Published on July 17th, 2021 | by Bibhuranjan


The Dangers of Off-Road Bicycle Races

Various retrospective studies show that off-road cyclists register higher injury rates than recreational mountain bikers. In a study investigating mountain-biking-related acute injuries, Chow and other researchers found that 85% of a group of predominantly competitive off-road cyclists had suffered injuries in the preceding 1-year period compared with 51% of a group of majorly recreational off-road cyclists. Generally, 78% to 88% of pro/elite cyclists of the National Off-Road Bicycle Association (NORBA) participating in surveys reported injuries suffered in each of the 3 successive 1-year periods. Data from multiple sources show that women have higher injuries per rider per year than men.

Factors that Contribute to Injuries in Off-Road Bicycle Races

Chow and other researchers found that excessive speed, unknown terrain, distractions while cycling, and riding past one’s capabilities are some of the factors that contribute to cycling injuries. Kronisch and Rubin found that loss of control, competitive activity level, and extreme speed descent are strongly linked to traumatic injury. They also established that off-road cyclists were 4.24 times more likely to suffer an injury while competing than at any other time.

Cyclists are also more likely to sustain serious injuries when preparing for competitive races. The simple reason is that cyclists spend more hours training on their bicycles than they do in actual races.

Racers who go over their handlebars tend to suffer more serious injuries compared to those who fall off their bicycles to the side. Different injury patterns are reported in different kinds of competition. This shows that risk factors for off-road bicycle injuries may change depending on the kind of competition involved.

  • Acute Injuries

Accidents or crashes associated with off-road cycling mostly result in acute and traumatic injuries. Consequently, most studies carried out to date have majorly concentrated on these injuries.

  • Superficial Injuries

Contusions, abrasions, and lacerations are the most frequently occurring injuries in off-road cycling. Most of these injuries are usually minor and don’t need medical treatment.

  • Extremity Injuries

Pro/elite category cyclists sustain injuries to the extremities most of the time. While the lower extremity is injured more frequently, the upper extremity suffers most of the fractures. According to Kronisch and Rubin, most cyclists who missed at least a day of cycling and visited a hospital for medical treatment had fractures. Up to 57% of fractures recorded in their study affected upper extremities, with 21% involving the lower extremities.

About 80% of fractures suffered at the Mammoth Mountain NORBA/UCI race in 1994 affected the upper extremities. A third of the injuries sustained by recreational cyclists at the same venue from 1992 to 1994 were believed to be dislocations and fractures.

  • Head and Face Injuries

Data regarding off-road-cycling-related head and face injuries are yet to be gathered on a large scale. Out of 272 injuries reported during the 1993 NORBA race, only three were serious head injuries. Concussions seem to be fairly common in off-road cycling, affecting 5.5% of those sampled by Kronisch and Rubin. About 25% of cyclists who sustained injuries at the Mammoth Mountain NORBA/UCI race in 1994 and 9.8% of recreational bikers injured at the same venue from 1992 to 1994 suffered concussions.

  • Spine Injuries

Spine injuries seem to occur less frequently, though a few off-road cyclists have sustained fractures to the cervical and lumbar spine.

  • Overuse Injuries

While most off-road cycling injuries seem to originate from crashes, cyclists are prone to overuse injuries. Overuse injuries often develop from body posture that the cyclist assumes, the recurring movements involved in cycling, or the vibration transferred from the ground to the rider through the bicycle.

Overuse injuries are usually treated with training adjustments and bicycle modifications. Less is known about these types of injuries – a significant amount of information that is currently available is anecdotal or inferential. Knee pain, hand numbness, wrist pain, and low back pain are common examples of overuse injuries associated with off-road bicycle races.

Minimizing Risks of Off-Road Bicycle Races

  • Protective Equipment

Various protective gear can reduce the risk of injury after an off-road bicycle crash. Bicycle helmets offer a major protective effect by lowering the risk for head injuries associated with bicycles by 75% to 85%. Helmets also lower nose and upper face injuries by around 65%. Other protective pieces of equipment that any cyclist should have are gloves, shoes, padded shorts, eye protection, strobes, and reflective and bright clothing.

  • Education

Some of the factors that hinder extensive usage of helmets and other protective gear include discomfort, high cost, misunderstanding about personal risks of riding a bicycle, and limited knowledge about their effectiveness. Creating awareness regarding the importance of donning protective gear when cycling can help reduce bicycle-related injuries. Organizing sensitization campaigns can be a great way to achieve that.

  • Keeping the Back Straight

Keeping the back straight while standing or riding is a good cycling habit. This habit helps prevent or ease back pain as well as improve the riding experience. Ensuring appropriate seat height and angle is also helpful in preventing back pain.

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Editorial Officer, I'm an avid tech enthusiast at heart. I like to mug up on new and exciting developments on science and tech and have a deep love for PC gaming. Other hobbies include writing blog posts, music and DIY projects.

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