As the Trauma Medical Director at Aspen Valley Hospital, I am keenly aware of the numerous bicycling injuries that come into the ER, especially as I am an avid mountain biker myself. To give you an idea, Aspen Valley Hospital’s emergency department treats 300 or more people each year for serious injuries suffered in bicycling accidents, and many more are treated at the Snowmass Clinic and After-Hours Medical Care clinic in Basalt. To me, that’s a serious problem. If you are planning on getting out on your bike, here are some tips to help you avoid injury so you can enjoy the roads and trails all year-round.
Special Risks in Our Mountain Towns
Cyclists can get in trouble coming down from the Maroon Bells, Ashcroft or other windy, steep mountain roads. Problems can get gnarly very quickly if the roads are wet and riders come into curves too fast. Many people here are also on bikes that are unfamiliar to them, such as rental bikes. In that case, they should take a ride somewhere slow and easy before going out on a big ride. And remember: Heavier e-bikes take longer to stop, so brake early.
Wearing a bike helmet can turn a potentially major head injury into a minor head injury, and they can turn a potentially minor head injury into no injury.
Bicycle helmets are of the utmost importance and should be worn at all times and on all types of bikes. They don’t prevent all head injuries, but they make them less severe. In addition, a full-face helmet is recommended for mountain bikers on significant downhill rides. Facial injuries can be severe and expensive to treat, and it’s not uncommon to go face-first over the bike in an accident.
Safety Equipment for Cyclists
Elbow and knee pads are also recommended for mountain bikers. If you’re taking the big jumps at Snowmass or Crown Mountain Bike Park in El Jebel, a back protector is important. Many downhill mountain bike racers use them, as well as a cervical collar that prevents the head from hyperextending, which can cause spinal injuries.
Safety Rule to Keep in Mind
I ride my bike almost daily, and I always check the tire pressure, brakes and gears before going out. In the rain, I ride slower than usual or just take the day off. Rain is the biggest condition that can affect your ride because it affects braking distance. That’s especially true with road bikes, since the rim brakes on most road bikes are much less effective in wet conditions. When mountain biking, I ride with a buddy so I have help if something goes wrong.
Head over Handlebars
Going head over handlebars while riding downhill happens because people sit forward and then, when they hit the brakes, it pops them over the handlebars. Shifting your weight back is a key tenet for going downhill on a mountain bike. Also, always look where you want to go. Don’t look at the ground or the side of the trail; those are places you don’t want to go. Look forward, and your bike will tend to go where you’re looking.