Are dirt bikes safe? With most of the top racers telling stories of multiple crashes, broken bones, and concussions, you'd be forgiven for thinking they're a death trap. But dirt bikes can actually be very safe. Whether you're an adult wanting to buy your first dirt bike, or a parent thinking of getting your child a dirt bike, there's many ways of cutting the risks and avoiding injury.
In this post we'll look at all of the dangers of dirt biking, where the risks are, how to avoid an accident, and how to protect yourself if you do happen to crash. I'll also give you some great tips to keep you safe on trails and in unfamiliar places.
The risks of dirt biking
FOR THE PARENTS
If you've read my about page, you'll know that I was never allowed a dirt bike as a kid. My Dad raced dirt bikes in the early days of the sport, and over the years he saw some truly terrible accidents. Although he did eventually retire from the sport because of the dangers, my Dad had raced dirt bikes for over 10 years only breaking one bone.
He told me that dirt bikes are dangerous, and that he didn't want to see my injure myself like many of his friends had. Although he referenced the many accidents he'd seen, I think it really came down to his protective instincts.
No one wants to see their children hurt themselves, so many parents will keep their kids away from any possible danger. This happens in the home, at the park, or during any time we think our kids might be at risk.
Unfortunately, by holding our kids back from 'risky play' we're actually doing more damage than good. Studies like this one prove that risky play is associated with far higher self-esteem in kids. On top of that, it builds social skills, creativity, risk management skills, resilience, and self-confidence.
Instead of saying "no you're not having a dirt bike", it would be better to look at where the biggest risks are, and work around them.
Check out my essential kids motocross guide for parents HERE.
WHERE ARE THE RISKS
Dirt biking will also have a certain degree of risk, as will anything in life. You could get killed walking down the path of a busy street, but this is less risky than walking down the same street, but on the road instead of the path.
This also applies to dirt bikes! Freestyle motocross is considered more risky than racing motocross, and racing motocross is more risky than riding in the hills. The more you push your limits, and the faster you go, the more dangerous it gets.
How to stay safe on a dirt bike
There's many things you can do to lower the risks of both crashing, and injury, and the first thing you should always do is wear protective gear. You can fall off the bike even if you're riding slowly and carefully, so this is essential.
WHAT GEAR WILL PROTECT YOU BEST
The most important part of the body to protect is the head, we've seen serious damage caused even at lower speeds, so don't cheap out on the helmet. Cheap helmets will not offer enough protection, and in general, the more you spend the better a helmet you'll get.
The brain is not fully protected by a conventional dirt bike helmet design, so I urge everyone to get a helmet that protects them from rotational impacts. The shearing, tearing, compression, and rotation of the brain within the skull during a rotational impact is the primary cause of concussion, mild-traumatic brain injury, and traumatic brain injury.
Whether you're buying a helmet for yourself, or your child, the only helmet that's offering this type of protection is the ATR from 6D (link to amazon). The ATR-1Y is recommended for kids, and the ATR-2 is recommended for adults.
Goggles will protect your eyes from the dirt that is thrown up from your tires, and from other riders tires. A hit from a stone could cause serious eye damage, so don't neglect the goggles.
Gloves will protect the hands from stones thrown up by other bikes, and they'll save your skin if you happen to fall off.
Boots are essential for foot and ankle protection. They'll also save your shins if the foot pegs scrape against them.
You can use knee and elbow pads to save your skin and bones in the event of a crash. These are recommended for all beginners, especially kids.
Dirt bike pants are made from tough materials that are made to survive a crash. wearing jeans or joggers is definitely not recommended as they will easily tear and expose your skin.
Dirt biking jerseys offer little protection, so I recommend a specially made dirt bike armour vest that has padding on the shoulders, elbows, chest, and back.
The safest way to ride a dirt bike
There are lots of different things you can do on a dirt bike, from trials to distance jumping, so let's put them in order of the most dangerous first:
- Distance jumping
- Freestyle motocross
- Supercross racing
- Motocross racing
- Hill climbing
- Enduro racing
- Trail riding
- Fun riding in the hills
THE TOP 3 SAFEST WAYS TO RIDE
You can see that trials is the safest form of riding. Trials riding isn't generally done on a dirt bike, but on a bike purpose built for the sport. Parents may wish to start kids off on a trials bike, because trials riding is much slower, often walking pace; and there are no risks of being hit by another rider. This is a good stepping stone for a dirt bike.
2. Fun riding
If you don't fancy a trials bike, the next safest option is simply riding for fun in the hills, forest, or wherever you have access to. When you're riding for fun and you're not competing, you're not pushing the limits, and there's much less risk.
This is also a great activity for the whole family! Either take the kids out and watch them having fun, or get dirt bikes for the whole family and join in with the fun.
You can also use motocross practice tracks for a bit of fun riding. But be warned, there will be other riders there, and the temptation to compete with them, or to show off will be overwhelming for some people.
3. Trail riding
Trail riding will appeal to many adults, especially those that have their motorcycle license. An enduro bike will let you ride on and off road, and you can find trails that go on for miles through the forests. You can ride at a comfortable pace to minimize the risk, and you're not competing, so you don't need to push the limits.
What about the rest?
So that's the three safest ways to ride a dirt bike, if you look at the list you'll see that all of the other dirt bike sports are competitive. As soon as you start racing, the risk level increases dramatically.
When you've been riding for a while, you may think about motocross or enduro racing, but you will crash, and you will hurt yourself at some point, it's inevitable.
Other dangers while riding dirt bikes
So you've got your dirt bike, and you're fully kitted out with the best protective gear on the market. Riding will be really safe, but there are still some dangers that you need to be aware of.
Need for speed
We all love to ride fast, even when we're not competing the temptation to open the throttle will always be there. The faster you go, the more likely you are to crash, remember that.
Parents should realise that kids don't understand this, so you'll need to teach them that more speed equals more risk of injury. You can also install a restrictor, or throttle governor to your kids dirt bike. This will prevent the engine reaching full power, thus limiting the speed and acceleration.
The looser the ground the more likely you are to slide and crash. Riding on loose gravel or in wet mud will pose more of a risk, and this type of riding should be practised with caution.
Trees and other objects
If you're riding in the forest, you'll need to be aware of tree branches hanging over the path. At speed, branches can break fingers or remove eyeballs, so always wear gloves and goggles.
It may seem like a no brainer, but you also need to watch out for trees. Misjudging a corner, or a simple slide can send you directly into a tree which will feel like hitting a wall, I've done it and it's not nice! This also applies to other objects like boulders, log piles, etc.
Tree roots will also pose a danger, especially on wet ground. Roots get very slippery and can easily throw you off the bike.
Lastly, always be wary of what might be around the corner. While riding on trails you might come around a blind corner to find a person or animal in the path, or even worse - a gate. This happened to two friends of mine who were racing down a track that they both knew well. They came around the corner to a closed barrier, and they couldn't avoid it. They both hit the barrier and ended up in hospital with multiple broken bones.
Riding in unfamiliar areas
This is possibly the most dangerous thing you can do on a dirt bike. To put this into perspective I'll tell you about something that happened to me and two other riders.
We were riding in Wales in a spot that we hadn't ridden before, and we were riding very fast down a gravel track. Suddenly a sheep ran out into the path, so we all braked hard.
The sheep wasn't the danger, a few meters in front of us was a sheer drop that must have been over 70 feet straight down. If the sheep hadn't ran out, it's certain that the first rider would have gone over. Be very careful if you're riding anywhere unfamiliar.
So, are dirt bikes safe?
As you've gathered from this post, it's not dirt bikes that are unsafe, it's how we choose to ride them. Dirt biking can be as safe, or as dangerous as you want it to be, but by following protective gear recommendations, and the advice above, you will be able to minimize the risks.
Riding dirt bikes will bring you hours of fun, and the risks are definitely outweighed by the rewards. You'll build skills and confidence, keep fit, meet new people, and have heaps of fun, it's also great for a child's development.
Now you know that dirt bikes are safe, you can get learn how to ride one HERE.
If you already know how to ride a dirt bike, improve your skills HERE.
Learn some cool facts about dirt bikes HERE.