THE recent death of a prominent businessman while riding a motorcycle in the Jerrawangala National Park has raised concerns about the safety of the pastime and how it is regulated.
Andrew Hipperson, 51, a managing director with leading Australian food producer Goodman Fielder, died when his motorcycle crashed into a tree on Deans Gap Road. At the time of writing a full police report on the accident was still being prepared for the coroner.
Shoalhaven duty operations manager for the NSW Ambulance Service, Wayne Dunlop, said trail bike riding came with risks, and most riders were aware of that.
“Most of the riders involved in the accidents we attend on National Park trails are properly equipped, and the accidents are not necessarily the fault of the rider,” he said.
Mr Dunlop said Mr Hipperson’s accident was one of two fatalities involving trail bike riding in a week.
“Many of the accidents involving trail bike riders involve serious injury, and there have been quite a few fatalities over the years. Many riders hit trees or are involved in a head-on collision with a car or bike coming in the other direction.”
Mr Dunlop said the Ambulance Service had a special 4WD vehicle to get through rough terrain, and there was also a helicopter in Albion Park they could call on if access was particularly difficult.
“The coming of summer means there will be more riders than ever on National Park and State Forest trails, and we ask them to take greater care,” Mr Dunlop said.
Acting Sergeant Brian Ware of the Shoalhaven Highway Patrol said injuries were generally serious.
“Broken bones, including spinal injuries, and even fatalities. Some accidents involve trees, oncoming traffic, even wildlife and bushwalkers.”
He stressed most riders were aware of the inherent risks and behaved appropriately.
Rex Williams of Calderwood knows the highs and lows of the sport. He was seriously injured in an accident in 2009.
“I broke three vertebrae in my neck, both hands – my left one was a bag of bones – and a few ribs.”
Despite the injury, Mr Williams still rides the roads and trails in Australia’s national parks and state forests.
“I’ve been riding for 38 years and love the excitement of the sport,” he said.
Mr Williams said most sensible riders not only dressed appropriately but also made sure they were covered by health insurance, including ambulance insurance.
“Most trail biking is done on gravel roads, which are wide enough for everyone to obey normal road rules, and single lanes, very thin trails with only enough room for one rider.”
He said he and his partner, trail biker Birna Hjaltason, avoided the sport in the holidays because of the numbers of inexperienced drivers taking up the sport.
President of the Nowra Motorcycle Club Wayne Mather said the best way for new trail bikers to prepare was to use a facility like Nowra’s Motor Plex on Albatross Road.
“It’s a good place for riders to train up. You can race against others or against your own times, developing your riding skills the whole time.”
Mr Mather said the advantage of a facility like the Motor Plex was that you didn’t need a licence to ride, so young riders could get training before they used public roads and trails where a licence was compulsory.
Mr Mather’s best advice for trail bikers was to use caution and slow down.
Clive Brooks, owner and manager of Great Southern Motorcycles, said it was important to get the right gear if you were serious about trail biking.
“You have to spend time to try all the gear and make sure you get the right fit. Ill-fitting gear is of no use at all; you might as well ride naked.”