Bike riding is great for toning muscles and cardiovascular workouts. But when you’re preparing to bike, think head first. That’s right, protecting the head from brain injury should be a biker’s number one concern.
Scott Berta, MD, neurosurgeon with UCSF Neurosurgery at Napa and a physician at Queen of the Valley Medical Center, has seen firsthand the traumatic brain injury that results from bicycle-related accidents. Potential injuries include subdural hematomas (brain bleeds), cerebral contusions (brain bruising) and, unfortunately, fatalities.
“The problem is that brain injury can be long-lasting. Damage to the brain from a bicycle injury can permanently affect memory, personality and cognitive skills. If children break their arms, the bones can often heal stronger, but if they get a brain injury, they’ve lost that part of the brain forever,” says Dr. Berta. “ The neurons don’t grow back the way that bones do.”
The number one way to protect against bicycle related head injuries is to wear a helmet.
States including California1 require anyone 18 and under to wear helmets when bicycling. A few cities in the state require them for adults and children alike. In Texas, there is no state law, but cities have passed their own regulations.
Dr. Berta wears a helmet when biking, and he says it’s a good idea for other high-speed activities such as skateboarding and roller blading, too. “As far as the kids in my house, they need to put their helmet on when they’re even thinking about getting on their bikes,” he says.
Of course, wearing a helmet isn’t the only protection to consider. Here are other important bike safety tips:
- Learn local traffic laws, and teach them to your kids.
- Ride in the direction of traffic, and watch for opening car doors and other hazards.
- Be cautious at intersections, and use hand signals before turning (left arm out straight for a left turn, left arm at a 90-degree angle for a right turn).
- Wear bright clothing. If riding at night, wear a reflective vest or add reflective straps to your clothes.
- Equip your bike with reflectors on the rear, front, pedals and spokes.
- Attach a horn or bell, as well as a bright headlight. Some riders also prefer rear-view mirrors.
- Perform necessary bike maintenance regularly. Ask staff at a bicycle shop if you don’t know how.
- Before every ride, check your bike for safety. The League of American Bicyclists recommends using the mnemonic ABC to remember what to check: air pressure, brakes, and cranks, chain and cogs.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.