UAB Medicine News


Safer Cycling: Preventing Bike Injuries for a Healthy Aerobic Workout

Cycling Safety

With longer days and warmer weather comes a great time to get outside on a bike for both fun and exercise. May is National Bike Month, and the National Safety Council (NSC) and the League of American Bicyclists encourage cyclists to stay safe when putting rubber to the road.

According to the government’s Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults should strive for 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. Cycling is a great low-impact form of aerobic exercise that can be done inside on a machine or outside at a leisurely, moderate, or vigorous pace, depending on your comfort and skill level, says Chris Schumann, program manager for UAB Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation.

“The best type of exercise is the exercise that you participate in regularly,” Schumann says. “Cycling, along with a healthy diet, can facilitate weight loss, lower resting blood pressure, improve your lipid profile (cholesterol levels), and assist in managing diabetes. All of the above are contributing risk factors for heart disease.”

Below are some tips to keep in mind when heading out to ride:

Staying Healthy on the Bike

First and foremost, finding the right bike setup is crucial to a getting the most out of cycling. This is the first step to injury prevention and necessary for safe riding.

  • Have your bike fit: A proper bike fit helps ensure that no muscle groups are being put under unnecessary strain, which can lead to issues such as sore hands and numb toes.
  • Perfect your technique: The right posture is crucial to avoiding injury while biking. Keep elbows slightly flexed to prevent shoulder pain, and keep your back straight if you begin to experience lower back pain.
  • Build up endurance: Gain strength on the bike through slowly building up your training and time spent in the saddle.
  • Stay hydrated: As with any outdoor activity, it’s important to drink plenty of fluids, including water and those that replenish electrolytes, to prevent dehydration.

Staying Safe on the Road

Good posture isn’t the only aspect of safe cycling to keep in mind. Consider the following before setting out to ride:

  • Always wear a helmet: Wearing a helmet reduces a cyclist’s risk of head injury by 60%, according to the NSC.
  • Know state laws: The rules of the road are different depending on where you live. Use this resource from the League of American Bicyclists to determine what your laws say, then learn them before heading out to ride.
  • Wear proper clothing: The right attire can make a rider safer and more comfortable. Shoes that fit correctly, padded gloves, and fitted clothing can alleviate many issues.
  • Stay visible: Being seen by other drivers on the road is a top priority for cyclists, and this can be accomplished in multiple ways. Wear brightly colored and/or reflective clothing, and make sure your bike is equipped with both front and rear lights to stay visible, says avid Birmingham-area cyclist Jim Henry.
  • Tune up your bike: To help avoid mechanical mishaps during training, it’s best to have your bike professionally tuned up yearly. Likewise, always carry a spare tire tube and pump or CO2 canister to fix unexpected flats.
  • Be visible: Always ride with a form of identification in case of an accident. It’s also wise to travel with some cash, in case you need to buy water or supplies during the ride.

How to Get the Most from Cycling

“Cycling is a wonderful sport with tremendous physical fitness impact,” Henry says. “The social aspects of participating in riding with likeminded friends are something most cyclists look forward to on each and every ride. It will become addicting in a good way.”

  • Ease into it: If you’re interested in trying out cycling, begin with an indoor trainer or spin class to get a feel for the exercise and become comfortable on the equipment.
  • Join a group ride: Many cities have groups for riders of all ability levels. Beginner riders can teach new cyclists about rules of the road, hand signals, group communication, group dynamics, and safe riding practices, Henry says.
  • Get social: One of the major benefits of outdoor cycling is the ability to turn it into a fun social activity. Check local bike shops for information on group rides that match your skill and ability levels.

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