Eyeing up a bike—your pride and joy that you’ve spent countless enjoyable hours riding in the past—takes on a completely different character after a serious injury. Whether your bike even had anything to do with the injury or not may not even matter. You’re still going to have second thoughts about throwing a leg over. 

The reason is simple: If you were hurt badly enough to have to stop riding, some part of you most likely doesn’t want to go through all that again. It’s completely understandable.

Now, to what degree that’s true will vary by person and injury, not to mention a number of other mitigating factors. These include things like how much time you had to spend in recovery, the type and length of recovery involved, how badly injured you were in the first place, and/or whether your injury required surgery.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach because each person, injury, and situation is different. Still, injuries that are more than just bumps and bruises usually lead to at least a short time of self-questioning and extra caution. Each long, dark teatime of the soul is different, so try not to beat yourself up about it and just sip as slowly as you need to.

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How do I know? I’m not a psychologist (sport or otherwise), but I’ve been through it. Not as badly as some, for sure, but badly enough to a) need surgery, b) spend significant time not riding, and c) definitely be more hesitant about getting back on a bike afterward.

What happened to me was a funky medial meniscus tear in one knee. Not just any regular, simple tear, either; my doctor described it as a bucket-handle tear. It’s a fairly common injury, I’m told, and one that frequently happens to athletes, or just people who like doing pretty normal, everyday things like running or being reasonably active. 

Just because it’s a pretty common injury doesn’t make it suck any less to live through, though.

For some, a meniscus tear and its aftermath might be a painful injury. Everyone is different. For me specifically, I luckily wasn’t in a lot of pain. 

Instead, what I was in was a lot of frustration, because my knee was super weak and I had little to no stamina for regular, everyday stuff. Walking up and down stairs was a chore. The knee would lock, and feel unstable, and it was also just mentally exhausting. I had things I wanted to do, and had previously been able to do—but it was either difficult or impossible. 

What Worked For Me

Leatt X-Frame Knee Brace

Leatt X-Frame Knee Brace

While I can’t promise that the same thing will work for you, I can tell you what I did. After I injured my knee in 2023, I managed to still ride a few bikes by engaging exoskeleton mode—er, slapping a motocross knee brace on to support my injured knee. 

And then, over the winter, I had surgery. Because I’d had knee surgery before (loose body removal a few years back), I was prepared for the frustration of hobbling around on crutches and struggling with stairs. Since I’d kept my crutches in case I ever needed them again, I even brought them with me to the surgical center just in case.

To my surprise, the surgeon told me that I should only use them if I needed them, and that I should try to put at least some weight on my recovering knee as soon as possible. So I did, and I quickly discovered that even though I’d just had surgery a couple of hours earlier, my knee already felt more stable than it had for months before the surgery.

Not strong, by any stretch—but also no longer wobbly. It was extremely encouraging, even though I knew that the painkillers and ice were busy shielding me from the worst of the pain. Thus heartened, I looked forward to diligently attending my scheduled physical therapy sessions and getting myself back to full fitness.

Develop A Routine That Works For You

Riding my 1985 Honda VF500F Interceptor, April 2024

Riding my 1985 Honda VF500F Interceptor, April 2024

After my physical therapy team assessed where I was at and what we needed to do to get me back to full functionality, I got to work. I listened to what they told me, and I did the exercises they assigned—both at my scheduled in-office sessions and at home. Some were easy, and some were hard. In all cases, the PT specialists were careful to monitor my progress and let me know that I could rest or modify anything if it was causing pain or discomfort, or if it seemed like too much.

But it wasn’t. In fact, the PT folks repeatedly told me that I was recovering more quickly than they expected, given the extent of both my injury and my surgery. They said that they had to keep reminding themselves that I was only X weeks post-surgery so that they didn’t inadvertently push me too hard. 

I don’t know how other people behave in physical therapy, but to me, it seems like it’s only supposed to help me. So logically, why wouldn’t I give it 100 percent? I also don’t like making things difficult for the people I care about, so that’s another powerful motivator to get back to full fitness. Nevermind the fact that yes, the sooner I recovered, the sooner I could eventually get back on a bike.

To make a long story short, PT helped me discover some exercises that I now really enjoy, and that I also hadn’t tried before my injury. I’m now well over a month out of therapy, and I’ve still been keeping up with those exercises as part of my regular life routine on a weekly and daily basis. They’ve made me stronger, more physically stable, and almost certainly in better shape than I was before I injured myself last year.

Getting Back On A Bicycle Also Helps

Riding a 2022 Honda CBR650R - April 2024

Riding a 2022 Honda CBR650R - April 2024

In therapy, I rode a stationary bike as part of my regular warm-up during in-office sessions. Once the weather allowed it again (it was still winter, and I live in Chicago), I also started getting out on an e-bike. While that’s partly because I’m reviewing it for work,(review coming soon) I also hoped that it would aid in my recovery. I figured that  I could use its pedal assist properties to get a comfortable amount of exercise without re-injuring myself, and so far, that seems to be right. 

Riding a bicycle—even one with an electric motor, such as an e-bike—isn’t the same as riding a motorcycle. But it can help you re-acclimate to riding on the street on two wheels, as well as the physical benefits of balancing, doing head checks, situational awareness, and so on. It can also feel relatively low-stakes, since you probably won’t be going as far on the bicycle (at least, not at first) as you might on your motorcycle. If you’re lucky, maybe you can even get a friend or loved one to go with you and have a nice time.

Then, when you’re ready—and only when you’re ready—you can try getting back on a motorcycle. It’s probably going to feel a little weird at first, both psychologically and physically. Only you know whether that’s something you can overcome or not, and it may not necessarily be something that you know prior to sitting on the bike. 

Don’t be afraid to take it as fast or as slow as you need to, and don’t let anyone else pressure you into riding again if you’re not ready yet. The real ones in your life will support you and help you through it. 

Accept That It’s A Process, Not A One-And-Done Situation

Riding My 1990 Honda Hawk GT 650 - April 2024

Riding My 1990 Honda Hawk GT 650 - April 2024

Setting goals and benchmarks for yourself can be helpful when you want to accomplish just about anything. Unfortunately, it gets a bit trickier when what you’re working on is a somewhat nebulous process, and something that may not necessarily have a full stopping point. 

After a serious injury, it’s natural to be apprehensive about whatever circumstances were involved in how you got hurt. Whether it was something you did/didn’t do, or something that happened to you but was completely out of your control doesn’t necessarily matter. No matter what it was, chances are excellent that you’re going to be giving that thing or situation more than a little side-eye as you start to heal and get stronger. Mental scars are serious things; not just physical ones.

So, as you start to get back on your bike, you need to give yourself some grace and patience. Recognize that what you’re doing is tough, but that you’re doing it anyway. Respect your fear and understand why you have it. But at the same time, if you’ve decided that you want to ride again, you can’t let it boss you around.

I can’t promise this will work for you, but when I’m in a situation that makes me extremely nervous because I don’t want to re-injure myself, I try to focus on breathing instead of spiraling deep into my fear. Also, I’ve gotten better at asking for help when I need it instead of stubbornly insisting on trying to do something myself that I’m having a tough time with. (Ask anyone who knows me; that’s a massive personal improvement on my part. Historically, I’ve been terrible at asking for help.)

Riding A 2022 Honda CBR650R - April 2024

Riding A 2022 Honda CBR650R - April 2024

Recognize that you likely won’t get over your apprehensiveness right away. It may take several times of things going right and you having a nice time before you feel totally comfortable again. That’s okay, as long as you remember to breathe and keep going. Don’t beat yourself up for being nervous; anyone would be if they’d gone through what you went through. The fact that you’re making the effort is meaningful, and is something to be proud of.

Some riders decide that they’re done for good, and that’s that. Ultimately, it’s a decision that every rider has to make for themselves, because only you have any idea of what’s right for you in your particular situation. It’s not up to me, or to anyone else. Ultimately, it’s about you and what you’re comfortable with.

Good luck. I believe in you. Now you just have to do the same.

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