truly epic adventures, where you aren't planning to be near a power outlet, you'll need a dynamo hub and a USB charger.

Go old school on the mapping

Mountain Rescue Teams have seen a massive increase in call outs over the past decade. This is in part due to inexperienced walkers relying on their mobile phones for navigation. Mountain Rescue Leaders recommend people learn to use a map and compass, as well as carrying a torch. It's no different for 2 wheeled explorers. If you can't get a GPS signal on your Garmin what would you do? Have a backup map and compass if you're exploring new territory. It goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that you should know how to use a map and compass. That doesn't mean reading and article or watching a YouTube video and thinking you've got it nailed. It means putting these skills into practice before you are reliant on them.

Tell someone when you'll be back

A large part of the appeal of off-road biking is the freedom to roam wherever the mood takes you. Having to stick to a pre-agreed route kills that freedom. My wife always asks two questions as I'm heading out the door:

  • How long do you think you'll be?
  • When should I start worrying?

I consider the second question in terms of how long would I want to wait before someone came looking for me if I was unable to raise help. That's not doom mongering, it's common sense. A long wait in January is a lot different to a long wait in July.

Even better than letting someone know when to expect you back is sharing your location in real time via your mobile. Apps such as Strava and GPS units from Wahoo and Garmin allow you to email a link to a contact every time you start recording a ride. They can see where you are on a map, so if the dot stops and they can't reach you, it's a massive head start in sending help. Of course this real time tracking relies on having a data signal and it also contributes to battery drainage - another reason to make sure your mobile and GPS unit are fully charged before you set off.

Food and clothing

Years ago the Countryside Rangers of Lancashire Council used to run a guided lap of the Mary Towneley Loop for mountain bikers. The Loop is 47 miles and around 7,000 feet of climbing, mostly off road. In other words, it's a decent challenge. Before the ride we were told to bring as much food as we could carry. As a seasoned cyclist I thought I had my calorie consumption nailed down but followed the instructions anyway. I finished the ride with one energy gel remaining. If you're exploring new terrain you don't know how hard it's going to be, so you don't know how much food and water you are going to need. Likewise, even in Summer you rarely leave home without a rain jacket in the UK. Even if it stays dry, a lightweight rain jacket is great protection against the wind if the temperature drops. Hands and toes suddenly feeling cold is a sign that your circulation has diminished and you could be experiencing hypothermia. Unpleasant as this is, the greatest danger is from the disorientation and confusion that accompanies hypothermia. Confusion and navigating unfamiliar terrain are not good bed fellows. A foil space blanket takes up very little space and they work.

Your bike and puncture protection

Even the best maintained bikes aren't immune to the rigours of off-road riding. Rocks, stones, and deceptively strong twigs are all contenders for breaking spokes or damaging your rear derraileur. Realistically you can't carry spares for every eventuality but having a basic understanding of how your bike works can make the difference between a long walk and McGuivering a fix to get you back to civilisation. The most common interruption to any off road adventure is probably punctures. This where Tannus Armour comes into its own. If you're running inner tubes you'll benefit from an additional 15mm of puncture protection beneath the tread and an additional 2mm at the side walls. If you're running tubeless then Tannus Tubeless Armour provides sidewall support that prevents the burping that often comes with lower tyre pressures. Tubed or tubeless, you can ride slowly on a completely flat tyre and the Armour will protect your rim. So even if you tear a tyre beyond repair, you can still ride off the trail.

When things do go wrong

If you or someone you are riding with get injured, understanding the emergency procedures can save crucial time in getting them help. Even if you require an ambulance, if you in a remote location that will require Mountain Resuce (somewhere an Ambulance cannot drive to) then you should call 999 and ask for Police then ask for Mountain Rescue. Have the following information before you call:

  • Location (grid ref if possible or What3words reference)
  • Name, gender and age of casualty
  • Nature of injuries or emergency
  • Number of people in the party
  • Your mobile phone number.

Stay where you are unless told to move by the Mountain Rescue team.


Register your mobile with EmergencySMS

Mountain Rescue Fact Sheet

Make a donation to Mountain Rescue UK

Shop Tannus Armour

Shop Tannus Tubeless Armour