Cycling is an exciting sport that really gets the heart pumping and allows you to get your workout in the great outdoors. It won't break your budget, either. But cycling isn't all rainbows and unicorns -- there are some disadvantages. Between traffic dangers, air pollution and risk of injury, there's plenty to consider if you're thinking about hitting the road on your bike. Take steps to minimize these hazards for a cycling routine that delivers big benefits.
It doesn't matter how courteous a cyclist you are or how wide a traffic lane is -- if you ride, you're bound to have run-ins with motorists who think you shouldn't be on the road. Yelling and honks are easy to shake off though; the real problems are drivers who don't even see you. In 2011, bicycle fatalities in the U.S. rose 8.7 percent and over 48,000 cyclists were injured in bike accidents, often from collisions with vehicles, according to MinnPost. To reduce the risks, wear bright colored clothing and never, ever leave home without a helmet. If you're riding in low-light conditions, use bike lights. Avoid busy roads, even if it means taking a longer route. Always obey traffic laws and ride defensively. If you assume motorists don't see you, it keeps you riding with a hyper-awareness that will help you anticipate and avoid accidents.
There's no way around it -- if you want to ride a bike, you have to endure the saddle. Bike seats aren't built for comfort; they're built for speed and efficiency. Finding comfort while forcing most of your weight onto your tiny sit bones, which are balanced on a small, hard surface, can be a challenge. Chafing, saddle sores and numbness are common saddle pain complaints. Experiment with saddles to find one that is comfortable for you. Many bike shops offer test-drive programs which allow you to try out multiple saddles before you buy them. Be aware that the big, cushy saddles may seem more comfortable in theory, but if you're logging high mileage, you're better off adapting to a smaller saddle. A good pair of padded shorts and chamois cream can also provide substantial relief from groin and butt pain.
Cyclists who ride in traffic regularly, such as bike commuters, are susceptible to lung pollution. In a study presented at the 2011 European Respiratory Society's Annual Congress in Amsterdam, researchers found that cyclists had 2.3 times more black carbon in their lungs than pedestrians. This is because cyclists take deeper, more frequent breaths, which pulls extra gunk into their lungs. The study was conducted in London, a city with air pollution levels that are not far off from those found in New York City and Los Angeles. To reduce the risks posed by pollution, avoid riding on very busy roads. Even if you take a lower traffic route just a block away, you can substantially reduce your exposure to air pollutants.
There are two types of nerve damage that cycling can cause: sexual organ and ulnar. The first can lead to erectile dysfunction and impotence in men, and a decrease in sexual pleasure for women. The culprit is the constant pressure put on sensitive areas while in the saddle. Minimize nerve damage to these areas by purchasing an ergonomic saddle with a cutout and angle it so your sit bones, not your groin, support your weight. Ulnar nerve damage is caused by pressure put on the hands and wrists when supporting the upper body on the handlebars. Symptoms include numbness, weakness and clumsiness of the hands. Reduce ulnar nerve damage by wearing cycling gloves, getting your bike properly fitted and frequently changing hand positions.
Consult your doctor before beginning a new exercise program. Never ride with headphones. It's important for you to be fully aware of your surroundings to make riding in traffic as safe as possible.
- MinnPost: How Cycling Can Be Dangerous to Your Health
- Bicycling: Cycling’s Grossest Medical Mishaps
- New York Times: Serious Riders, Your Bicycle Seat May Affect Your Love Life
- The American Journal of Sports Medicine; Ulnar and Median Nerve Palsy in Long-distance Cyclists; J. Patterson et al.
- European Lung Foundation; City Cyclists are at Increased Risk from Lung Injury From Inhaled Soot
- The Daily Green: The Top Greenhouse Gas Polluting City: Denver?
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images
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