Cycling Safety: There’s More To It Than Just A Helmet!

By Erica Marcano, MS ATC, CSCS and Lauren Panariello


As a Certified Athletic Trainer practicing in New York City, I see far too many patients in our clinics who’ve suffered from cycling accidents. Even the most experienced cyclists, from competitive tri-athletes to BMX-ers, become victims of Mother Nature, pedestrians, and motorists.

More Americans ride bicycles than ski, golf or play tennis combined, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. And with more and more bike lanes popping up across the five boroughs and the introduction of Citi Bikes in Brooklyn and Manhattan this summer, I can’t help but be concerned for the thousands of additional cyclists that are now pedaling through the streets of New York.  Whether you’re a casual or competitive cyclist, bike safety should involve a lot more than just a helmet and observing the rules of the road. In fact, the American Physical Therapy Association says that bike-related injuries are largely preventable. So what can we do together to help keep you pain-free long after your ride?

Seat adjustments

Believe it or not, many cycling injuries can be prevented just by adjusting your seat and handlebars! Your bike seat should be level (not tilted forward or backward). To adjust the seat height, pedal backwards—in this position your knees should fully extend. When you pedal forward, your front knee should be directly over the pedal axle. Handlebars should allow a slight bend in your elbows, whether you are riding in an upright position or one with more reach. These quick fixes alone reduce pressure on your arms, hands, hips, and knees.

Warm-up/Cool-down and Stretching before and after your ride

Like any other sport, warming up, cooling down, and stretching before and after a ride can help your body adjust to the demands of cycling. This eases chronic aches and pains, and prevents smaller injuries and muscle soreness.

Core and Back Strengthening/Posture

Pushing your foot too far forward, letting your knees drop in or out, gripping the handlebars too tightly, locking your elbows, bending at the waist, and hunching forward are common mistakes, even for seasoned cyclists. But the good news is that by adjusting your posture during your ride, you can avoid these common cycling injuries!

The Takeaway

If you’re unsure about how to adjust your equipment or posture, or feel that you’re not strong enough to maintain proper posture during a ride, ask your Physical Therapist for some help.