How not to use your face as a brake: cycling injury prevention

Injured rider sitting on ground next to bike and grasping legJust because the days are starting to cool doesn’t mean that it’s time to pack away the bike. The cool mornings and warm days have been perfect for riding around Canberra.

Anyone who may have chatted with me recently will likely know that I’m a little obsessive about mountain bike riding. Almost every weekend you would find me mountain biking with my equally crazy husband around Canberra and the Snowy Mountains.

Recent events, which include a small twiggy tree jumping out to get me while riding, have made me think about injury prevention and some tips to be cycling at your best whether on the road, cycle paths or on the dirt.

5 Tips for preventing injury when cycling

Tip 1. Bike set up

Having a bike that fits you (rather than adjusting yourself to fit the bike) is really important and can make the experience so much easier and more enjoyable.

However it is not uncommon to be using a bike that was previously purchased for someone taller, smaller or who did a different type of riding.

When I started riding I was stoked to be borrowing a bike from my 6 foot 3 father-in-law. This was a large frame, dual suspension mountain bike and once the seat was adjusted to my height I couldn’t touch the ground and had to reach so far forward to get to the handlebars it would give me shoulder and neck pain.

A lot of parts on the bike can be adjusted, modified or swapped out to fit the rider better.

Tip 2. Check your safety equipment regularly

Your helmet is vital for protecting your noggin. Studies have found that wearing a helmet  reduces the risk of a head injury by 63–88%. Good to know!

The other weekend a flip over my handlebars left me with a sore neck and a few scratches and bruises to show off. A closer inspection found multiple cracks across the rear of my helmet and some compression of the inside helmet structure; my helmet had done its job protecting my head nicely.

Not all crashes would show obvious cracks or compression in the helmet so it is important to inspect your helmet regularly. Once it has taken an impact or has cracked the helmet won’t be working as it should to protect you in a fall.

Tip 3. Strengthen your core muscles

How much you flex, rotate, or side flex your back when sitting in the saddle and riding has been found to relate to problems such as low back pain and lumbar disc pathology.

A rider with a strong core would be able to ride while maintaining good control of their back movements, that is, not twisting or bouncing in the saddle.

The core is made up of deep muscles in the trunk, spanning from the rib cage (transverse abdominals) to pelvis (including the pelvic floor) and to the spine (multifidus).

Your physio can assess your core muscles and create an exercise program to target any weaknesses.

Tip 4. Keep at your own ability

This sounds like something your mum would say… but I think she is right. If you have been off your bike for a while and want to start riding again, beginning in an environment where you feel in control and comfortable will help.

I started riding again after a 10 year break and it really boosted my confidence to ride with someone who had a better ability than myself and was happy to take it slow.

There are a number of groups you can join that help beginner and intermediate riders improve their skills. I have taken a womens specific mountain bike course with Cycle Education which was fantastic, and Pedal Power ACT has courses too.

Tip 5. Undergo a musculoskeletal screening assessment and/or a Bike Fit Assessment

This is a fancy term for having an assessment which focuses on individual strengths and weaknesses.

The musculoskeletal screening would look at things like muscle strength and weaknesses, flexibility and core strength. The Bike Fit Assessment would integrate the musculoskeletal screening information and adapt the bike you own to best suit you and the type of riding you do.

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About the Author



Ashley has completed Level 1 course for the treatment and management of lymphoedema through Lymphoedema Training and Education in 2014 and has completed Level 2 Lymphoedema training including the treatment of complex lymphoedema patients through Lymphoedema Education Solutions in 2016. Ashley is also a member of the Australasian Lymphology Association and on the National Lymphoedema Practitioner Register.


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