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
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
- 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.