Being injured is a horrible situation for any bike rider – it’s inconvenient if cycling is your primary mode of transport and upsetting to be separated from your hobby and see your fitness slowly ebbing away. Here, we look at how injuries commonly happen and what you can do to prevent them.
Injuries happen for a wide range of reasons – some more avoidable than others – but by looking at our own behaviours and taking an intelligent approach, we can minimise our injury risk.
Injuries fall into two main categories: acute and chronic. Acute injuries happen quickly – for example, falling off and breaking a collar bone, whereas chronic injuries build up over time… say, when that niggling knee becomes full-blown pain, preventing you from getting out on your bike.
There is a temptation when you are injured to think you have been ‘unlucky’ and yes, there are cases where that really is the truth. But especially in the case of chronic injury, taking responsibility and taking action could reduce the time you need off cycling.
Here are some reasons for injury that you can control:
1) Bike fit and posture
A whole host of chronic injuries can be traced back to poor bike fit or poor posture when riding. If you start to feel any niggling pain, then a visit to a bike fit expert is a great place to start. Other times to visit a bike fitter are if you are buying a new bike or are changing up your training routine to work towards a challenging event. If you have a serious injury, a proper bike fit will give you peace of mind and assurance that you’re fully supported when you’re ready to get back on the saddle.
Bike posture is slightly different to bike fit and often requires input from a physio to assess your strengths, weaknesses and limitations on the bike. Your bike fit is dynamic and can change over time as you age or are injured, but on a positive note, it can also improve if you work on the areas of your body that need it.
2) Weather and conditions
There is a popular saying in cycling that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes – but there are times when riding your bike is not a good idea. Ice and high winds make your bike very difficult to handle and even the most skilled rider in the world can slip on ice or be blown off course. If the weather is bad but you still want to ride, look for safer places to go out. Gravel tracks and off-road cycling are safer bets on snowy or icy days, plus they’re great fun!
3) Look after your bike
Some injuries are caused by bike maintenance and these are the easiest of all to prevent. A quick two-minute check before every ride is a good habit to get into. Check your tyres are pumped up and have no bulges, slits or damage, wiggle your wheels to make sure they are firmly locked in place and check your front and back brakes are working properly. Make sure your handle bars turn smoothly and freely, and rotate your pedals to check they are firmly fixed to the cranks. Finally, give your bike a little shake or drop it from an inch or so above the ground – do you hear anything knocking or rattling that needs to be tightened?
When you clean your bike (which you do frequently, right!?) go round with a set of Allen Keys and make sure everything is correctly tightened. Unless you are confident in your own mechanic skills, take your bike in for a regular service at least twice a year – just before winter and spring are good times for this as the shop can help prepare your bike for the coming season.
4) Choose the right kit for the job
Whatever type of cycling you do, make sure your bike is set up and ready for the conditions. Correctly inflated tyres and tyres with enough tread and grip for the terrain will make a huge difference to how your bike handles, especially off-road.
Some injuries can appear minor – saddle sores for example – but these can easily stop you from riding. Make sure you have on proper cycling shorts and appropriate clothing that keeps you warm, dry and comfortable as this can help to prevent sores.
5) Building up slowly and gradually
Chronic injuries normally occur when a rider rapidly steps up their intensity or their riding distance. Fitness develops by stressing your body a little bit and then allowing it to recover so adaptations can take place. If you miss out the recovery or apply too much stress, your body can break down, so instead of getting fitter, you end up exhausted or even injured.
Following a training plan is the best way to avoid this situation. Depending on your resources, this could mean employing a coach or downloading an online training plan. Keeping a diary or using a tool like Strava will allow you to monitor how quickly you are building up your training and will help you record if you have any aches, pains or tiredness so you can see if a pattern is developing and take action fast.