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July 2011

Safety and off road cycling

Off-road cycling is an activity carried out away from roads on often difficult or challenging terrain. The activity offers a number of unique challenges which probably account for its growing popularity.

In terms of safety, there are a number of points that prospective off-road users should be aware of.

Choose the correct bike

A mountain bike will be needed to cope with the rough terrain involved in off-road cycling; a bike used for racing or general commuting will not suffice.

A suitable mountain bike will have chunky tyres and trail-grabbing capabilities, and incorporate features designed to enhance durability and performance in difficult terrain.

Using the incorrect bike on the types of surfaces off-road users face, will result in a lack of control, balance and grip. This will inevitably cause an increase in falls, resulting in not only physical injuries but also damage to the bike.

Personal protective equipment

The level of protection worn by individual riders will be dependant on numerous factors including the terrain, experience and desired appearance.

Helmet wear is not currently mandated by law in the UK, wearing the headwear is a choice for all cyclists of all ages. Many oppose compulsory helmet wear for on-road cycling but recommend helmet wear for off-road cycling.

The UK’s National Cyclists Organisation, CTC recommend helmet wear for off-road terrain. They recognise that falls are an integral part of off-road cycling, and that the low speeds in which a cyclist will travel are likely to be within the design limitations of a helmet, suggesting that helmet wear can reduce a head injury in the event of an accident.

Any helmet should conform to current regulations and be the correct size and fit. It should not interfere with your head movement, vision, hearing or wearing of protective or prescription glasses.

CTC have raised concern that many cyclists remove their helmets when climbing hills or in hot weather. Adequate ventilation is important in a helmet, as inadequate ventilation may impair concentration.

Body pads and armour are particularly affective at preventing impact injuries to limbs, such as lacerations. Modern body armour is light, easy wearable, and can range from minimum pads covering the knees, shins and elbows to full armour which covers the chest and shoulders.

First aid kits are often carried by off-road cyclists as given the nature of the activity the nearest dwellings can often be some distance away. Even the most basic of kits allows riders to clean and dress abrasions. Experienced off-road cyclists and guides / instructors will also need knowledge of dealing with serious injuries, such as suspected spinal injuries.

High visibility clothing and suitable bike lights are a necessity when off-road cycling at night or in a poor daylight conditions.

Choose the correct route

Dedicated off-road routes and trails are being established to cater for all abilities. Cycling on a dedicated trail will avoid any rights of access issues, as some paths are often restricted to cyclists. If there is no right of access, presume that cycling is prohibited.

Consideration for others is of utmost importance when off-road cycling. Cyclists should always give way to walkers and horses, and alert them to your presence. Animals can be easily startled and are often unpredictable, so it is important to take extra care when passing stock on open ground, horses and wildlife.

General safety

Preparation and planning is key to safe off-road cycling. You should always check your bike, kit and plan your route carefully. Inform someone of the route you plan to take and carry a fully charged mobile phone, along with a map and compass.

Carry the necessary tools to repair your bike in the event of damage, such as a puncture repair kit. UK weather is often unpredictable, so take suitable clothing in case of wind and rain.

Training courses

There are a number of organisations that offer training courses for off-roaders.

These include British Off-Road Biking, the British Schools Cycling Association, Mountain-bike Instructors' Award Scheme, CTC and the Scottish Mountain Bike & Trail Cycling Leader Awards Scheme.

For more details, visit the Health and Safety Executive website - www.hse.gov.uk/aala/guidance/off-road-cycling.htm.

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