Motorcycle trip planning – why you need plan for an accident
If you’ve never considered repatriation cover in your travel and breakdown insurance read how Ollie Rooke had an off in Latvia that left him with a broken ankle and the unenviable task of getting himself and his motorbike home from the other side of Europe.
So there I was; my trip definitely over, my motorbike on its side on a Latvian dirt road and my left tibia snapped. My biggest fear preparing for my grand European tour had been realised, I’d crashed.
It’s most rider’s worst nightmare for obvious reasons. Even crashing in London can be an ordeal logistically; arranging for the bike to be collected while being carted off to the closest NHS hospital. But despite being in a foreign country, which I knew nothing about, I felt strangely calm.
You see, even though my ‘plan’ had just been to wing it most of the way around Europe, I’d identified and prepared for a few of the worst case scenarios that can befall a two-wheeled traveller. So when the worst did happen, I felt ready and kicked my pre-prepared ICE (In Case of Emergency) plan into action.
The truth is it’s naive to think it won’t happen to you, but getting ready for the worst takes time, effort and isn’t cheap. It’s easier to cut corners. But, take it from me, when you’re lying in a hospital bed alone, when no one who is treating you can speak English, you’re going to thank your past self.
My preparation wasn’t faultless though, and I made mistakes. In this article, that hopefully you’ll find useful for your own motorcycle trip planning, I’ll own up to them, assess what I could have done differently but also what I did right. And, by the end, we’ll try to have an answer to the most important question before any tour… Whether you’re circumnavigating the world, looping Europe or popping to France for a long weekend. What do you do when it all goes wrong?
Packing for the worst
My spill left me lying on the ground about five or six metres from my bike, alone on a quiet back road. My protective clothing had taken the brunt of the slam but my ankle/leg was very clearly broken and it was impossible to stand.
But I’d messed up; the most important thing I needed was still secured to my handlebars, a short but painful crawl away, where it had been giving me directions.
This was my first mistake but a pervasive one, in the case of an off how will you call for help if you can’t get to your bike and phone?
The resolution is simple. Use another form of navigation, or have a spare PAYG phone (I did actually have one on my trip, locked in my pannier where it was no use to anyone…) on your person to call for help. In hindsight, I was fortunate to be able to make it back to my bike, my mistake was simply an uncomfortable one and didn’t delay me calling for help.
This can obviously change from location to location; a city is far more populated than the back-country, but it seems wise to get into good habits on a tour and stick to a single system.
The next thing to ensure is that any documentation is readily accessible. For my trip I had a small plastic folder in my tank bag at all times containing 3 bundles elastic-banded together; my originals and two sets of copies. My tank bag went wherever I did anyway, so while I was wary of theft I didn’t worry about them not being locked away.
This meant when help arrived it was quick and easy to ensure I was handing over everything the ambulance crew, police and hospital needed to get treated as soon as possible. Next time around, I will also ensure I have copies in a waterproof pocket on my person too, another oversight that I got away with.
The final thing I had prepared was an emergency contact, in this cause my Dad. Before going away I’d sat down with him and told him he’d be my ICE contact. I ensured he had all the policy documentation to hand too; when the worst did happen I gave him a quick call, sent him my pinned location on a Google map and he helped get the wheels in motion with my bike and travel insurance.
The thing I’m trying to emphasise here is to think, what if?! It’s not a long process and is something you can do every morning while getting kitted up. What if I can’t get into my left pannier? What if I can’t get into the right? What if the bike is inaccessible? And so on, and so on.
Preparing to help yourself
Most bikers will honestly tell you that after a crash the bike is often on the forefront of their mind. It was with me! But it may surprise you to find out that actually you’re the most important thing to ensure is protected and safe…. Crazy, I know!
● Getting treated
If you’re hurt in a crash it’s highly likely an ambulance is going to be called. After handing them your neat bundle of documentation (I handed over the originals and a set of copies at the scene) you’re now ready to get treated. Or are you? Who’s going to foot the bill?
The first and most basic step if you’re planning a motorcycle trip in the EU is to ensure your EHIC card is up to date (this article has been written before any Brexit arrangements have been finalised). All hospital treatment I had in Latvia (casting of my leg, a night’s stay, Latvian hospital food and recasting in Riga) was all covered by my EHIC card.
The EHIC covers only the point of care though; if you’re badly injured enough to spend a night in hospital you’re going to need further assistance when you’re discharged. Making sure you have appropriate travel insurance is a must.
The most important thing with any travel insurance policy is to go over the terms and conditions with a fine tooth comb. I personally went with a Post Office backpacker policy, which covered riding a motorcycle up to 1500cc with a valid licence on recognised roads. However, other policies I checked out had upper limits of 125cc for motorcycle riding. They do, and did, check this, and any assistance was dependent on me providing a record of my valid licence. I can personally vouch for how good the Post Office were, and I’m sure plenty of members of forums/Facebook groups will also have good recommendations.
Your travel insurance will then help support and cover the extras that are easy to forget about when considering a crash in a foreign country; transportation, accommodation, maybe even food and drink. And I’m not just talking about the nightmare of sorting out last minute flights. I crashed about four hours from Riga, the only city in Latvia and the only airport I could fly home from. The day after my accident, I was turfed out of hospital in a cast without even a pair of crutches. Good travel insurance can help with getting you around and back home.
When it came to it I was flown out on the only flight with free seats, from Riga to Doncaster, on the Thursday (my accident being the Tuesday), and then driven to South London in a private ambulance before being admitted for my operation at 2am on Friday morning. Wheelchair assistance was organised for me at both airports, my ‘safe to fly form’ was obtained, verified and translated. I even had an entire row to myself on the plane to stretch out. Believe me, that’s service you’re happy to pay for!
Preparing to recover your bike
Finally, we can get to our pride and joy, and the process of repatriating a motorcycle. As you’ll read below, in my case this did not go smoothly at all and I was blessed with a healthy dose of luck (again!).
● Motorcycle Insurance
When preparing for a tour, it’s worth checking the coverage your regular motorcycle insurance provides. As always, don’t take the promises on the website at face value, delve deeper into your documentation, so you know exactly what cover you have. For example, while some insurers may advertise 90 days of European cover, it may be stipulated in the terms and conditions that you can’t exceed 30 days away in one trip. My insurance gives me six months of European cover, with no limit on the length of any journey within this time range.
● Breakdown cover
For the most part, I’ve spoken about preparing for accidents. But I haven’t touched on another disaster that could befall you on a trip, a breakdown. I think it goes without saying that you’ll want to ensure you have a basic level of cover, but one of the most important things is to ensure that, if needs must, you’ll be able to bring your stricken pride and joy home. Most policies have repatriation clauses, it’s just that some may not bring the bike back if the cost of doing so outweighs the value of the bike…
This is another area where I made a mistake. Due to my choice of insurance company, and to be honest the fact that I was desperate not to make a claim and ruin my meagre few accumulated years of NCD, I opted for an ‘all bells and whistles’ breakdown and recovery cover that appeared to offer repatriation in most cases. Yet when it came to it, RAC refused to honour this, despite the policy documentation seemingly supporting my claim, arguing that they no longer offered recovery services despite multiple references and clauses saying differently in my documentation…
I was perhaps a bit naive here, and I had assumed that what was written was what was offered… but there we go! Always qualify your purchase with a phone call to the provider before making a decision, asking about possible scenarios and seeing how they would respond. I’d be interested to speak with others regarding the preparation they take for recovering their bike, particularly from further afield than Europe, or any first-hand experiences they may have. Get in touch via the Contact Us page.
● Winging it
So we come on to the final section regarding recovering your bike. And that would be, just winging it. Because actually, when you’re at your most vulnerable people do often come to your aid. In my case, the highway maintenance men of Latvia were my heroes. The same ones who followed the sounds of me beeping my horn and discovered me lying there in the road, guided the ambulance to me and took the bike back to their warehouse while I was in the hospital.
Two of them drove the 30 minutes to the hospital behind the ambulance and pinned their warehouse’s location on my phone’s map, as well as providing me with their number in case I needed a hand getting there.
And while I sat by my bike, at my wit’s end with the RAC and their refusal to help me, they noticed that I was in trouble, called a mate who did regular runs to the UK and brokered a drop off to London. I apprehensively sent him copies of my V5 and hoped for the best… two weeks later, my bike arrived in the back of a transit, alongside an assortment of other deliveries and was handed over to me in exchange for €300.
While unpacking the bike some weeks later, once my cast had come off, I noticed two cans of Latvian lager, a local map (with the crash site marked!) and a Latvian Highway Maintenance hi-vis had been stuffed in the bag strapped to my back seat. I told you, heroes.
Now, I know that this section goes entirely against the intense planning I’m advocating above. But I’ve included it anyway to reassure you that wherever you are in the world people will be happy to help. If you’re further afield than Europe, I think winging it will be a lot more important! I also received numerous messages of support and help from bikers across Europe, including many that I had met on the way. Our hobby comes with a strong community, don’t forget that it’ll be there to help when you need it.
Get out and travel
So there we have it. A lengthy (sorry about that!) and comprehensive guide to preparing for the worst-case scenario on your tour. Don’t be daunted though, it’s about half a day’s preparation that will save you a massive headache down the line.
And like most things, if it does happen it’s not as bad as you expect it to be. My passion for motorcycle travel hasn’t been affected, if anything it solidified it. Touring is an adventure and appeals to that kid in us all. Sometimes adventures go wrong though, it’s all part of the ride. It’s a decent story for down the pub at the very least, and I have a scar on my ankle and a can of Latvian lager to prove it…
CHECKLIST: Ollie’s top tips to take from his experience:
1. Keep your phone/a phone on you, not the bike.
2. Have multiple copies of your documents, including the originals (which you need to have to legally ride in many countries).
3. Be familiar with how to share your location from an app.
4. Have an ICE contact number arranged and carry it on your person.
5. Check your motorcycle insurance policy for the type of travel cover it offers.
6. ALWAYS have travel insurance.
7. Pre-Brexit, make sure you have an EHIC card.
8. Double check your breakdown cover includes repatriation.