Dealing with Emergencies While Solo Motorcycle Touring


Solo Motorcycle touring can be a life changing and rewarding experience, but, even if you take all possible safety precautions, you’re still at risk of emergency situations. To deal with emergencies while on a solo motorcycle trip, carry a good first aid kit and have the knowledge to use it, carry a personal locator beacon, carry good travel insurance and roadside assistance.

Avoiding a crash doesn’t guarantee that you won’t be injured while on a solo motorcycle trip. If you plan to camp in the backcountry, an injury can happen in any number of ways; snake bite or spider bite, a sprained ankle while hiking, or a serious cut from the slip of your axe or knife. Hopefully nothing like this will happen, but it’s best to be prepared so you can deal with an emergency  and get the help you need. 

Help Yourself First

If you’re traveling solo in a populated area and find yourself in an accident, chances are extremely high that someone will help you and call for an ambulance or paramedic. However, if your adventure takes you away from populated areas and into the back country, the odds of someone helping you and calling for assistance in much less likely, or it will take too much time. That’s why your first step in dealing with an emergency or injury is to help yourself. 

Part of your luggage should include a basic first aid kit along with some additional items for more serious injuries. In addition to a good standard first aid kit, such as this one on amazon, include additional survival items such as a bright orange fire retardant blanket. This can be used for warmth but also as a signal when stretched out in an open area. Include a 36″ SAM Splint, which can be used to splint a number of sprains or breaks. Keeping a broken ankle or wrist protected by a splint until help arrives will be a great advantage. In the case of a laceration what bleeding, you can include an Israeli compression bandage. (also known as Izzy Bandages) These are designed to be used on yourself, or others, to stop serious bleeding. A clotting sponge is also a good way to stop bleeding. Another smart addition to your first aid kit is an epipen if you have serious allergies.

Once you have a good medical kit put together, make sure it is stored in a bright orange or red bag so it is easily recognizable. Store it in a location that’s easy to get to. Don’t put it at the bottom of your saddle bags or inside your duffel bag forcing you to dig for it when you need it.

Learn Basic First Aid

There’s little reason to carry advance first aid items if you don’t know how to use them. Consider taking a first aid course through the American Red Cross, or a similar organization if you live outside the US. Knowing what to do if you are injured will help you take steps quickly. Make sure you know how to use a SAM splint, Izzy bandage, or clotting sponge and practice using them before hand.

When learning first aid, make sure you learn how to do self-help first aid. The techniques for helping yourself are going to be different from helping another person. Part of self-help first aid is to be familiar with your body and how it functions. Know how to recognize when you are dehydrated, over heated, experiencing the onset of hypothermia, or have an allergic reaction to plants or insects. Recognizing when something is wrong will help you decide what action to take.

Stay Calm

Have you ever wondered how you would react if you were seriously injured and alone? In any case, the most important thing to do is to stay calm. Easier said than done, I’m sure. But staying calm will allow you to make better decisions, and quickly. But, how do you stay calm if you’re bleeding or in pain? 

Being prepared can help. Having your first aid kit and first aid knowledge can help you take action. Take advantage of the adrenaline that kicks in when an injury occurs. This natural pain killer can last anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, and although it causes your heart rate and breathing to increase, it will reduce your pain so you’ll be able to take action to help yourself.

Once the initial injury has been treated as best as you can, it’s important to continue to stay calm so you can take the actions necessary to get yourself some help. Be sure to take long cleansing breaths to keep your mind clear. At this point, decide what you need to do next. Can you get on your motorcycle and ride for help? Do you need to send out a signal to be rescued? Make the decision and act.

Make Sure You Can be Found

One of the smartest things you can do when you’re on a lengthy motorcycle tour is to let people know where you are. You may have a set plan, but, our plans can change unexpectedly. So, before you take off into remote areas, communicate your plans to a contact person (friend or family member). Let them know where you will be and when they can expect to hear from you again. Also, give them a plan in case they don’t hear from you. A friend of mine has a common rule with his wife where he tells her that he will call at 3:00, and if she doesn’t hear from him by 6:00, she should start taking action. You can also check in with park rangers and file an itinerary. This will help narrow down the search and rescue area if you go missing.

Carry a Personal Locator Beacon

Technology makes it easier for us with the use of a GPS Personal Locator Beacon or PLB. These simple devices are designed to send out a distress signal via satellite and they do not require a subscription to any services to operate. When you purchase one, your device will be assigned a unique ID number.  When activated, the beacon will transmit on 2 different emergency frequencies and will last for at least 24 hours. Emergency services will be dispatched and will make their way to your beacon to offer assistance. There is no way to communicate with this type of beacon. It is simply a locator, so, it’s important to remain with the locator beacon at all times if you want a rescue team to find you. Keep in mind that any satellite communication device requires a clear view of the sky to operate, so if you’re in heavy trees, you may need to move to a clear location. 

Other PLB’s offer more interactive services and include the ability to communicate via satellite, such as the inReach by Garmin or the Spot (check out the prices on Amazon). These include features in which you can communicate with friends and family via satellite text, sending them a message so you can check in from time to time. These personal communications do not go out to emergency services and require a subscription service to function. Depending on your subscription, these devices will record your location each time you check in allowing friends and family to follow you as you travel. It’s a great way to bring peace of mind to your family and a fun way to record your trip.

But, how does it get help to you when you’re injured? All PLB’s, including the more advanced communication devices, have an SOS feature. When this button is pressed, it activates the locator beacon and sends the signal to local emergency services. They are given your gps coordinates and are required to send out a rescue team. 

A word of caution about PLB’s. Because they have become so popular in recent years, their services have been abused by, how shall I word this, stupid people. Hikers and backpackers have used the signals for non-emergency situations such as, seeing a cougar, running out of water, a bee sting, or other situations that can simply be attributed to being out in nature. “Help! Help! I forgot to pack a clean pair of underwear!” is not an emergency. So, if you carry a PLB, only use the SOS beacon for true life threatening emergencies and only if you can’t rescue yourself. 

A PLB should only be used in situations of grave and imminent danger to life. False alerts endanger lives and cause expensive disruption to Search & Rescue services. Deliberate misuse of the device could result in a penalty.

McMurdo Fast Find 220PLB

If you don’t carry a PLB there are some other things you can do to get help. Try dialing 911 on your cell phone even if you don’t think you have service in your location, you still might be able to connect. Carry an emergency survival whistle. The international distress signal for a whistle is 3 consecutive blows at 2 to 3 second bursts.

Roadside Services

Mechanical breakdowns happen no matter how prepared you think you are. Having roadside services can be the difference between being stuck and getting your bike to the nearest repair shop. Most roadside services will take care of minor problems such as a dead battery, flat tire, no gas, or towing up to 100 miles. Check with your insurance company to see if they have additional coverage that will include these convenient services. Consider becoming a member of the American Motorcycle Association. They offer plans for roadside assistance and membership gets you a lot of other perks such as discounts on gear and events.

Trip Interruption Insurance

In addition to your normal motorcycle insurance and roadside assistance, consider purchasing additional insurance that covers the hassles of an interruption to your trip. A trip interruption can include things like repairs that will take several days, illnesses or injuries that prevent you from continuing, or something that cancels your trip all together.

Trip interruption insurance, depending on the package you purchase, will cover things like food and a motel stay for a limited amount of time while you wait for your motorcycle repair, etc. It’s designed to deal with the unplanned expenses of lodging when dealing the unexpected interruption. It is recommended that this insurance also cover the cost of shipping your motorcycle home if you need to cancel your trip and you’re unable to ride it for whatever reason; motorcycle damage or rider injury.

When traveling abroad with your own motorcycle be sure to get international motorcycle insurance coverage from your insurance company. Most motorcycle insurance will provide temporary international insurance coverage to protect you while you are on your trip. This is great if you live in the US and your trip takes you into Canada or Mexico for a portion of the trip. If you travel abroad and rent a motorcycle, the rental company will provide you with a number of insurance options to protect you while you are using their motorcycle.

Medical and Rescue Insurance

Medical insurance is imperative when you’re traveling especially in the United State where health insurance can be confusing. If you are not covered through your employer, make sure you take the steps to get proper medical insurance through the ACA or through a personal insurance company. This will not only cover you if you are injured, but you will be able to get medical attention for common illnesses or small injuries such as the flu or an infection. 

Another piece of insurance that you might consider is getting an Air Rescue Card. TheAirRescueCard.com is a company that provides air ambulance services designed to get you home in the event of an accident or medical emergency. Basically covering a serious injury that would cancel your trip and make public air travel impossible. They provide bedside to bedside ambulatory services from anywhere in the world. They can get you home. They offer short term memberships for coverage as short as $14 days, annual memberships or long term memberships. So, if you’re traveling internationally, this is an affordable extra level of coverage. 

Another type of insurance or membership to consider is Air Medical Rescue membership. Helicopter ambulance services can proved fast response to remote places where it would be difficult for a ground ambulance to reach. In the US there is a network called AirMedCare. Membership with this network has you covered in more than 320 locations around the states.

A lot of motorcycle riders debate whether or not they need this kind of medi-vac insurance. The argument is that most state, county and city emergency services are paid for by taxes and won’t cost you, the patient, anything. Also, not all medi-vac helicopters are equipped for rescue, such as lifting a stranded hiker from a cliffside, and they will require enough clearance to be able to land. On the flip side, local search and rescue services may not have the advance medical equipment and personnel needed to deal with a life threatening injury. So, as you can see, there are pros and cons to adding this coverage. 

Notifying Family and Friends

If you’re seriously injured and transported to a hospital, you will need the ability to notify friends and family. But what if you’re unable to communicate this information due to your injuries? You could be unconscious from an accident. This is where an emergency contact list comes in handy. There are a couple of ways to approach this. Whenever I ride, I always wear my Road ID bracelet. Engraved on it are the phone numbers of several family members and it includes my blood type and the name of the medication I am taking.

If you don’t want to wear a Road ID bracelet, you can type out all your emergency contact information, blood type, names of medications and allergies onto a card and get it laminated. Keep that card on your person at all times when you ride. Don’t put it in your luggage or pannier bags. Keep it in your pocket or in your wallet, which is in your pocket so, if you are separated from your motorcycle, emergency staff will still be able to find the information. It’s a good idea to put all of your insurance cards along with the emergency info card in one location so emergency personnel can find it all quickly and easily.

Stay Safe Ride Smart

One of the most effective ways to deal with an emergency is to avoid the emergency all together. This seems obvious and in some cases it is out of our control. People driving cars don’t always see us on our motorcycles. Surprise mechanical problems happen, and no matter how skilled a rider you are, the risk of making a mistake and going down is a real one. 

Do whatever you can to avoid injury. Ride smart and always wear your protective gear. So, if you do go down on your motorcycle, your risk of injury is reduced. Ride smart while you’re in the city too. Try to time your arrival and departure so that you are not caught up in rush hour traffic to reduce the risk of an accident with a car. 

Lastly, always be safe when you’re off your motorcycle and camping in the wilderness. Use common sense fire safety and store your food properly to avoid encounters with wild animals. If you spend a day hiking, make sure you know your way back to camp, take precautions to avoid injuries while on the trail, and bring water and snacks with you. 

While we can never be fully prepared for the unexpected emergency, we can do what we can to be safe and to get the help we need when we need it. I hope you’ve found valuable information in this article that will help you have a safe motorcycle journey no matter where you ride.

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