Living in the Idaho Panhandle, we are blessed with the opportunity to seek out many different adventures in these mountains. One of these adventures is mountain biking. I personally have been mountain biking for over 30 years and started off as an off-road bike racer in the state of Wisconsin. I have raced and biked on some of the toughest trails in the United States and have had my share of crashes as well as spectacular journeys!
However, when it comes to safety, I will attest that I may have earned the badge of honor to address tips for those venturing out on their bikes.
I didn't want to be the poster child, but it has given me the opportunity to share and show people the importance of how quickly life can change and how safety really does matter!!
It was a simple bike ride home on Katka Road that changed my life in a blink of an eye. In fact, that day it was going to be such a quick ride home I considered not even wearing my helmet! Can you believe that? Ever have that thought?
By God's grace I did wear the helmet for that "quick" bike ride, which ended me up on the pavement of the road praying that I wouldn't get run over before someone saw me!
As bad as the crash was it could have been so much worse if that helmet wouldn't have been on my head.
That day I was traveling along when I got to the section of the ride where Kootenai Trail inclines. My bike started picking up speed, and that's when a stick suddenly jammed into the front spoke. Not even a second was able to pass as I flew over the handlebars, slamming my face (yep, I said face, specifically my mouth and teeth ... crunch!) into the road and then proceeded to flip head over heels backward as I heard the other "crunch" of my helmet.
That "crunch" of the helmet saved my life, for if I hadn’t been wearing it, I would have surely sustained a fractured skull. The impact was that hard!
When I woke up I had a broken neck and many other substantial injuries, but the bottom line was, I woke up!
That's why when we address bike safety we always start off with the fact that no matter how short your trip, no matter how hot a day it is or how lazy you feel like being, you need to wear that bike helmet.
So since I am the poster child now of bike safety, let’s talk about some real things you need to implement to make your ride a safer ride!
Bike Helmet – Using high-tech, high-impact materials, bike helmets are designed to maximize airflow to keep you cool and reduce drag. They come with adjustable sizing features, chin straps and comfortable internal padding. They are your essential life line! Do not get on a bike without wearing one! There are specific helmets for the road, mountain and even downhill full face helmets. Stick with brand names and always make sure you have the proper fit!
Clothing – Clothing matters as it’s there for two purposes: protection and comfort. I rode with a person who laughed at me when I arrived wearing padded bike shorts. However, at the end of the more than 30-mile ride, that person was asking me where to buy a pair. From everything to the proper shorts to gloves, it matters!
• Bike shorts. Protect your bum! Chafing, comfort and added protection—who could go wrong? Today there are all styles that can fit any taste when it comes to padded bike shorts.
• Gloves. Bikers wear gloves for added grip control, protection, sweat control in summer and warmth in the winter. And, the extra bonus is you can use it as a nose wipe in the winter and a sweat wipe in the summer! Yuck? Not really. It works!
• Body armor. No, you really don’t need to suit up with elbow pads and knee pads every time you hit the trail. But if you are serious and doing some extreme biking (and here in Idaho we do have some awesome extreme rides), it probably isn’t a bad idea to wear some!
• And finally, what about your shoes? Running shoes or a pair of logging boots just won’t cut it! For safety, efficiency and good riding technique, a pair of bike-specific shoes is a must!
Bike Maintenance – Always—and I mean always—check your bike from head to tail to ensure everything is in working order. Check tire pressures, gears, chains and brakes. Remember, off-road riding will rock and rattle your bike and loosen things quickly. It only takes a minute to double check everything before hitting the trail.
Know the Trail and Know Your Ability – Sounds like a no brainer? How many times have you gone out to do a trail and half way into the ride you figured out you weren't going to make it to the end? Longer than you thought? More difficult than you had imagined? Scout and research local trails before you go. Know your limits and know your fitness level. And remember, there is no shame in hiking instead of biking it on sections you find are above your skill level.
Don’t Go Alone! I know it can be hard to find people to bike with sometimes. Sandpoint has a road bike group called 9b. If you ask around here in Bonners Ferry, there are some people who meet at Brush Lake and do rides. Biking alone is always risky. However, if you must, remember to make sure someone knows where you are and your estimated time off the trail. Plan on a time to call them when you are done. Also be prepared if you do crash. If you go alone and there is no cell coverage in that area, maybe choose another trail for the day that has cell coverage. Be smart!
Basic First Aid – Learn some basic first-aid skills and carry some basic first-aid supplies with you. Sunburn, bites, fatigue, dehydration, bruises, scrapes and sprains—be prepared for any or all.
Use Common Sense – Check the weather, dress accordingly, have the right supplies, carry a pack if necessary and if it doesn't feel right, don’t go!
Trust me, I have many “been there, done that” stories, and for the most part they may be entertaining, but at the time, it wasn't very fun. Unfortunately, it all came down to poor choices and poor preparation.
We learn and live, but make sure we are alive to do it!
Stacey Dean is a Registered Nurse in the Acute Care Unit at Boundary Community Hospital. Stacey will be a featured speaker at the Mountain Trail Safety Clinic at the Boundary Community Hospital Health Fair on May 12, 9am to noon.