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Old 6 May 2012
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avoiding major injuries on first trip


I'm planning a tour of SE Asia by 125cc motorbikes and am looking for advice to help me avoid any injury (broken bones, bad road rash, etc.) that would require a hospital visit. My only motorbike experience is driving a Minsk while living in Hanoi a few years ago, so I have the basics down, however I don't have any experience driving in the countryside. I don't need to do any off-roading unless it's necessary to get to a particular point of interest, though I understand that many of the oft-used roads are themselves quite rustic. My basic route is starting in Hanoi in mid-September, driving east to Dien Bien, into Lao, down to Vientianne, into Thailand, all the way to Thailand's tip, rounding the isthmus, up into Cambodia, along Cambodia's coast, to Phnom Penh, into Vietnam, to Saigon, and then all over Vietnam; ending in Hanoi again.
I have plenty of other questions left to ask but this one seems most important to me. I'll be wearing a real Western helmet, leather hiking boots and maybe an uninsulated leather jacket (I remember the heat). I plan on going rather slow, maybe 25-35MPH.
I seem to be reading a lot of stories that end in a broken leg. Any tips on avoiding this? Is is worth it to buy proper motorcycle boots? I'm doing this trip on a limited budget (no BMWs, trust funds or retirement accounts) and can't invest huge sums into gear, but none-the-less can't afford a helicopter ride to a hospital in Bangkok. Any helpful tips to put my mind at ease?
Thanks in advance, and thanks for the hours of reading I've had in the forums already.
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Old 6 May 2012
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to the HUBB, When I go to SE Asia I also take my own helmet but thats about it in the way of riding gear, I would consider gloves perhaps if I went in the rainy season but so far have only ever taken and used a poncho.
My travel insurance policy covers me for upto a 125cc and as for getting broken legs etc, thats pretty much out of our hands and in the hand of destiny.
'He who laughs last, was too slow to get the joke'
Never confuse the map with the journey.
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Old 6 May 2012
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Feh. Boots will very often prevent broken feet and lower legs--it's not like this is "out of our hands." The trouble is, they're hot, heavy and unwieldy. I generally wear at least hikers, and on a long trip always MX boots.

Knee armor will protect knees. Hardshell armor for motorbikes or mountainbikes will fit under or over ordinary clothing, and it's not hard to carry in your baggage. Same with mountainbiking elbow pads.

Elbow and shoulder armor will protect the obvious places. Back armor or pad likewise, and a mesh riding jacket will include all three. I've started carrying one on the plane with me. Even in the heat, a mesh jacket can keep you cooler by shielding out direct sun. Soak your clothing underneath with water if necessary.

It's all according to your tolerance of risk and feeling of invincibility. I've gone riding in flip flops, shorts and Hawaiian shirt too, but on a long trip the odds are increasingly stacked in favor of coming off the bike at some point. It's worth allowing for this.


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Old 6 May 2012
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Markaf gives good advice.

do not be pressurised into riding outside of your comfort zone.
do not ride at night. get the night-time accommodation ( even if a bivouac) well sorted before nightfall.
do not get into a situation where you have to drive x number of miles to meet some kind of deadline.
and lastly avoid tight time scheduling.

basically poodle along relaxed, well fed and well rested. enjoy the scenery and plot your course along the roads to always give yourself as much room as possible without being obnoxious to other road users.

plan to have lots of "rest days" these are really for the unexpected stops which are often what makes the journey entertaining.
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Old 7 May 2012
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lots of good advice here. I would consider swapping the leather jacket for a mesh riding jacket with armor on the shoulders and elbows, maybe the back too. You can probably get a used one cheap online if you are in Europe.

I personally ride with the helmet visor up almost all the time, so good glasses are also important for me. "good" means that i can see through them and they do a decent job of keeping dust and bugs out of my eyes and won't shatter into a million shards of glass it hit by a pebble.

main thing is to take your time and pay attention, especially in towns.
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Old 7 May 2012
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Guess I'll add that all the safety gear in the world won't do you any good unless you're wearing it. What that means at this stage is that you need to choose gear you'll actually wear in heat and humidity--I'd skip the leather jacket in favor of mesh, and if you won't wear proper riding pants at least get independent knee protection to add to whatever you'll be wearing (hence my mention of mountain biking armor, which is what I've started carrying when I'm not going to wear heavy pants).

Figuring out some way to protect your hands is key, too. Fingerless gloves are one such--because they don't overheat your hands, you're more likely to wear them, which means you'll be wearing them when you come off the bike. Besides, they'll protect you from the less obvious hazard of second degree sunburn on the backs of your hands.

Glasses are another good point. I wear wraparound safety glasses with built in diopters--twenty bucks or less in America, but unavailable in the Developing World.

Hope that's helpful.

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Old 7 May 2012
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For me, the most important ´keys´ to survival on a 2-wheeler in SE Asia are

– To be very alert at all times (taking care that you´ve eaten well, and especially in warm climate, drank enough liquid, also having lots of quick breaks may help)

– Having enough time, so you don´t have to hurry (and always avoid riding in the dark, if you can!)

– Knowing your bike well, and being able to control it in many different situations that the traffic, difficult roads etc. will throw at you

– Knowing the local oddities they may have in every country. This one you will only gain by riding a lot in that particular area

– Using proper riding gear, which may give you the protection you need, when all else fails. I always take my helmet with me, and that´s the most important safety item, but there are other important ones, too. They surely are a PITA to wear in hot, humid climate, but they just might make the difference in the outcome, especially when you have a small crash: are you able to continue your trip, or you go to some clinic or hospital for treatment. Even a small rash can become a big problem, if you get some dirt under your skin, and it becomes infected. When choosing this equipment, try to find something that´s made for the hot climate (like a mesh jacket).... most of the riding gear sold in my country, for example, would be just suffocating in SE Asia, and fighting a heat stroke inside your armor would not help you ride more safely!

And I think you´re already half-way there, when you are paying attention to road safety in that area, as it´s probably the most common reason for bikers to run into serious trouble over there.
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Old 8 May 2012
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Some really good advice here. I think the most important is to wear all the gear all the time.

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Old 12 May 2012
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Wear quality gear with lots of impact absorbing armour.

Ride quality bikes with good suspension and top-notch braking capabilities.

Don't ride stupid. And pay attention.
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Old 22 May 2012
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Great tips/advice, thanks.
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broken leg, health, injury, se asia, vietnam

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