Motocross Mom

""Motocross Safety"" Part II

May. 01, 1999 By Marva Montierth
Motocross safety involves a number of issues. The first thing that most people think of when safety is discussed is the gear that a rider wears. For a beginner, though, safety really begins with the motorcycle itself.

Take at look at your child's bike. Does it fit your child? Buying a motorcycle that your child will "grow into" is not usually a wise idea for a beginner. If the rider cannot hold the bike up without help while seated, it's too big. Look for a smaller bike. With the bike on level ground, a child should be able to get at least the toes of both feet on the ground at the same time. While a more experienced rider can adapt to a bike that requires starting blocks, a beginner needs a bike that fits.

Is your child's motorcycle well maintained? Inspect it regularly for cracks in the frame, wear on tires, spokes that need to be tightened, and sprockets and chains that show excessive wear. Teach your rider how to inspect his or her own bike. With the bike on a stand have your child sit on the bike; check the position of the clutch and brake levers. Are they comfortable for the rider to grab? If not, adjust them, and check the adjustments periodically.

Children should never be allowed to ride without proper safety gear. At the very least, a kid should be wearing a properly fitted helmet, long sleeves, long pants, gloves, goggles, boots, and a chest protector. Elbow guards, knee guards, a kidney belt, and a well-fitted mouthpiece are also advisable.

A helmet made for motocross is a necessity. The helmet should fit snuggly, be lightweight, and have a Snell M95 rating on it. If it doesn't, don't buy it. I always advise parents against buying used helmets, too. Why? A helmet is only as good as its structural integrity. You don't know what stresses a used helmet has been under. It doesn't have to have visible cracks or chips in it to make it unsafe. During a hard crash, a helmet that already has stress wear, but shows no outward signs of it can fail to provide adequate protection. Your child's head can't be replaced. Treat it right.

Any helmet that has been tested and certified by the Snell Foundation has undergone rigorous testing and is proven to provide a standard of protection not guaranteed with any other rating. If you wear Brand X and it carries a Snell rating, don't automatically assume that the child's version of this same helmet also qualifies for the rating. The Snell Foundation recognizes that as size changes, so does the engineering aspect of the helmet. The Snell Foundation requires every size in each helmet to be tested separately to provide the same level of protection. Some manufacturers have chosen to only have the best selling sizes tested.

Many helmets carry a DOT rating; the Department of Transportation has set a minimum standard that helmets must exceed in order to be tagged with the DOT rating. Unfortunately, there is no testing required, and certification is based on the honor system. Some helmets with DOT certification that have been independently tested have been found to fail. Because of this, I think the DOT program lacks the kind of integrity anyone would want to trust his or her head to. If helmet has both the Snell and the DOT rating, that's terrific. If the helmet carries only a DOT rating, don't buy it.

A good helmet does not need to be expensive, but it needs to provide adequate protection. In today's market you don't have to make a compromise between quality and your bank account. There are many helmets on the market that are low-priced but still meet the highest safety standards. The worst head injury I've seen was with a child that was not wearing a Snell approved helmet. While still in first gear, the rider fell over and hit his head on a rock and split the helmet. Two years later, this child has just learned how to walk again...  at age 12.

When you choose goggles for your child, take the helmet with you. They should fit snuggly over the face, leaving no gaps for dirt or rocks to slip through.

A chest protector should cover the entire breastbone and upper rib cage. It should not be so long that it interferes with the child's sitting position. Ideally, it should also provide protection for the shoulders and upper arms.

When purchasing gloves make sure that they don't have excess room at the tips of the fingers. They should be comfortable, with no inner seams that chafe.

Knee and elbow guards provide a level of protection that can make the difference between a minor bruise or a major injury. The best off-the-shelf knee guards are made of molded plastic and are articulated between the knee cup and the shin guard. For very aggressive riders, custom knee braces are definitely worth considering. Knee joints are extremely vulnerable and once injured, can provide a lifetime of pain. The time to consider custom knee braces is before an injury occurs, not afterwards

Very young riders can usually get away with wearing a good pair of high-top hiking boots. For any rider who is racing, motocross boots are a necessity. Do not buy them too big. While the rider will eventually grow into them, a boot that's too big isn't going to provide support in the ankle area; this will make it difficult for the rider to use the shifter and rear brake levers. You're better off buying used boots that fit than new boots that are too big.

Motocross jerseys are not a total necessity, but most have padded elbow areas that offer some additional protection against scrapes.

Motocross pants offer far better protection than jeans. Almost all come with hip pads that cushion the hipbones during a crash. They are also highly tear resistant.

A kidney belt is a must for a rider that has gone past the beginner level. These are worn between the pants and the shirt and can help reduce the chance of a lower back injury

The last piece of equipment that young riders should use, but few do, is a mouthguard. Both of my sons have worn custom made mouthguards since their early days on the track. My oldest son chipped a tooth the very first time he rode on a motocross track. He was lucky?it was a minor chip and it was not a permanent tooth. I've seen way too many young riders with broken or badly chipped teeth to ever let mine ride again without a mouthguard.

Mouthguards not only provide protection to teeth (which are at the very least are expensive to repair;) they have been shown to provide some protection to the brain during a crash. During a crash, the jaws can snap together with incredible force. This may cause the brain to be slammed against the skull, which can result in a concussion. With a mouthguard in place part of the impact is absorbed. While it may not totally prevent concussion to the brain, it can lessen the effects. Custom-made mouthguards work best. They can be made by your dentist, or by an after-market company that specializes in them.

Buying safety gear for children is not an inexpensive proposition, but then no one will claim that this is a cheap sport. Other than a helmet, most gear can be purchased used; surf newsgroups and on-line motorcycle boards. Don't let your child be in charge of what safety gear they wear. It's the job of the gear to provide the protection a child needs. It's your job to see to it that your child uses it.

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