A dislocated finger certainly wasn’t the best way to end a day of dirt-biking! But that’s what brought it to an early end.
Recently, I’ve been in the market for a small dirt bike to replace my BMW F800GS Adventure. As much as I enjoy the GS, I find it too heavy for me to relax and enjoy riding the mountain trails. Particularly as I usually ride alone and don’t want to find myself miles from the nearest village with a bike that I can’t pick up – or with an injury. So I concluded that a smaller dirt bike would be lighter, easier to handle and more capable on the trails.
My search for a dirt-bike started with various Honda models and, more recently, turned to KTMs. Specifically, a KTM EXC350F Six Days. I found one for sale and had a test drive on it, but wasn’t quite sure whether it would suit me. The seller suggested that I organise a day riding a rented KTM 350, so that I could get a better feel for the bike and decide whether it was what I wanted. An excellent idea.
I made contact with Paulo Tropa of ML Adventures Enduro Experience and we scheduled a day of riding, starting near Alto de Valongo. Paulo brought two KTMs in his van – a 250 and a 350, as well as protective equipment for me to wear. We geared up and headed out to the nearby trails.
We started out on some flat ground, so that I could get acquainted with the feel of the bike and then we set off along a variety of trails. I started out on the 250 and then switched up to the 350.
I wouldn’t dream of taking my BMW along some of the trails that we rode, but that’s the difference between a big adventure bike and a dirt bike. The KTM took it all in its stride and definitely inspired confidence as the morning progressed. We did some easy and moderate trails that included ascents and descents on hills with lots of loose rocks – no problem for the KTM. There was a short, steep hill that was wet, muddy and rocky. I didn’t make it up the first time and slid backwards, but the second time I blasted right up it (the first time was operator error – not the bike’s fault). There was also a muddy stretch with a deep rut that we had to contend with.
We then moved on to a more technical section, up a narrow, rocky single track on the side of a steep hill above a river. Again, no problem. I loved how the KTM stuck to the track and got me over the terrain.
Having successfully negotiated some tricky stuff, I came undone on a wide, gentle, simple downhill track. I’m not sure what I did, but the front wheel tucked a bit, I lost my balance and went to roll off the bike. As I did, my helmet hit the ground and my middle finger caught on the ground and bent backwards. I immediately thought I’d broken it, but once I got my glove off and took a closer look, I concluded it was most likely just dislocated. But the injury signalled the end of the fun for the day.
But we still had to get the two KTMs off the trails and back to the van. That meant riding along dirt trails for another 20 minutes or so – using only my index finger on the clutch. Having got the dirt bikes back to the van, I realised that the nearest hospital with an emergency department was back in Porto. So I rode my BMW home on the highway for 20-30 minutes and then got a taxi to the hospital.
The hospital staff were great! The doctor reset my finger (that hurt more than the initial injury). X-rays confirmed no fractures – just a dislocation. The injured finger was taped to the adjacent finger to assist it to regain strength and stability. The tendons in the back of my hand were also strained, resulting in some swelling and soreness.
So – how did the day impact my decision on whether or not to buy a KTM 350? Until coming off the bike and inuring my finger, I was very impressed with the bike. I’m sure that, barring the injury, I would have bought the KTM 350 Six Days that I had been looking at. But the injury, along with the fact that it occurred on a fairly simple stretch of track, highlighted the risk of injury when dirt-biking, even when I wasn’t pushing hard or riding a technical section. It caused me to re-evaluate my decision to buy a dirt-bike. I’ve decided that, for now at least, I won’t be buying a dirt bike. It was a hard decision, because I really enjoy riding on the mountain trails. For now, I’ll stick to riding on the road.
The injury is not a reflection on Paulo, or ML Adventures. He guided me along some nice tracks and ensured that I was comfortable before progressively moving on to more difficult tracks. I was having a wonderful time and Paulo told me that I was riding well. Injuries are just a risk that accompanies off-road riding. And, despite deciding not to buy a dirt-bike, I may still go out for another ride with Paulo on one of his rental bikes.