'Cyclist's Palsy' could have been to blame for death of 24 year old rider who crashed into house on steep descent

Rebecca Scott may not have been able to squeeze the brakes due to hand pain and numbness, inquest suggests

by Sarah Barth   May 17, 2014  

Broken bike (CC licensed image by garryknight, www.flickr.com)

A cyclist who was killed on a downhill when she careered into a house may have been suffering from ‘Cyclist’s Palsy’, an inquest has found.

Cyclist's palsy, also known as handlebars palsy, is a numbing of the nerves in the hands after cycling in the same position for a extended period of time.

Rebecca Scott, 24, was in training for a 100 mile ride when she hit a wall while travelling down a hill in Branscombe, Devon.

Her father Alan was cycling behind her and heard the "bang" as she crashed into the wall. She suffered multiple injuries.

There were no mechanical faults with Rebecca’s bike and she was an experienced triathlete and a competent rider, the inquest at Devon County Hall heard, before recording a conclusion of accidental death.

"Nothing I have heard today suggests this was anything other than a perfectly sensible, well organised, family cycle," Mr Cox said, according to the Belfast Telegraph.

"I accept there is nothing from a mechanical perspective to explain what has gone on here, which means we are at something of a loss to find anything as the cause.

"The issue of cyclist's palsy, which I have not come across before, has been raised. It is speculation and there is nothing a pathologist could find at post mortem.

"It is, I think, the best explanation for what has happened, but I cannot say for definite that it did happen."

The pair had gone on what they called a ‘social ride’ of about an hour on August 3 last year before attempting the steep downhill into Branscombe.

Rebecca had mentioned along the ride said she would ask her brother Matthew to "tweak" her brakes later, but didn’t mention any major fault, her father said.

"Rebecca was never reckless with the downhill speed," he added. "We weren't racing at all, there was nothing like that going on.

"I was in front, I rode with my fingers on the brakes all the way down. Then, near the bottom she went past me, which was unexpected.

"She was making a noise. I knew she wasn't happy. At that point, I released my brakes to chase and catch up with her.

"She went past me, around the corner out of sight. I then heard a bang and that was it - no time at all. I was there seconds later."

Paramedics were called but Rebecca was pronounced dead at the scene.

She had hit the wall of a house at the bottom of the hill and suffered "multiple injuries", pathologist Dr Paul McCullagh said.

Pc Rod Lomas, of Devon and Cornwall Police, suggested cyclist's palsy could be to blame for the tragedy.

He said that the condition, caused when cyclists do not change their hand position over the caourse of a long ride, can cause tingling, fatigue and numbness.

"It is just a possibility to try to explain why Rebecca has lost control and has been unable to control the speed at which she has descended," he said.

"It is something that is rectified by changing the position of the hands,” which, he acknowledged, was difficult on a long and fast descent, making it hard to squeeze the brakes.

8 user comments

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Awful story, poor family.

All Campag

posted by Flying Scot [557 posts]
17th May 2014 - 9:14

27 Likes

Tragic accident, RIP

posted by timrichardson82 [11 posts]
17th May 2014 - 9:15

15 Likes

Godawful accident, just tragic.

Really, though?

posted by workhard [384 posts]
17th May 2014 - 10:48

9 Likes

I know that sometimes when I've ridden on the tops for a long time, and then subsequently attempting to hit the brakes, I've felt a feeling of numbness or powerlessness in my hands - this is without gloves. Might have also coincided with my hands being cold, not sure. Luckily never in dangerous conditions.

posted by eurotrash [77 posts]
17th May 2014 - 11:53

8 Likes

I get this when I ride for extended periods over consecutive days, it only seems to affect my ring and little finger and doesn't impact my ability to brake as this is done with the salutation fingers and thumb. I never thought it could be a fatal condition.

Thoughts go to the family

posted by Initialised [123 posts]
17th May 2014 - 12:14

13 Likes

What? This:

The pair had gone on what they called a ‘social ride’ of about an hour

and this:

Cyclist's palsy, also known as handlebars palsy, is a numbing of the nerves in the hands after cycling in the same position for a extended period of time.

do not match. One hour is not an "extended period of time", even for a inexperienced cyclist.

The issue of cyclist's palsy ... has been raised. It is speculation and there is nothing a pathologist could find at post mortem.

I know the headline says "could have been" and not "was" but this is just vague speculation and from what I can tell, seems a very unlikely explanation. If it happened mid-winter, then maybe.

posted by portec [24 posts]
17th May 2014 - 21:41

10 Likes

If you take carpal tunnel syndrome into account then one hour could very easily be described as an "extended period of time".

During bad episodes I can be reduced to changing hand position every 10 minutes or so and when I get the chance taking the worst affected hand off the bars and working it until I get full function back. Like Initialised above mine starts at the little finger and works its way across.

I know I have CTS. If Miss Scott had only just started to develop this condition then she may not have appreciated the seriousness of her predicament.

Whatever the cause(s) this is a great tragedy for her family and all who cared for her. I'm sure that we all extend our deepest sympathies at this trying time.

posted by levermonkey [368 posts]
17th May 2014 - 23:06

10 Likes

I did a post on my blog about the various ways to try and avoid hand numbness on long rides a while ago

http://audaxing.wordpress.com/2012/06/24/hand-numbness-and-long-distance...

Whether the problem in this particular case was due to loosing feeling in the hands or some other cause such as catastropic brake failure we may never know.

The hills around Branscombe are very steep and loosing the brakes is unlikely to have a good outcome

Perhaps this is a wake up call to the rest of us to check our brakes are really working perfectly, they probably are the most important safety feature on a bike

vorsprung's picture

posted by vorsprung [291 posts]
19th May 2014 - 14:27

3 Likes