Cycling is one of the best forms of exercise to improve overall fitness levels. However, although it is a low-impact sport, as with any type of prolonged or repetitive training there are some sensible precautions you should take to avoid injury.
Regardless as to the sort of distances they may typically cover, most cyclists report problems in the same areas of the body, including the knees, elbow, shoulders and lower back. So what exactly is the best way to get your body prepared for cycling, and to avoid these sorts of common injuries?
If you are completely new to cycling, it makes sense to concentrate on your leg speed at first. Start your training on the flat before taking on the challenge of a hill. Experts emphasise how important a decent training programme is for those who are training for long distance events. Build up your distances gradually, and allow your body time to fully recover between each ride. If you are only riding short distances each day, to commute to work for example, try and find some time in your schedule to do some simple warming up and stretching exercises before you hit the saddle. This can markedly reduce the likelihood that you will strain any key muscles.
Hydration is vital. If you are not drinking enough fluids, then tiredness and fatigue will inevitably lead to a decline in performance and your body will therefore be more susceptible to trauma. Paying attention to your diet is also a weapon in the battle against injury as decent high-nutrient food will help to keep your body functioning at its optimum level.
Many cyclists swear by Pilates and yoga as an ideal way in which to keep their core strong and prepared for the rigours of cycling. Of course, it’s important to consult your doctor or a physiotherapist if you are suffering from cycling-related pain that doesn’t resolve itself after a couple of days.
Once you have addressed the issues surrounding your own health, it’s time to consider that of your bike. One crucial factor in the prevention of cycling injuries is the fit and positioning of key elements of your bike. Because the act of cycling is a repetitive one, if something about your set-up is even slightly out of kilter, you will be repeatedly exercising in a position that is likely to lead to injury.
Firstly, make sure that your bike is the right size for you. The very best way in which to ensure that you have chosen the right bike is to consult an expert. They will be able to assess what you need in terms of frame size, crank length, saddle height, saddle tilt, handlebar position, trunk position, trunk tilt, cleat tilt and all manner of other technical specifications that may not even be on your radar. If you already own a bike, it still makes sense to take it to your local bike shop and get them to check it over. Even the smallest of adjustments, such as having your handlebar position or saddle height adjusted by someone who knows exactly what they are doing, can make a positive impact on your cycling experience.
Once you have ticked the health and hardware boxes, you can move on to considering how best to reduce the risk of being involved in a road traffic accident. There are a number of simple steps that you can take to ensure that you stay safe, and that other road users do too.
If at all possible you should plan a clear route before setting out on your bike. In many cases, the quickest route may not be the safest, so you will need to balance these conflicting factors carefully. Consider re-routing through trails, parks or even a canal path as these are all thoroughfares that will keep you away from heavy traffic. If you need to cycle through a town or city, check whether there are any cycle lanes on your route, but make sure that you are clear about where they begin and end.
Wearing appropriate clothing
Good visibility is absolutely essential. Choose good quality, high-viz clothing, and wear it from top to toe. A high-viz, reflective helmet, jacket and ankle straps really will make you far more noticeable to other road users.
You will also need to make sure that your bike lights are working properly and that they are securely attached. Front and rear lights serve a dual purpose. They help others to see you, but they also help you to see any potential hazards in your path. If you don’t use lights, while you may still be able to see cars, they most certainly won’t be able to see you. Getting in the habit of assessing your ride set-up from the point of view of a car or lorry driver could help you to avoid serious injury.
Planning your route
Always try and allow enough time for your journey, particularly in poor weather conditions or after dark. Rushing will often lead to unforced errors, so slow down and be safe. Check your bike over regularly, paying attention to the wheels, gears and in particular, the brakes. If you find any problems, take it to be fixed as soon as you can, don’t put it off. Don’t cycle while listening to music on headphones as this has been proven to impact significantly on levels of awareness and thus the likelihood of involvement in an accident.
When the weather starts to get colder, you may want to consider fitting winter tyres to your bike. Many more cycling accidents are reported during the winter months, due to both reduced visibility and slippery conditions. Wider and with a greater depth of tread, winter tyres can help you to keep control when it is icy or snowy.
If you commute to work on your bike, see if you can join forces with a cycling colleague. Two cyclists are always going to be more visible than a solitary one, although you must always stay in single file. Be particularly vigilant at junctions and when turning right as these are times of heightened danger. Try and ensure that you stay within the rear view mirror sight of vehicles, especially larger articulated lorries.
If you are setting off on a long cycle ride, you should inform someone of your set-off time and ETA, particularly if your route will take you through rural or less populated areas. Coming off your bike and lying helpless and immobilised at night is a nightmare scenario, so regard communication as a top priority.
Simple things including making sure that you have a well-stocked cycle repair kit and a fully charged mobile phone before setting off on a ride may sound obvious, but you might be surprised at just how many people neglect the basics.
Finally, be a confident cyclist. Observe the rules of the road but don’t clatter along in the gutter. If your bike is set up correctly and you have invested in appropriate safety clothing, you will be clearly visible to other vehicles.