September 23, 2021 by John Fernandez and Bethany Rundell
On the Road to Health: Cycling Safety Tips for the Family
Fresh air in your face, a feeling of freedom and the exhilaration of a little exercise. What could be better than enjoying a bike ride in South Florida?
Doing it safely — that’s what. Most cyclists don’t have to wear masks under new guidance just updated by U.S. health officials, and that means even more bicycles may share the roads with vehicles in coming weeks.
Although there were far fewer cars on the road throughout much of the pandemic, the number of bike accidents and injuries nationwide held fairly steady, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Why wasn’t there a proportional drop? It may be because in the face of the public health crisis, more people than ever took up riding bikes to stay fit and get outside.
“Cycling is a great choice,” says Baptist Health Primary Care physician Kamaljit Kaur, M.D., who works at the new Baptist Health outpatient health and wellness complex in Plantation. “It can vary in intensity, making it suitable for all ages and levels. If you’re looking for a serious workout, you can get it on a bike. But it’s also a great family activity — even grandparents and grandchildren can enjoy a leisurely ride together.”
For those who want to avoid stressing their joints, cycling provides a good option. And it’s not just beneficial to your lower body — it also strengthens your back and abdominals. Maintaining your body upright and keeping the bike in position requires a certain amount of core strength. As you stabilize your body and keep your bike upright, you’ll improve your overall balance, coordination and posture. Meanwhile, the sustained effort of pedaling provides a boost your heart and cardiovascular system.
“It is a low-impact aerobic exercise that offers a wealth of benefits,” says physical therapist and cyclist Peter Smith, administrative director of rehabilitation services for Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute.
Physicians and therapists at Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute know first-hand the benefits of cycling — but also the risks. They’ve seen bicycle injuries ranging from strains and sprains to fractures and life-threatening injuries from collisions with cars.
Even a small fall with a bike can result in serious injury, so stay safe and enjoy the ride by taking the following steps:
Use Your Head
Every biker, whether a novice or a competitive cyclist, needs to wear a helmet — adults included. “It could save your life,” Dr. Kaur says. To fit properly, the helmet should comfortably touch your head all the way around and stay in place during shaking or impact. It should fit as low on the head as possible and be held level with a snug strap. Try a few models and sizes to find the best feel and fit. For kids, never buy a too-big helmet thinking your child will grow into it. Because sweat can wear away the pads and plastic pieces, replace your helmet every few years. And always replace your helmet after a crash, even if it looks undamaged.
Ignore the Low-Maintenance Myth
If you haven’t ridden in a while, don’t just pull your old bike out of the garage and hop on. Your bike should receive proper maintenance and be in good working condition. The handlebars should be firmly in place and turn easily. Your wheels must be straight and secure. Check the tires to ensure they are properly inflated and undamaged. Test the brakes before riding; if they do not properly engage, they may require adjustment. Inspect the chain and test the gears; they should be clean and properly lubricated. A visit to the local bike shop for professional assistance might be in order.
Find Your Fit
Make sure your bike is the proper size and fit. “This prevents you from developing chronic injuries because of a poor riding posture,” Mr. Smith says. Incorrectly sized bikes can lead to back pain, wrist pain, fatigue and an increased risk of crashes. The bicycle itself should match your skill level and the type of cycling you plan to participate in. For example, road or touring bikes are designed for riding on pavement, while trail and mountain bikes are better suited for rough off-road riding. If your bike is the wrong type or size, you may fall into bad habits such as lowering your head, rounding your back and not using your knees properly as you pedal. The more comfortable you are on the bike, the more efficient you’ll be — and the more likely you’ll be to ride more often.
Cycling can be a vigorous activity. Pushing yourself can lead to exhaustion and injury. “We see patients who are very enthusiastic and try to ride long distances before they are ready,” Mr. Smith says. “They may be participating in a charity ride or riding with a group of friends, and they might underestimate the stamina they need, especially in hot weather. You need to know your limits.” Wear sunscreen and bring along a water bottle to stay hydrated, Dr. Kaur advises, and save some energy for the return trip.
Go With the Flow
Obey the rules of the road by following all traffic signs, signals and lane markings. Ride in the same direction as motor vehicles. Pedal predictably — straight ahead, not weaving around cars. Always be aware of vehicles, pedestrians and other bicyclists on the road and don’t make sudden, unexpected moves. Know the rules of the road, including hand signals that help alert other vehicles of your intentions. Watch out for potholes, cracks, expansion joints, railroad tracks, wet leaves, drainage grates, or anything that could make you fall.
See and Be Seen
Whether you’re riding in sunshine or under cloudy skies, be visible to others. Wear neon, fluorescent or bright colors and use reflective tape or markings and flashing lights. Also, your bike should feature reflectors on the tires or other visible areas. Avoid riding at dusk or in the dark.
Look and Listen (But Not to Music)
Potential hazards are plentiful in South Florida. As tempting as it is to click on your favorite playlist, you should not wear headphones when you ride. You need to hear traffic and other sounds. “Bicycle riding is not a time for distractions,” Mr. Smith says. “Riders have to be focused at all times.”