I’ve been pedaling a bicycle around the city for 40 years now, during which time I’ve been robbed at a stoplight by a young fellow with a large knife, knocked down by a car door opened at an inopportune time, and tossed face-first onto the pavement after colliding with another bicyclist (I still miss those teeth). Add the more mundane altercations with patches of ice in the winter, sand in the summer, potholes year-round, and random unleashed dogs with a taste for sweat-seasoned ankles and you’ll get a sense of the perils even unambitious cyclists like myself encounter in our zeal for two-wheeled mobility.
I’ve been mercifully spared any serious accidents in recent years, but middle-aged cyclists in general have not enjoyed my good fortune. A new study out of the University of California, San Francisco, suggests that bicycling injuries are rising dramatically among folks 45 and older.
Using data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which estimates injuries based on information gathered by about 100 emergency departments around the country, researchers found that the share of total bicycle injuries suffered by folks 45 or older increased by a whopping 81 percent from 1998 to 2013. They now account for almost half (42 percent) of these accident-related injuries.
“These injury trends likely reflect the trends in overall bicycle ridership in the United States in which multiple sources show an increase in ridership in adults older than 45 years,” Benjamin Breyer, MD, MAS, associate professor of urology at UCSF, wrote in the September 1 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. “Other possible factors contributing to the increase in overall injuries and hospital admissions include an increase in street accidents and an increase in sport cycling associated with faster speeds.”
My Lovely Wife will not blame high speeds for the tumble she took a couple of weeks ago as we pedaled home from one of our local bistros. We were cruising along at our normal pace — faster than a walk, slower than a sprint — when I heard her go down and looked behind me to see her and her mangled bicycle lying in a pitiable heap on the asphalt. I helped her extract herself from the wreckage, and we sat for a while on the pavement inspecting the damage. She’d banged up her shoulder and (one good) knee; I could see blood on her upper lip and a bit of road rash on her hand. Coulda been worse, as they say around here.
She’d been tapping at the front fender with her foot, trying to stop it from rubbing on the tire, she explained, and the next thing she knew she was heading for the asphalt. The bike was a mess, so I headed home for the car while she shuffled up the street, hoping to ward off any stiffness. The next day, we brought it into the shop for some much-needed repair, and MLW had a few days to nurse her injuries before contemplating getting back into the saddle.
MLW is probably even more passionate about bicycling than I am. For her, the day is not quite complete unless she’s able to get on her two-wheeler and pedal over to one of her favorite coffee shops. But, it took her awhile — and some adjustments to her newly repaired bike — to feel OK about riding again. We don’t heal as quickly as we did in our younger days, and that can create a pretty major disincentive when it comes to resuming any physical activity after an injury. (See “Facing Down an Injury,” from our May 2013 issue for more on this conundrum.)
That, to me, is the real challenge in light of all the sobering data about older folks crashing their bikes. If it keeps them from resuming an activity they love, the loss is much more profound than anything you may have left on the pavement.
That said, I still wouldn’t mind having those teeth back.