June 08, 2021 10 min read
Motocross often sees higher rates of injuries compared to other forms of extreme sports. An understanding of why this is the case can help newbies mitigate potential injuries. This is why I’ve written this blog post to explain the dangers of motocross.
Motocross is so dangerous because the design of the dirt bike doesn’t provide much safety to the rider. Combine that with a form of sport that often involves extreme speeds and high heights and what you have is a recipe for dangerous injuries. Two common ways a motocross biker gets injured is by falling badly and/or losing control of the bike and getting thrown off at high speeds. During incidents, there is also a risk of the bike landing on top of the rider, worsening the injury.
While it is true that motocross is more dangerous than your average sport, the level of risk can vary wildly depending on certain factors. There are also a lot of things that you can do to help prevent injuries and mitigate their impact when accidents occur.
Dirt-bike-related activities are the leading cause of injury in the field of high-adrenaline extreme sports. Most of this is due to the design of the dirt bike and both adults and children participating in motocross racing are at risk of suffering permanent injuries during their riding career.
The risk of injury decreases significantly if the rider in question is simply looking to ride casually across approved trails. Someone who races at a very high level, however, will often put themselves in harm’s way and as such are more likely to suffer from serious injuries.
Riders who have been practicing for years will typically encounter fewer crashes as their vast experience aids them in identifying and avoiding hazards earlier than the beginner. But sometimes the riders who suffer the most severe injuries may also be those who are more experienced. Which might sound counterintuitive to many.
Yes, it’s almost guaranteed that someone who’s been riding for years will be less likely to run into accidents on the track. But more experience with the sport also often leads to the confidence to try out more dangerous maneuvers. The veteran motocross rider is likely to aim higher, run faster, and attempt to jump further than beginners. Because it is impossible to remove all risk from the sport, when accidents inevitably occur, the result can sometimes be more severe for the experienced rider.
In other words, experienced riders crash less often, but also see more dangerous crashes when they do occur.
The Internet is littered with horror stories of motocross riders who have suffered career and sometimes even life-ending injuries during a freak accident. Since the inception of the Word Grand Prix Motorcycling Championship, there have been a total of 103 deaths from incidents occurring at a racing event, with the latest casualty being Luis Salom in June 2016.
Again, if you’re just a casual rider, then there is likely nothing to worry about so long as you take the correct safety precautions. There is no need to attempt dangerous maneuvers in a non-competitive environment, and because casual riding isn’t a race, you can take your time and slow down during dangerous parts of the trail.
The collar bone is generally known as the most frequently broken bone across all types of sport. A lot of this is due to the natural instinct in humans to soften a fall with their hands. So when falls occur from significant heights, a lot of the impact goes straight to the collar bone. In motocross, this will happen when the rider falls off the bike and lands on an outstretched hand. If the force moving through the arms is large enough, the collar bone can end up breaking.
The most important thing one can do to prevent collar bone injuries is to try not to fall. Sounds obvious, right? A lot of the injuries I see at motocross tracks tend to occur around corners and bends where the chances for accidents tend to rise. Prior knowledge of the course layout and understanding at what points to be extra cautious is key to preventing injuries.
Riders that suffer collar bone injuries often experience sharp pain in their shoulders. Because the collar bone is responsible for providing stability around the shoulder area, you may also find it difficult to raise your arm. When this happens, riders are immediately sent to the hospital for treatment and assessment by a qualified medical professional.
Broken wrists are another result of attempting to soften a fall with one’s hands. Severe falls may lead to a wrist fracture, which causes a great deal of pain to the rider as well as an inability to use one’s wrist and hands.
Avoiding broken wrists means following the same rules as avoiding a broken collar bone. Remember, sharp turns, bends, and high jumps are the most common causes of these types of injuries.
Riders that suffer broken wrists are taken for an initial x-ray to confirm whether or not they have a fracture. Once identified, the most common procedure is to wrap the affected hand in a cast, immobilizing the injured wrist and allowing it to heal. This usually takes approximately 6 weeks, but it may be possible to use a removable cast halfway through if it is decided that the bone is healing well.
More severe wrist injuries may require surgery to realign separated bones. In this case, full recovery could take anywhere between 6-8 weeks.
The acromioclavicular, or AC Joint, is the joint in the shoulder where two bones meet. The AC joint is found on the outer side of the collar bone and is attached to the shoulder blades via strong ligaments.
A particularly bad fall where the majority of the shock is sent straight to the shoulders (via landing on them or by trying to soften the landing with one’s hands) may end up damaging these joints, leading to AC Joint Sprain.
Injuries to the AC Joint can vary wildly in severity. Ice packs are normally applied to the affected area immediately for pain relief before taking the rider to the hospital. After diagnosis, a figure 8 shoulder brace or a sling is provided to immobilize the shoulder, preventing pain and aiding recovery. Recovery times can range from two weeks to several months, depending on how bad the damage is.
Knee sprains typically occur when riders land from a jump onto an over-extended or bent knee. The shock from the impact can sometimes lead to sprains or worse and the most commonly hit areas are the anterior cruciate ligament (also known as ACL rupture) or the medial collateral ligament.
The severity of a knee injury depends on the location of the pain, which is why one of the first actions taken is to assess where the pain is coming from. Generally, but not always, pain on the same side of the impact is less severe, whilst pain on the opposite side is a sign of a worse injury.
When a knee injury occurs, riders are normally sent to a qualified orthopedic consultant, who will then diagnose the severity of the injury. In some cases, surgery might be required, with full recovery taking as long as 6 months.
Poor landings or collisions with fellow riders can lead to a fractured ankle. This can also occur if one is unlucky and a bike happens to land onto the ankle.
There are different types of ankle fractures depending on the location of the injury, and injured riders are normally sent to a trauma specialist to diagnose exactly how severe the fracture is.
Treatment begins with immobilizing the affected location in plaster or a removable plastic case. Once a doctor has deemed that the fracture has healed, rehabilitation is conducted under the supervision of a trained physiotherapist. Fractured ankles normally take 6 – 8 weeks to recover, depending on how severe the injury is.
The single, most important way to mitigate injuries from motocross riding is by wearing the right protective equipment. While there isn’t a way to remove the risk of injury entirely, good levels of protection with a tried and tested brand can and has saved many lives.
Newbies often make the mistake of skimping out on gear because of price and uncertainty as to whether they are serious about dirt biking. But because the design of the dirt bike often leaves much to be desired when it comes to protecting the rider from injuries, your main source of protection will be the gear you put on before going out for a ride.
Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the dirt bike offers no protection whatsoever. The dirt bike itself can also be an effective way to mitigate injuries depending on what you do during awkward moments.
We’ll discuss that in more detail later on.
For now, just remember that when emergencies occur, the gear you wear will likely be the biggest factor as to whether you end up with a mild injury or a more severe trauma.
Make sure that the gear you buy is approved by the appropriate safety regulator. Tons of research goes into finding out the optimal design for safety and many of the larger brands will regularly implement the latest findings into their products. So avoid cheap, unbranded, and non-approved items!
Here are just some examples of the type of gear you should be keeping an eye on.
The helmet is often seen as the most important part of any protective gear setup. This isn’t surprising, as injuries to the head and neck tend to be more serious than other forms of trauma.
Your helmet should be made from strong, approved materials (like carbon fiber) and be DOT-approved at a minimum. Recent advances in safety gear design have also led to the development of the MIPS (multi-directional impact protection system) which uses slip-plane technology to further mitigate certain impacts. Definitely, something to look out for when shopping for headgear.
Ventilation is important to reduce discomfort, and your field of vision should also be taken into consideration to reduce the risk of accidents.
Your field of vision is also likely to be impacted by the googles you choose. These are a must-have as you can expect to have debris flying into your eyes when biking out in the open and especially during intense races.
Some factors you may want to consider when choosing other top-of-the-range models are how they deal with condensation and moisture as well as protection against harsh sunlight.
Our JAC goggles have an ultra-wide field of view, an ultra-wide strap, and are ultra-comfy due to the triple layer foam design.
A pair of strong, durable riding boots are the absolute minimum when dirt biking. DO NOT attempt to skimp out on footwear by attempting to bring normal boots (yes some people do this). Best-case scenario, you’ll find them destroyed while riding because the wear and tear on many trails can be quite severe. Worst-case scenario, you end up suffering heavy injuries because an accident occurred and your footwear didn’t have the approved safety features.
Motocross boots that provide strong ankle support are highly recommended to mitigate pressure and hence any damage to the ankles during emergencies. Many of the best brands tend to come with additional features designed to support the ankles, such as inner ankle braces that help in keeping your ankles well protected and firmly in place.
Other safety equipment you should make a part of your kit include high-quality knee braces and wrist guards. Knee braces prevent severe damage to the knees by limiting the stress placed on the joints during falls. Wrist guards also reduce the impact of a fall on your wrists and act to cushion the impact when severe shock occurs.
Last but not least, shoulder support also helps mitigate any shock to the shoulders which can prevent or lessen the severity of any shoulder injuries. Don’t leave home without one!
Choosing the appropriate track can reduce the risk of injury significantly. Easier motocross tracks tend to feature racing heights and fewer jumps. When casual riding, make sure to research your planned routes extensively and avoid extremely rough routes until you are more experienced. Knowledge of the track is key, whether outdoors or on a track, as this allows you to plan and anticipate areas that are more dangerous, like corners or curves.
One useful tip to remember if you ever find yourself losing control. Hang onto your bike! When the newbie rider gets scared, his first instinct is always to let go of the bike and jump off first. But this doesn’t always end up with a better result. Trying to save yourself first may lead to greater injuries than if you had just hung on for dear life.
Why? Because the dirt bike is made to be durable (for obvious reasons). This means that the machine can often absorb large amounts of shock and impact during incidents. In other words, the dirt bike is more equipped to handle a fall from a tall height than your body is. And even if it isn't, I'm sure you'd much rather have your bike take the brunt of the impact rather than your own body. So hold on and let the bike take the shock for you. This also has the beneficial side effect of having you land on your bike rather than having your bike land on you.
New riders should also stick to smaller displacement bikes until they are more experienced. The displacement of a bike engine refers to the amount of charge it takes for the combustion per cycle. So a 450cc bike will take in 450 cubic centimeters of charge per cycle.
In general, the higher the displacement, the more power a bike can generate. And this can be a dangerous temptation for beginners.
When it comes to motocross riding, sticking with smaller displacement bikes when you begin learning is a good way to reduce injuries. It’s easier to lose control of a higher displacement bike, and when this happens inexperienced riders often panic and end up crashing.
Motocross is known as an extremely dangerous sport for good reason. It is the leading cause of injuries amongst all other similar extreme sports.
Understanding exactly why motocross is dangerous as well as the most common injuries and how to avoid them, can dramatically reduce the risk of injury to beginners and make the sport safe and fun for riders of all levels.
When all the relevant safety precautions are met, motocross can be a fulfilling and exciting sport for many. So make sure you do your due diligence if you want to make the most out of motocross racing and avoid ending up with painful (and potentially long-lasting) injuries.
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