Thursday, June 20, 2013

Buckle Up Before You Saddle Up

By David Teuscher, MD
Beaumont orthopedic surgeon

This article originally appeared at A Nation in Motion.

The most important part of your bicycle is your helmet. The thrill of the wind in your face as you ride your bicycle can be quickly interrupted with a fall that may result in a traumatic brain injury if you don’t protect your head. It happened twice to me. A serious and potentially permanent or lethal injury was prevented by simply buckling up before I saddled up. Hear my stories and learn from me.

The first episode was a dozen years ago when I was riding my road bike more regularly. I was descending over a bridge and had gotten up to 40 mph when the road widened and I moved to the right. There my front wheel got caught in the seams of the concrete for just a fraction of a second, but enough to turn me directly toward the curb. As I hit the curb, I was vaulted over the bars and landed head first twenty feet later and slid and rolled another thirty feet to a stop. I was beaten, bruised, and covered in road rash, but I was awake and alert with full function. My helmet had taken the impact with a large crumple zone, but an intact inner cage. After I called my wife for a ride home, I realized how lucky I was not to be headed to the hospital or the morgue. My helmet had saved me. When I took my bike in for repairs, I brought my helmet for storytelling. Much to my surprise, I was handed a new one as the manufacturer had a free exchange program since a damaged helmet may not give full protection.

The second time my helmet saved me was on a gorgeous Saturday morning six years ago. Twenty miles into my ride I hit a green light doing 25 mph at a large four way intersection. Out of nowhere a motorcycle struck me on my left side, slamming me to the concrete on the right side of my body without any opportunity to swerve, brake or brace myself. The entire right side of my helmet was caved in, my scapula (shoulder blade) was fractured, and I had road rash on my right arm and leg. After I pulled the motorcycle off the pinned rider and got out of the road, I realized that again my helmet prevented me from an ambulance ride to the ER, OR, ICU or a one way ticket to the funeral home. Just like the first time, I returned for repairs and was awarded another new helmet that I still wear every time I saddle up.

Falls are a real hazard for bicyclists and the potential for traumatic brain injuries are preventable if you take the simple step of securing your helmet before you mount up. If you think you don’t want your hair messed up or you think you don’t look good in a helmet, you better think how you will look if you have a neurosurgeon fix a bleed in your head, or you end up unable to talk, move or care for yourself, or how you will look at your own funeral. If I can have two nasty spills as an experienced rider, it can happen to anyone including you. Don’t take the risk!

You can do more to spread the news about bicycle helmet safety. My Texas Medical Association and Texas Medical Association Foundation has created a program called Hard Hats For Little Heads that distributes bicycle helmets to children. You can get more information and resources at and set up a model program in your community like ours. Remember that it is not just little heads that need protecting; big heads need protection with a “brain bucket” too. When you ride your bike, don’t be a fat head: Buckle Up Before You Saddle Up!

Click here for more information on bicycle safety.

Beaumont Bone & Joint Institute
Beaumont, Texas

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