Sure, cycling makes for some serious cardio exercise, but it can also result in serious injury. Before you hop on your bike and start pedaling -- indoors or outdoors -- make sure you've checked off your safety list to make sure your ride is safe. After all, when they say something is "just like riding a bike," it means that an activity is simple and fun, not that it results in bumps, bruises and a sore ego.
Don't even think about going for an outdoor bike ride if you don't plan on wearing a helmet. Riding without one is not only against the law in most states, it is putting your life at risk. Even if you think you're a pro, cars, animals and rough terrain can interrupt your ride or even be deadly. Get to a bike shop and get fitted for a helmet. When properly fitted, a bike helmet should be snug and shouldn't wiggle back and forth on your head.
Whether you're riding indoors or outdoors, adjusting your bike can create a safer and more comfortable ride by optimizing the bike for your height. A bike seat should be high enough that your knee is almost straight on the downstroke and comes to a 90-degree angle on your upstroke. When you stand beside your bike, your seat should be about level with your hips. The handles should be high enough to help you maintain a flat back and soft elbows while riding. Riding with the wrong bike adjustments could cause strain-related injuries, especially in the arms and legs.
Obviously you don't need to be super visible if you're using an exercise bike in a gym, but if you're cycling outdoors, make sure people can see you. Light reflectors, bike lights and bright clothing all serve you well, whether it's dark or light outside. Remember that motorists can be distracted, so make yourself easy to see or you could risk an injury. You should also let someone know where you're going, what route you will take and when to expect you home if you'll be biking on your own. That way, if you're injured and don't return on time, someone knows where you could be.
Since a bike is made up of moving parts, make sure it's in good repair before you hop on, whether you're using a stationary bike or riding outdoors. All fittings should be tight before your ride, so check the stem and the seat before taking a look at the chain and making sure it's securely attached to the teeth. While you can't always prevent a slipped chain, you can ensure that your bike is in perfect riding condition to help keep you safe while you exercise.
Kay Ireland specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.