Martin McAlindenEthan LoughreyCiara MacManus
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How to Prepare for an Accident on the Trails

Posted on February 5, 2021 @ 1:05 PM in Mountainbiking

Accidents, as they say, happen. It’s a risk we all accept when we go out on the bike. That risk can even add to the enjoyment of mountain biking for some people. But when things go wrong it’s important to be prepared. Changing gears mentally from ‘having fun’ to ‘somebody needs help urgently’ can be jarring if you haven’t thought about it before.

This week MountainBikeNI spoke to Martin McMullan from Mourne Mountain Rescue (and Life Adventure Centre). Most mountain bikers will know that the Mourne Mountain Rescue team are the elite emergency service called upon if someone should get into difficulty in the Mourne mountains. Since lockdown, theirs callouts have grown significantly so Martin was happy to share some advice, using his "ASSIST" model and which mountain bikers should consider before heading out.

A – Access - Do you have a route map? Are you familiar with your intended route? Can you accurately pin point your location at any given time? If necessary do you have an emergency escape route(s) and should the need arise, how will Emergency Services reach you?

S – Signal – Do you have a phone? Do you have the necessary contact numbers ? Will there be network coverage, and if not, what is your back up plan? Do you carry a whistle, torch, PLB (Personal Locating Beacon) or strobe? Have you left an ‘ALERT’ plan with a friend? (Actions / Liaisons / Emergency / Route / Time)

S – Story – What to say when you need to call for help – Who are you? Who are you with? Where are you? What have you been doing? What has happened? What resources do you have? What actions have you taken? If not obvious, why exactly are you calling for help / exactly what assistance do you require? All key pieces of information necessary for an appropriate Emergency Services response.

I – Injuries – Is someone injured? Who is injured? How did they injure themselves? What are their signs and symptoms? What first aid do you carry? What treatment can you provide? Don't forget, 'I' can equally apply to 'Illness'. Even if you do decide to call teh Emergency Services, remote responses take time and so your immediate input and/or hat of others could well prove critical.

S – Shelter – Do you carry sufficient clothing / shelter to protect all those involved? Exposure is a real risk, particularly for but not limited to an injured party. Even in our summer months, weather can be challenging and particularly for someone who has suffered an injury or taken ill. In particular, see 'T' below. 

T – Time – Dealing with incidents on trails takes time, whether self-assisting or receiving assistance from others or the Emergency Services, even if you’ve done everything correct and provided all the essential information. Are you prepared for a delay / wait of not just minutes but hours? See 'S' above.


One of the most important things Martin wanted people to take away was the need to be as self-sufficient as possiblel and to understand the benefit of community reliance, which can often be a more efficient response for minor incidents or that critical stop gap while awaiting the Emergency Services. That said, if in doubt for any level of incident, don't delay calling, even if it's for initial advice - all the Emergency Services would rather have an early call and subsequently not be needed as opposed to the alternative. Finally, mobile phones can prove invaluable when on the trails, particularly in emergency situations, however they're in no way a substitute for careful planning, being prepared and ultimately staying safe.


The MountainBikeNI Community also contributed their thoughts and experiences on how to prepare for an accident on the trails. You can check out what they had to say by clicking the link above, but we've chosen two of our favourites below:


1)    Ride to your ability (Kenny Halliday)

This should be obvious but it can be easy to caught up in the moment. If you’re used to only riding blue trails and you sign a waymarker for a black trail – please don’t take it. Likewise, it’s important when taking friends mountain biking in their early days to give them plenty of warning about features and advise them which ones they should avoid. Eagle’s Rock at Davagh Forest for example is one that you probably don’t want to attempt unless you’ve been riding for years and have tackled similar rock drops.


2)    Download the ‘what3words’ app and register for Emergency SMS (Michael Magee and Andrew Simpson /  Simon Gardiner)

Again this should come with the caveat that you can't depend entirely on your phone to save your life in an emregency. That said, one of the biggest challenges with calling the emergency services after an MTB accident is directing them to your location. If a rider has fallen on his neck or head, it is generally advisable not to remove their helmet or move them from their location – which means the ambulance has to come to you. This can be difficult, particularly if you’re riding along the 27km expanse of Rostrevor MTB Trails.

what3words’ is a free app for Android and iOs that, using your location data will help pinpoint where you are to within 3 metres. The way it does this is great; by breaking down the entire world into 3 metre square boxes and labelling each of these boxes with a unique three world combination. You then simply relay this to the emergency services.

The other tip for your phone comes from Simon Gardiner, who pointed out you can register your phone to be eligible for SMSing the emergency services. This is a last resort, for when your phone doesn’t have signal to sustain a call with 999, you can text the information. You have to be registered to do this however and it’s easy to do; simply text ‘register’ to 999. You’ll receive a reply asking you to confirm and just then reply ‘YES’ to that. For more information, visit their website.


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Ethan Loughrey
Ethan Loughrey  Mountain Bike Officer

Hardest thing about Mountain Biking? Definitely the trees.

1 comment has been posted in reply to this article

Posted by Joe on February 10, 2021 @ 1:54 PM

(do not publish this comment)

Typos in post:

I – Injuries – Is someone injured? Who is injured? How did they injure themselves? What are their signs and symptoms? What first aid do you carry? What treatment can you provide? Don't forget, 'I' can equally apply to 'Illness'. Even if you do decide to call ***the*** Emergency Services, remote responses take time and so your immediate input and/or ***that*** of others could well prove critical.

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