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Smart Tips for Safe Cycling

Simple precautions can cut your risk of injury, even infection

SUNDAY, May 8, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Cycling is a wonderful activity for fitness and fun, but novice cyclists need to be aware of ways they can reduce strain, injury and infection.

Wearing a bicycle helmet is an obvious precaution. But many beginning riders aren't aware of the importance of proper bike fit. For example, a bike that's not correctly sized and fitted to the rider can cause knee, back, neck, arm and wrist problems.

A good bike shop will help a rider find the right-sized bike and adjust it to fit that rider, says Dr. Luis Palacios, an associate professor of family and community medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

Improper riding techniques can also cause trouble. If you ride with too much pedal resistance, you can strain your quadriceps or knee. Too little pedal resistance can cause increased pressure on your back and the base of your pelvic region, Palacios said.

Experienced cyclists pedal at a cadence (pedal revolutions per minute) of between 90 to 100. A reasonable cadence for beginning cyclists is 60 to 80.

Nutrition and hydration are also important considerations.

"Research indicates that for someone in training, carbohydrates are an important source of energy. A healthy diet would include one with 60 percent carbohydrates, less than 30 percent fats, and 15 to 20 percent protein," Palacios said. "For activities, including warm-ups, lasting less than one hour, water is sufficient. If the activity lasts longer than an hour, carbohydrate supplements in the form of sports drinks, carbohydrate bars or gels would be beneficial."

Drinking adequate amounts of fluids helps prevent muscle cramping. Palacios recommends consuming 4 to 8 ounces of sports drink every 15 to 20 minutes while cycling.

"Most sports drinks have 6 percent to 8 percent carbohydrates, which have been found to cause fewer gastric problems and are ideal for absorption. Cyclists should also try different sports drinks during training to get an idea of which one works best for them, as research has shown that taste is the most important factor for consumers," Palacios said.

Saddle sores (chafing and skin irritation) are another potential roadblock for cyclists. To help prevent saddle sores, cyclists should have properly fitted saddles and should wear cycling shorts with moisture-absorbing padding in the bottom to protect skin.

"In my experience the biggest problem I see with cyclists is hygiene. Cyclists should remove sweaty clothing as soon as possible after training or racing and shower. In addition, one should wash clothes after every use to prevent irritation or infection of broken skin," Palacios said.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians offers these bike safety tips.

SOURCE: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, April 21, 2005, news release
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