Aspen Valley Hospital’s emergency department treats 300 or more people each year for serious injuries incurred while riding their bicycles, and many more are treated at the Snowmass Clinic and the After-Hours Medical Care clinic in Basalt.
“The majority of injuries we see are beginning and intermediate level bikers,” he explains. “Advanced cyclists are better at keeping themselves out of trouble.”
Smart and safe riding is a good thing for all riders to think about, no matter what kind of bike they are on. And if you’re thinking an e-bike is somehow safer, think again.
“One of the big reasons I’m trying to get out the message of bike safety is the incredible rise of e-bikes,” says Dr. Roseberry. “Two years ago about 10 percent of our injuries were e-bike riders, last year it was closer to 20 percent, and we’re predicting it to be even higher this year.”
With summer upon us, Dr. Roseberry wants to make sure people have the information and strategies that will help them ride safely, especially visitors and newcomers to the sport.
Know Your Limits
The common denominator in nearly every injury is losing control of the bicycle. Most people are hurt while riding at high speeds or on terrain that is beyond their skills and experience.
“Our primary message is to ride your bike within the limits of your bike riding ability,” Roseberry says.
It’s when people go beyond their ability that they get in trouble. For instance, visitors who don’t mountain bike regularly can get in trouble quickly at the Snowmass Bike Park by riding trails beyond their ability. “They don’t just ride on the greens, the easiest trails,” Roseberry says. “They ride the blues and blacks because they think it’s going to be fun and wind up in the emergency room instead.”
Having fun and doesn’t require riding the steepest line or hitting a big jump. People who ride within their ability will get better as they do it more often and have a great time along the way. “We encourage people who don’t ride much to consider hiring a coach or a guide to get them out there into safe terrain,” Roseberry says.
Road bikes can get in trouble quickly coming down from the Maroon Bells, Ashcroft or other windy, steep mountain roads. Problems almost always begin with too much speed and can get gnarly quickly if the roads are wet or it’s raining, and when people come into curves going too fast.
With e-bikes, speed is also an issue, but for different reasons. Generally, e-bikes weigh twice or three times as much as other bicycles, often more than 50 pounds, which requires considerably more time to slow down. The motors on e-bikes also surprise people because they can get the bike moving very fast.
E-bike ridership to the Maroon Bells is expected to increase significantly this summer. Going up isn’t generally a challenge, but the ride down can be. “On the way down they can get going very fast, even without an assist from the motor, and a lot can happen very quickly,” he says.
Dr. Roseberry strongly advises people to get to know the bike they’re on before taking any big rides. “Especially if it’s a rental bike or a bike that’s new to you, go ride somewhere slow and easy,” he says. “Make sure you know how to change gears, make sure you know which brake controls which tire. And remember, heavier e-bikes take longer to stop, so brake early.”
Safety Equipment is Key
Having proper safety equipment is key to avoiding or minimizing injuries that result from a crash, no matter what kind of bike you’re on. At the bare minimum, everyone should ride with a helmet at all times on all types of bikes.
“They are of utmost importance,” says Dr. Roseberry. “Wearing a helmet can turn what was going to be a major head injury into a minor head injury, and turn what was going to be a minor head injury into no injury. They don’t prevent all head injuries, but they make them all less severe. “
A full face helmet is recommended for mountain bikers when they’re on significant downhill rides. Facial injuries can be severe and expensive to treat, and it’s not uncommon for people to go face-first over the bike in an accident.
Elbow and knee pads are also recommended for mountain bikers. And if you’re taking the big jumps at Snowmass or elsewhere, a back protector is an important piece of equipment.
“A lot of downhill mountain bike racers use them, as well as a cervical collar that prevents the head from hyperextending, which can cause spinal injuries,” Dr. Roseberry says.
All of the necessary safety equipment is for sale or rent at bike shops around the valley.
Other Keys to a Safe Ride
Check your bike out before a ride. Dr. Roseberry rides almost every day and always checks the tire pressure, makes sure the brakes are functional, that the gears are working correctly, and the seat is at the proper height.
Slow down or don’t ride in the rain. Rain is the biggest condition that can affect your ride because it affects braking distance. That’s true of all bikes, but with road bikes it can be more perilous because the rim brakes on most road bikes become markedly less effective in wet conditions.
Ride with a buddy, especially when mountain biking. If you ride with a buddy, you’ve got help in case something goes wrong.
Know where you’re going to go. Don’t randomly pick trails. It’s easy to get lost or wind up on a trail that’s more challenging than you expected.
- Ride terrain and at speeds within your ability
- Know your bicycle and how it works
- Make sure the brakes and gears are working properly and the seat is at the right height
- Wear the proper safety equipment, and always wear a helmet
- Mountain bike with a buddy
- Plan your ride in advance
- Make smart decisions
Two Tips for Riding a Mountain Bike
Going head over handlebars while riding downhill is one of the most common accidents for mountain bikers, especially for those who don’t ride all the time. Dr. Chris Roseberry, an avid cyclist, says that’s because people forget to move their weight to the back of the bike.
“People will be sitting forward and they hit the brakes and it pops them over the handlebars because they are on an incline,” Dr. Roseberry explains. “One of the key tenets for going downhill on a mountain bike is getting your weight back.”
Also, always look where you want to go. It doesn’t do you any good to look at the ground around the bike or at exposed areas on either side of the trail. Those are exactly the places you don’t want to go.
“You’ve got to look down the trail you’re riding, and your bike will tend to go where you’re looking,” he says.
Be safe, and have fun out there!