Mountain Bike First Aid

Mountain biking can be a dangerous sport.  Any accidents on (or rather, off) a bike almost always involve a fall and often that’s at speed too making for a double whammy of creative ways to injure oneself.  Add to that the fact that whilst mountain biking, one might be a little way away from immediate help and it makes it important to understand a little bit about first aid.

I am, in another life, a first aid instructor and I’ve also got years of experience as an outdoor and expedition leader and this makes me biased: I believe EVERYONE should learn first aid.  This article isn’t about the skills, however; this article is about the kit.  What, if anything, should you take with you on a mountain biking trip to patch people up when things go wrong?

The first question – should you take a first aid kit with you – is easily answered: yes.  Yes, yes and yes.  Whilst it’s important to keep what you carry on a bike to a minimum, we are not roadies who shave (literally in some cases) fractions of grammes where they can.  Often we have pockets and sometimes, we’re even carrying a pack on our backs.  In either case, there’s room for an emergency first aid kit.  The consequences of not doing so could be severe: a major bleed could lead to death within minutes and bone and soft-tissue injuries are much more comfortable and safe if they are stabilised properly.  So, yes, we should probably carry a first aid kit with us on a mountain bike.

Given that then, what should go in it?  Well that question is best answered by asking another: what are the most common mountain biking injuries?  Writing in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Johannes Becker et al presented the results from a study of 249 European bikers during a season from April to September 2011.  Of a total of 494 injuries (obviously, some folks were injured more than once), the most common type of injury was abrasions (wounds) followed by contusions (bruises – which can be pretty serious).  Fortunately, breaks were considerably less likely but were, nonetheless, a distinct possibility.

Items to clean a wound: saline solution, cleansing wipes and antiseptic

There’s not much a first aider can do about a contusion except get the casualty off to hospital if it’s a serious one.  However, there is plenty that we can do about abrasions and breaks.  Wounds need cleaning and dressing so there has to be the means to do this in your first aid kit.  I carry a few options including alcohol wipes (though many now prefer non-alcohol cleansing wipes), saline solution (for washing large lumps of stuff out of wounds) and some form of antiseptic.  For this latter, I personally carry iodine because it’s still the most effective at the job but it is controversial and requires care in it’s use and it might be better going for something a bit more over-the-counter.

Once the wound is cleaned it then needs to be dressed and for this, you should, again, carry a selection of products.  I personally pack some plasters (band-aids), some melolin and the tape to attach it and some absorbent wound dressings in different sizes.  These latter are an absorbent dressing with a bandage attached to fix it in place.  Obviously, it’s probably worth packing some non-latex gloves too to protect you from the blood and to protect your casualty from the worst of the trail-side muck.

Dressings: plasters, ambulance dressings and melolin

In addition to these essentials, I also include a few other items which, whilst not taking up very much room in the pack, can make a huge difference to the way that you can handle a casualty.  For those rare breaks, I include triangular bandages from which slings and other limb-immobilisers can be fashioned.  Also in there are scissors for getting past clothing to the skin or for cutting a helmet strap in the event that it needs to be removed, a resuscitation aid (if it gets really bad), a silver blanket to keep a casualty warm in the event of a long wait and a sachet of rehydration salts.

Other Stuff: scissors, rehydration salts, CPR aid, triangular bandages and silver blanket

None of this need take up much space, all of this fits into a small, hand-held waterproof bag which easily pops into the capacious pocket of a pair of mountain bike shorts.  For that much space though, you could save a life.

Now go and get on a first aid course!