A study of injuries to road cyclists and mountain bikers in Canada has concluded that both groups should be urged to wear body armour as well as helmets.
The study, published in a recent edition of the Canadian Journal of Surgery, looks at incidence, risk factors and injury patterns over a 14-year period among 258 severely injured cyclists in southern Alberta.
“Trauma to the head is still the No. 1 injury in both cycling groups, which underscores the importance of wearing a good-quality, properly fitted helmet,” said Dr Chad Ball, the senior author of the research paper.
“At the same time, almost half of the injuries we noted were either to the chest or abdomen, suggesting that greater physical protection in those areas could also help reduce or prevent serious injury.”
The study examined riders with severe, multiple injuries from 1995 to 2009, as recorded in the Southern Alberta Trauma Database, which tracks trauma patients admitted to Foothills Medical Centre.
In that period, 209 road cyclists were severely injured, and 49 mountain bikers.
“Street cyclists were often injured after being struck by a motor vehicle,” said Dr Derek Roberts, lead author of the study.
Some might therefore think it odd that the surgeons suggest protective equipment rather than improvements to cyclist road safety. In the words of a commenter on Calgary TV’s coverage of this story: “Maybe governments should start doing their job and make streets safe for people to cycling on. Networks of separated bike lanes would be a good start.”
As for the idea of wearing body armour, Dr Roberts told CBC News there's not much research around chest pads, but it is something for cyclists to think about.
He said: "Although we don't know exactly how effective they are, I think that they are something we can give to bicyclists that they can consider to use."
According to the study, the cyclists sampled were just 2.2 percent of 11,772 admissions with severe injuries in the study period. The majority of the other 97.8 percent were probably pedestrians or motor vehicle occupants so it’s curious that the researchers chose not to direct their attention to the road users who might most benefit from being studied.
Researchers say that helmet use frequency could not be determined from admission statistics. However it seems likely that most riders would have been wearing helmets, especially the mountain bikers. It’s therefore interesting to note that researchers found the incidence of traumatic brain injury was identical to a 1975 study in Calgary, well before the widespread adoption of cycling helmets.
Here's Dr Chad Ball talking to CBC News about the study. To be fair, in this clip, he does point out that he thinks it's unreasonable to ask road cyclists to wear body armour.
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.