Be safe on the bike

June 4th, 2019
This photo shows a man and woman mountain biking on a trail.
Buckle on that helmet – biking, whether on a road or trail, is great exercise for people of all ages. Photo courtesy UCHealth.

Snow has melted, singletrack has dried out and bikers are hitting the trails and roads.

From expert racers to the novice rider, biking is a great way to stay fit and get outside.

“It’s a good aerobic activity, it helps you strengthen muscles, improve endurance and it is low impact,” said Christy Kopischke, a physical therapist with UCHealth SportsMed and Occupational Medicine clinics. “Plus, it gets you outside, which is huge. One recent study shows being in nature for four minutes can lower your blood pressure.”

Below, Kopischke outlines must-knows for staying safe while biking this summer.

Find the right fit

Whether you’re racking up the miles or just coasting around town, it’s important to be sure your bike fits well. Physical therapists and bike shops can help fit a bike to your body.

If you start to have pain while riding, recheck that fit. For instance, if you’re a road biker who’s having neck pain, a bike fitter might adjust the bike’s stem height, or change up your overall reach or hand position.

But sometimes, adjustments need to be made to the rider.

“If you have inefficient mechanics or ride with a dysfunctional movement pattern, you could develop some issues,” Kopischke said. “With neck pain, it could be that you need to foster more movement in the thoracic spine so that when you turn, you don’t irritate your neck. Or if you’re weak, strengthening exercises may help with comfort on your bike.”

This is a photo of Christy Kopischke, a physical therapist at UCHealth SportsMed Clinic in Steamboat Springs.
Christy Kopischke is a physical therapist at UCHealth SportsMed Clinic in Steamboat Springs. Photo courtesy UCHealth.

Strengthen for better biking

Biking requires much more than leg strength – a strong core, upper body strength and good balance are also key.

“People forget that biking involves a lot of balance,” Kopischke said. “When you’re  balanced, your response time is quicker.”

Consider mountain biking down a rocky trail. If you ride in a balanced, athletic stance with your core engaged, you’ll be better able to stay upright if you hit an unexpected rock.

Spend time strengthening the core and upper body, and don’t forget exercises that foster balance, from yoga poses to simply standing on one leg.

It also pays to learn good biking techniques, such as engaging muscles through the entire pedal stroke to always looking ahead, down the trail or road. “It may seem like you just get on and pedal, but there are strategies to be more efficient on your bike,” Kopischke said.

Gear up for safety

A good fitting helmet is a must-have. Gloves and sunglasses also provide protection, while downhill mountain bikers should wear pads for further protection from falls. And choose the right bike for your riding style.

“If you get a bike that suits your style of riding, you’ll feel more stable when you ride,” Kopischke said. “And if it doesn’t fit well, or you haven’t learned how to maneuver it, you can have more challenges.”

Be aware of possible injuries

With road biking, injuries to the neck, back and knee are most common. With mountain biking, shoulder and collar bone injuries may happen due to falls, while knee injuries can also crop up.

If you’ve been injured in the past and are worried about how it might impact your riding, don’t hesitate to reach out to a physical therapist.

“We can assess muscle and joint imbalances, give you appropriate exercises and advise you on what to be aware of when you’re riding,” Kopischke said.

And if you give biking a try and find it’s not for you, that’s okay, too.

“Don’t just do something because it’s good for you,” Kopischke said. “If you prefer walking, then walk. Doing activities you enjoy means you’re going to stay more engaged and move more often. But if you like biking, then have fun with it. Personally, I love it.”

 

This story first appeared in the Steamboat Pilot & Today on May 27, 2019.

About the author

Susan Cunningham lives in the Colorado Rocky Mountains with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys science nearly as much as writing: she’s traveled to the bottom of the ocean via submarine to observe life at hydrothermal vents, camped out on an island of birds to study tern behavior, and now spends time in an office writing and analyzing data. She blogs about writing and science at susancunninghambooks.com.