“It’s as easy as riding a bike,” so the old saying goes. While bike riding is second nature for many adults and children, cycling also presents many dangers, including the risk for injuries caused by falls off a bike or collisions with other objects, bicycles or vehicles.
People riding bicycles face a higher risk of crash-related injuries and deaths than those in other vehicles. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children and teens (ages 5 to 19 years) make up more than one-third of all bicycle-related injuries treated in U.S. Emergency Rooms (ERs) each year. However, adults ages 50 to 59 have the highest bicycle death rates.
“For adults and children, it’s common for us to see scrapes, extremity injuries, breaks and bruises due to bicycle accidents,” says Alexander Sarenac, MD, an emergency medicine physician with Atlantic AdvancED Urgent Care in Mountain Lakes. “We also see head trauma in the most serious of cycling accidents.”
Whether you’re planning a ride around your neighborhood with your children, heading to a local park or bike path, or cycling with friends, use these six tips to reduce your risk for bicycling injuries.
1. Wear a helmet.
New Jersey state law requires anyone under age 17 that rides a bicycle to wear a helmet. Helmet use is wise for adults, too. “Wearing a helmet while bicycling — no matter your age — is the best way to prevent a serious head or brain injury,” Dr. Sarenac says.
2. Know the rules of the road.
If riding a bicycle on a roadway, always drive in the same direction as cars and trucks. In New Jersey, bicyclists must obey all state and local traffic laws, and parents can be held responsible for traffic violations committed by a child. Always ride as close to the right side of the road as possible.
3. Make yourself visible.
If riding at dawn or dusk, or at night, wearing fluorescent or retro-reflective clothing will help make you more visible. Front white lights and rear red lights can also help make sure you’re seen by other motorists and cyclists while riding a bike after dark.
4. Watch children on bikes.
If your children are out riding bikes, make sure a responsible adult or older child provides supervision and knows what to do in the event of an accident or injury.
5. Take the road less traveled.
When possible, avoid heavily traveled roads. Use a bike lane whenever one is provided. “Better yet, anywhere you can bike with other cyclists and no automobiles is the safest option,” Dr. Sarenac says. Some popular local bicycle trails: Tourne County Park in Denville, Boulevard Trolley Line Path in Mountain Lakes and Patriots’ Path in Morristown.
6. Pack wisely.
Bring a phone in case of emergency—but never cycle while using your phone. Also, if you’ll be cycling for a few hours, pack water so you can stay properly hydrated and avoid heat-related illnesses like heatstroke.
If you fall off your bike and suffer a bruise, scrape or break, a trip to urgent care can help. “If you have any kind of head injury or confusion, or other serious traumatic injury, call 911,” Dr. Sarenac says.