Quinn Cody’s Off-Road Safety Tips for Adventure Riders
Quinn shares his decades of wisdom on what it takes to keep safe off-road.
There are many factors out of our control when riding off-road, so it’s important to focus on the things we can control to improve our safety. If you ride off-road long enough, eventually you are going to encounter mechanical failures, injuries and various other problems. How you prepare and deal with the issues you encounter on the trail can be the key to returning home safely.
With the recent growth in Dual Sport riding, there are a lot of new riders hitting the trails without a proper education in off-road safety. I’ve seen and dealt with so many issues over the years and I’ve learned that most problems can be avoided with a little preparation and know-how. Here are my tips to help make your off-road rides a little safer.
Know Where You’re Going: Plan your route before you leave and make sure you understand the difficulty of the terrain. Include bail out points in your route just in case you get into trouble or run short on daylight.
Share Your Plans: Share your route with someone that has the ability to initiate a search. Send the information by text or email to ensure they have all of your plan details in writing.
Check the Weather: Check the weather conditions shortly before you depart. If bad weather is expected, it may be smart to reschedule your trip.
Choose a Bike You Can Pick Up: I’ve come across people on the trail several times just sitting next to their bike, waiting for someone to help them pick it up. There are a range of lifting techniques you can learn to make picking up a big Adventure Bike much easier. Personally, I think if you can’t pick up your own bike, you should probably get a smaller bike… or get in the gym and start working out.
Bike Prep and Maintenance
Knobby Tires: Tires are the single most important change you can make to your bike to give it better handling in the dirt. Get rid of the street-oriented tires that typically come on most Adventure Bikes and get a good set of 50/50 dual sport tires.
Strap it Down: Make sure your luggage is strapped down properly with quality straps (no bungee cords or rope). Anything that comes loose on your bike can easily get stuck in your wheel and become a serious hazard.
Pack Light: Try to pack as light as possible. An overloaded bike is harder to control off-road and is more difficult to pick up when you drop it.
Soft Bags: If you are planning on doing any serious off-road riding, you are less likely to injure yourself with soft luggage.
Pre-Ride Checklist: Come up with a pre-ride inspection checklist (e.g., tire pressure, fluid levels, chain lube). It’s also good to grab some tee handles and give your bike a once-over checking for loose bolts.
Maintenance Plan: For longer trips, you need to keep your bike in good working order. Plan bike maintenance (e.g., tires, air filter, oil change, chain lube) stops into your route.
Daily Inspection: Inspect your bike before leaving each morning (e.g., loose bolts, frame cracks, frayed wires, damaged wheels, broken sprockets teeth). If you get the chance, wash your bike to make it easier to spot damage.
Gear and Supplies
Extra Food and Water: I have a rule that I always carry enough food and water to spend the night if necessary, even when just out for a day ride.
Spare Parts: Make sure you bring at least the basic spares (e.g., clutch levers, chain tool, chain links, spare bolts, fuses). For longer trips in remote areas, you’ll need to bring more.
First Aid Kit: Bring a well-equipped first aid kit and make sure you know how to use it.
Survival Kit: A basic survival kit (e.g., lighter, water filter, knife) can be useful in case of an accident or mechanical failure that causes you to be stranded.
Tow Strap: Bring a tie-down strap to use as a tow strap in case you or a friend’s bike needs a tow.
Spare Tubes: Bring a spare inner-tube, even if you have tubeless tires. For longer trips, you’ll need multiple tubes and a patch kit as a backup.
Paper Maps: Always bring paper maps of the area you are traveling, even if you have a GPS. Paper maps make it easier to plan a new route when something unexpected happens and it’s good to have a backup if your GPS breaks.
Tool Kit: Make sure you have a tool kit that will allow you to fix most problems you may encounter on the trail. Practice working with your trail tool kit at home to ensure it’s adequate.
Be Self-Sufficient: Never rely on equipment others are carrying. You could become separated from the group or the group may break up due to an injured rider. Each rider should carry their own inner-tubes, tire irons, tools, food, water and GPS.
GPS Communication: Bring a GPS communication device like a GPS messenger, PLB or Satellite Phone when riding in remote areas. Personally, I like to use the SPOT GPS messenger with tracking capability. It allows others to track your progress and see your last position on a map. If you become incapacitated, rescuers will know where to look for you.
Medical ID Bracelets: There are nice ID bracelets available from My ID and Road ID that list your emergency contacts and medical info. They are targeted mainly to cyclist and triathletes but I’ve found they are perfect for motorcyclists as well.
Bring a Jacket: Never go out on a ride without bringing a jacket, no matter how hot the day is. If you get caught out at night, you will need your jacket.
Safety Gear: You should always wear protective gear to help avoid injury. Your safety gear should include a good pair of off-road boots and adequate protection on your knees, elbows and shoulders.
Ride in Your Comfort Zone: It’s up to you to ride within your comfort zone, even if others in your group are riding at a faster pace. Don’t override your abilities, stay relaxed and use good judgment.
It’s Not a Race: Never ride faster than 75% of your max speed. You need something in reserve so you can react to unexpected trail hazards.
Warning Signs: Look for the warning signs you are getting fatigued or pushing too hard. Hitting a rock you didn’t see, going wide on a turn or bottoming out your suspension are signs that it’s time to take it down a notch.
Oncoming Traffic: Always use caution when approaching a blind corner or steep rise you can’t see over. Give yourself plenty of time to slow down for oncoming traffic and get over as far as you can in your driving lane. If you can’t see around a corner, assume there is a car coming.
Read the Terrain: Look far ahead and read the terrain as you are riding. The landscape can tell you a lot about what’s coming up. Look for sloped land and canyons to anticipate water erosion on the trail. If you start to see more rocky hills appearing in the distance, chances are the road is rocky ahead.
Be Patient Passing: When you come up on a slower vehicle, take your time and wait for the right moment to pass. Give them a polite rev or honk to let them know you are there and only pass when the coast is clear.
Avoid Night Riding: The risk of an accident increases when you ride at night. Get an early start and plan to finish riding by sundown. If you do end up riding at night, make sure you have good lighting and ride at a slower pace.
Avoid Riding Solo: Riding alone increases the risk factor of off-road riding significantly. If you must ride solo, try to ride on well-traveled trails and carry a GPS tracker to lower your risk.
Don’t Pass Gas: Finding fuel in remote areas can be unpredictable. It’s always a good idea to fill up your tank when you see an opportunity.
Riding in Groups
Take Responsibility: When riding in a group, you are responsible for the rider behind you. Make sure to wait for the rider behind you at every junction before moving on. Hold your arm up in the air to warn them of any hazards on the trail. If you ride in large groups, it’s good to take a head count periodically to ensure no one has gotten separated from the group.
No Tailgating: Don’t ride in another rider’s dust and allow plenty of space between you and the rider in front of you, even if there is no dust. I’ve personally seen it happen many times where the lead rider gets on the brakes hard and the rider following plows right into the back of him.
Overshooting Turns: If you overshoot a turn, stop slowly and pull to the side to gather everyone in your group. If you slam on the brakes you are likely to get hit from behind.
Getting Lost: If someone in your group gets lost, always go back to the last location you were together. Ride cautiously when backtracking to avoid a collision with an oncoming rider.
Hand Signals: When approaching an oncoming vehicle, point back towards where you came from with your left hand to signal there are more riders behind you (most people will understand what this means even if they don’t know off-road hand signals). Next, show with your fingers the number of riders coming, or put up a fist if you are the last in your group.
Collect Personal Info: If you are riding with new riders, make sure you collect each person’s name, emergency contact phone numbers and medical information before departing.