How to Start Riding After a Motorcycle Accident

by Liz Jansen 

IMG_2036I’m nervous about getting back on a motorcycle. Although I don’t keep a running total, I’ve ridden hundreds of thousands of miles over 45 years with no accidents on the road until last summer. I teach others how to ride motorcycles at Humber College. And I’m a little spooked.

There’s never been any question that I’d ride again. Even before I hit the kill switch as my bike lay totaled in that Alberta ditch, I knew I’d be back on the road. And that time is quickly approaching.

You don’t have to have done anything spectacular to unnerve you. An incident as minor as dropping your bike in a parking lot can give your confidence a hit.

Here’s how I’m proceeding:

Have a plan. Your circumstances will be unique to you, your riding experience, and any injuries.

Consult an expert. I’m fortunate to have access to Clinton Smout, a world-class trainer and owner of SMART Adventures.  Clinton’s a consummate professional and trains everyone from little kids on their first off-road bike, to police officers and FIM trainers. Don’t take advice from anyone BUT an expert. There’s too much at stake.

Wait until you’re ready. I haven’t ridden a motorcycle in 10 months. That alone means my skills are rusty. That I’ve had a traumatic experience compounded by a non-riding injury has affected my confidence. And I’ll be riding bikes that are new to me. I’ve got a few things to overcome.

Start slowly. Three weeks ago I had my first motorcycle ride since crashing nine months earlier. I was tentative and really nervous, not so much from flashbacks but rather because I didn’t feel secure on the ankle I broke at the end of March. Until a part isn’t working at full capacity, you don’t realize how much you use it. I thought I’d just need my left ankle for support when I threw my right leg over the seat. That’s true, but just the start.

Your ankle doesn’t remain rigid as all of that is going on. Even if subtle, the joint is flexing, rotating, and extending itself to help you maintain balance. I ended up getting on from the wrong side and even that took a bit of acrobatics. Then there was the dilemma of righting the bike from the side stand. I was on a light bike, on a flat surface, and it wasn’t that far over, but that little push to get it vertical by myself was out of the question that day. With a little help I was off and accomplished what I’d set out to do—ride around the parking lot.

Get ready to push your comfort zone. Don’t think there aren’t voices in my head telling me I’m crazy, and to be careful or I’ll hurt myself again. Some of those voices are logical while others are over-reacting. It’s a matter of keeping them in balance. We all know riding is risky but there’s lots we can do to mitigate it. Keeping skills sharp, riding alert, and wearing high visibility, high quality protective clothing are a good start.

Choose your motorcycle wisely.  Your motorcycle may be OK for you to return to. Mine isn’t. I’ll be testing bikes that are lighter, have a lower seat height, and a smaller engine displacement. I like the upright seating position and know I may have to adapt it so it’s comfortable for me.

Ramp up gradually. I know the secret to building confidence is saddle time, done under conditions where I’m set up for success. For a few days, that means parking lots and low speeds on low-traffic roads during off-peak hours.

Take frequent breaks. My ankle and shoulder will need a rest from the physical exertion. And whether I feel it or not, I’ll be expending emotional energy on tension. It’s only natural. Short, more frequent rest stops will keep me from depleting my energy allotment before I get to my destination.

Be flexible. Be prepared to adjust your progress depending on how you respond. There’s no prize for overdoing it or trying to get back before you’re ready. I have no desire to spend more time recuperating.

Be kind to yourself. It takes effort and done deliberately and purposefully, it’s so worth it!

If you truly want to ride, don’t let anything or anyone stop you. Not only do you deny yourself the pleasures of riding, that message of defeat carries with you into other areas of your life.

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Author, writer, and student Liz Jansen combines her artistic mediums to create stories that inspire readers to embark on their own journey of self-discovery.

9 Comments on “How to Start Riding After a Motorcycle Accident

  1. Three years back my bike got totalled by a car driver who ran into the back of me. A 100% non fault accident on my part. Although I wasn’t seriously hurt, I was dazed, battered and bruised. The worst thing was, I had my best friends 14 year old daughter as pillion at the time. The phone call to her mum was one of the hardest things I had to do in my whole life. Fortunately, my precious pillion wasn’t seriously injured either and her biker mum was seriously understanding (and we’re still besties!). The shock of that accident, when I was already taking extra care, seriously derailed me and over night, I decided I would never ride again. Biking is my life and passion, so, knew serious action would be needed before that thought set in too securely. Next morning, early, although I could barely move due to bruising, I dragged my other bike (a little 125 cc scrambler) out of the garage, painfully pulled on what was left of my riding gear, and slid my battered leg over the saddle. Shaking like a leaf, I started the bike and rode slow as a snail up and down the driveway, until I’d proved to myself I could ride. Once I’d done that and had regained my composure, I forced myself out for a 5am, for a very slow ride, just around the totally quiet and car free, block. I had to prove to myself that I could ride again, before that negative thought about not riding again got too engrained. Luckily wasn’t seriously injured, so, it is a bit different, …but, I guess, I followed some of the steps you mentioned, not least, the using a small, light bike, to start building confidence.

    • Thanks Sue! Aren’t you glad you’re riding again?? 🙂 Even when we really want to get back, it takes a great deal of energy. Liz

  2. I’ve been riding for 7 months on an adventure bike. Two weeks ago, I crashed on a tight, narrow, twisted mountain road and broke my ankle. I proceeded to ride almost two hours down the mountain home, screaming with each shift. I did not want to admit it was broken. It hurts like hell, but the tears running down my face were an expression of fear that I would not be on my bike for a while to heal this injury. Now I’m couch bound and falling into depression knowing the best thing is out of my reach for a while. I did have an accident the day after I got my license, but forced myself to buy a smaller one to boost my confidence and got back on in less than two weeks. It hurt like hell, but I needed to prevent PTSD from settling in. Now I don’t have that luxury and am reading up on what to do when my body heals. Thank you!

    • Hi Judy,

      Getting on the bike may seem like the best thing but the fact that it’s out of reach, means it’s not. There are other ways you need to heal. Watch for people, events, that come into your life that would not have, except for your broken ankle. Embrace the times of stillness, as difficult as it may be. Listen to the voice of your intuition. You will get on the bike and you will ride again (if you want to). Right now, you’ve got other things to do. You may not even realize what they are until later. All the best with them. Liz

  3. Glad I found you, Liz. This has been very helpful to read at this time. I’m embarking in a few days on my first long ride since my rather serious crash last August (airlifted to Vancouver from Kamloops and in the hospital for close to 3 weeks with broken bones and aorta injury). I’m going to California via the coast highways and byways. It never entered my mind to stop riding, just that I probably needed to upgrade my skills and get a bike with ABS and ideally TCS, which I did: sold my old 650 Vstrom and got a newer 1000 with said safety features and took an experienced rider safety training course from an expert, and purchased an airbag vest. I also started out by riding my small 250 KLX in slower and safe off-pavement situations, to build my confidence. I think it’s working, although I have to admit that I am still not confident yet at higher speeds or tight curves. Hopefully, the long road will help….

    • The road will help Bob. You experienced significant trauma so don’t be surprised that it takes a while to gain your confidence. You’ve done all the right things, and now you just need saddle time. Be patient with yourself and progress at your own speed. My riding has changed since my crash. I’m not willing to push myself to the same degree I once did, especially on deep gravel. But it feels so good to be out there. I’ve got 54K on my Triumph. All the best Bob. The confidence will come with time.

      • Thanks. I hear you about the deep gravel. That was my downfall (literally) that led to the crash – hit an invisible shift from rough pavement to deep gravel while accelerating and realized I was going way too fast!

        • It’s something I’ll never forget. You may enjoy the blog that will be published tomorrow. 🙂

  4. Val – What a journey you’ve been on. You’ve described so well how they physical effects of trauma are the tip of the iceberg in recovery. Courage, determination, and tenacity come to mind when I read your post. The need for a strong support network, and asking for help. Congratulations on everything you’ve accomplished and all you’ve inspired. It hasn’t come easy. And thanks for the mention. All the best as you continue down the road!