Olympian Speed Skater Debbie Palmer Discusses Mountain Biking Injuries

Former three-time winter Olympian Debbie Palmer is what you might call an authority on injuries in high-profile sports. She has experience inside the International Olympic Committee, the Enduro World Series, and even headed an EWS paper on injury patterns recently published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine. She recently sat down with Pink Bike to discuss mountain biking injuries. 

According to Palmer, the study began because the researchers involved wanted to ensure that athletes would be taken care of when injured — and that meant knowing what types of injuries occurred most often and how to prevent them. 

A few of the key takeaways from the published report might be surprising: namely that the rate of concussion among mountain bikers is on the lower side. Palmer did acknowledge that bikers lacked the specific knowledge related to treatment of concussive injuries and wishes to help them learn how to address them out in the field when help could be miles and miles away.

She said, “For example, a large proportion of riders who displayed red flags for concussion, and were later diagnosed with concussion, continued to race. When we looked at how long riders took off after the race, there were quite a few riders who potentially didn’t take the time off that is needed post-concussion.”

What kind of injuries were most problematic for mountain bikers? Turns out that shoulder injuries are most common. Palmer explained, “We know in elite sport that you can’t prevent all injuries, there are going to be some that are just unavoidable, but can we reduce the risk of some occurring, improve the way that they’re dealt with, or can we reduce the severity, so how long they last?”

Palmer believes that bikers should deny the urge to get ride back out there after sustaining any type of injury. If there’s one thing she wants mountain bikers to take away from the study, it’s that rest is very important. Otherwise, injuries often get exacerbated quickly.

Where To Mountain Bike In Long Island — And What To Do When Injured

When we travel to other countries to enjoy a new mountain biking experience, we usually think rugged mountains and miraculous views — but sometimes the least likely spaces can be the most peaceful or scenic. Take Long Island, NY for example: there are dozens of great places to take a bike ride. But even in these potentially less strenuous areas of the United States (which aren’t even comparable with our own in Spain), it can be easy to become distracted. And distraction leads to injury.

We recommend beginners start in Calverton, where you can find a single-track path going just over six miles. Another 1.5 miles of intermediate climbs will tease those with more advanced skills. Another single loop track can be found in Cathedral Pines. There are six miles of beginner to intermediate path, but we recommend newbiest start here. More advanced bikers will still want to look elsewhere. Another beginner’s mecca is Eastport, where you can find at least eight  miles of single track trail.

In the mood for something more difficult? Check out the newly built five miles of track at East Setauket. The path was constructed for those looking for an intermediate to advanced pathway, but you can also find another six miles of even more difficult track with advanced loops and climbs. You can also try the Glacier Ridge Nature Preserve where there are another 8.5 miles starting from Sachem East High School and Brookhaven Town Hall. 

Another more difficult option is Meadowlark Park, which has five miles of one-way path forming a loop. Keep in mind that riders must be aware of the numerous horse crossings on this path, or risk a collision with an animal whose kick can kill. 

Those are some of the shorter options, but if you need a longer trip — then look no further than Hither Woods State Park or Manorville Hills. The former option provides over 20 miles of varied terrain for beginners, intermediates, and advanced mountain bikers. The latter option has 12 miles of very difficult terrain. Thankfully, the first few miles boast a two-line bike highway. If the trail is too difficult, turn around before you run into the single track lane. 

Rocky Point Pine Barrows Preserve is another decent option for intermediate or advanced bikers, and provides at least 13 miles of one-way track, 7 of which are considered available only to expert riders. There are also a few miles providers for beginners.

There are a number of neck and back specialists all over NYC and Long Island, but it can be far more difficult to find someone to look at your teeth after hours — and believe it or not, dental injuries are extremely common among mountain bikers. This is true even when wearing a great helmet, because all it takes to knock out a tooth is that one stray jagged rock! You might find a cosmetic dentist Great Neck, NY, but take a quick look on Google Maps if you need someone right away.

Mountain Biking In Snow: Tips And Tricks

Some of us have no doubt packed our bikes away during the winter season, praying for an early spring. Others, of course, will still be hitting the trails every single day. We tip our hats to those individuals. And we offer tips to those who don’t count themselves among that elite group of individuals — yet. Here are the things you should be thinking about if you plan to go mountain biking while there’s snow on the ground.

  1. First and foremost, know when to ride and when to avoid riding. We don’t mean this based on hazardous conditions — we mean it based on the conditions that make harming the trail more likely. You should avoid riding when there are only a couple inches of snow on top of an already muddy trail. You’ll damage the trail you love.
  2. Riding in snow means one of two things: you either use fat tires with built-in low pressure, or you use your summer tires (please no) at low pressure. Keeping the pressure as high as you would in summer means you’ll sacrifice traction on the snow.
  3. Don’t freak out when you slide around. You should expect to slide around. It’s part of riding in the snow. Lots of winter bikers describe it as feeling like you’re skating on a bike, because that’s what you are doing.
  4. Since traction is more difficult to obtain on snow, you’ll want to increase the weight you place on wheels. Whereas you might stand to make climbing a hill easier in summer, you’ll want to train yourself to stay seated in the winter.
  5. Flat pedals will help you get a better grip with your boots after they touch the snow.
  6. Believe it or not, frostbite is much more common when the victim is dehydrated. Keep your water bottle full, and keep sipping throughout the ride even if you don’t feel like you’re thirsty. You still need the water in your body!

The Most Common Mountain Biking Injuries

Mountain biking is a sport for thick-skinned thrill seekers who love the adrenaline rush. It’s not for those who can’t handle a fall — since there will be many — or the threat of injury. This is especially true for those who are just starting, since they’re the ones who are most likely to fall and hurt themselves. The proper balance only comes after years of training. Once you’ve ridden thousands of miles, then you’re less likely to be seriously injured.

So what are the most common mountain biking injuries?

Many doctors say they have bikers who come in with symptoms like numbness from overextending the hands while biking. There’s not much they can do except tell patients to take it easy for a while and practice good posture while biking to reduce the chance of future symptoms — or even nerve damage. This is also why carpal tunnel syndrome is another common complaint. Reducing the weight you place on your wrist can reduce the chance for chronic carpal tunnel to develop. 

Most bikers will experience knee or lower back pain at some point in their career. These are simple overuse injuries and usually require rest to heal properly. If injuries like sciatica or Ilio Tibial Band Friction Syndrome (ITBFS) occur, then you’ll want to speak with your outfitter about a bike that fits your frame better. Speak with your doctor about pain-reduction strategies.

Many bikers will experience a broken bone. Of these, the collar bone and wrist break the most often. That’s because bikers will reflexively try to break their fall with a single outstretched hand. The impact will fracture bones in the wrist or arm, but the shock will also crunch the weight of your torso and your arm together — which means your clavicle is taking the brunt of the force, and will often break.

Less common are neck and back injuries, but these are always a risk even with precautions. They also have the most severe consequences, not only for continued quality of life, but also for the bank account. A single spine treatment can be extremely expensive, depending on what you need done. Herniated discs and chipped or broken vertebrae are the severe injuries that doctors and emergency room surgeons see most often. For these, expect many months of physical therapy and additional surgeries down the line.

How can you prevent these common mountain biking injuries? The first is the most obvious: pad up and be sure to wear a helmet. These don’t completely eliminate the possibility of injuries, but they greatly reduce the chances. Less serious injuries arise because of posture. Others arise because the bike doesn’t adequately reduce the shock of impact. You could even hurt your lower regions if your seat isn’t up to snuff. It’s important to reduce the opportunity for common injuries by investing in a good bike — and making sure that the bike is right for you. That means finding an outfitter to size you up!

Less News Coverage Doesn’t Mean Coronavirus Danger Is Gone

The mountain biking and thru-biking season is upon us, and many of us have made plans that involve long-distance travel not just on wheels but through the air. That means we all have hard decisions to make in the days ahead. Do we keep our flights and put small mountain towns at risk of increased coronavirus exposure? Or do we put off cherished travel plans for a year or two (or more)?

The questions have complicated answers.

First things first: you do you — but base your plans on current restrictions. Don’t let anyone else tell you what to think or how to feel unless that person is a government or CDC official. Take the facts on hand and make your own decisions. There will always be people who feel differently. The business owners in those small mountain towns will be desperate for your visit, whereas others might not. 

Our advice? Many people are congregating on more accessible areas because trips to less accessible areas had to be canceled due to government regulations. Although we understand the drive to get outside to be active, we request that those whose plans still work go ahead and keep those plans. Everyone else should rethink whether or not it’s really worth increasing the population in a particular region with traffic that would not have otherwise been there.

In other words, if your travel plans were ruined, then please suck it up and stay close to home. Changing plans will increase the probability of further restrictions being placed on the smaller areas.

If there is a chance you will interact with people during your mountain biking excursion, then please wear a mask and use plenty of hand sanitizer. Biodegradable “camp” soap is usually frowned upon for longer trips, but the current crisis has some trail managers rethinking their stance on the item. Consider bringing some. Good luck!

Should Bikers Stay Indoors During The Covid-19 Outbreak?

Many parks around the world have made the choice to keep their doors open as schools, bars, restaurants, clubs, and planned public gatherings have closed down by choice or by government order. While that might change, the logic is reasonable: A viral outbreak is a great time to venture outdoors to enjoy what nature has to offer, especially when avoiding other people. For some, this is great news. Others take it with a grain of salt.

First, be wary of what this means if you’re a mountain biker. Sure, you can absolutely continue to do what you love! But limit contact with other bikers. The entire point of keeping parks open is to avoid contact. The virus can potentially survive on surfaces for a few days and people who are infected but have yet to display symptoms can potentially infect other people. That makes this brand of coronavirus extremely contagious.

Second, you might be better off opting for shorter, daily outings. Those who are interested in going on a days-long thru-bike can still do so, but maintaining cleanliness on these longer trips is more important than ever. Be sure to bring along a decent amount of hand sanitizer — if you’re lucky enough to find any on store shelves.

Infections and fatalities in Spain are surging.

That means that you should apprise yourself of local laws before heading out. Spain and France are basically on lockdown. Travel outside is increasingly difficult. If you’re lucky enough to live overseas in the United States, then you can still hit the trails without any trouble from law enforcement. But this is likely to change in the next few days to few weeks as the infection becomes worse and worse. That means it’s better to get outside sooner rather than later. You might not have another chance!

For those who do reside in Spain, then stay indoors. The government has banned outdoors travel and implemented a two-week state of emergency. 

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said, “The prohibition to circulate in the streets…must be followed starting today. The measures which we have adopted are drastic and will unfortunately have consequences…but our hand will not shake to prevail against the virus. We will win this battle…but it is important that the price we pay for this victory be as little as possible.”

Only pharmacies and grocery stores remain open to the public. City streets are deserted.

It’s Almost Time For Spring Bike Maintenance

Have you been out biking this winter? Not everyone does. We understand that it can be difficult to find the motivation to go outdoors when the cold is so soul-crushing. But spring will be upon us in just over a month, which means it’s time to think about making sure your bike is up to snuff. There are a few things you should keep in mind before the warmer months are here.

Where did you store your bike this winter? Not everyone owns a shed or has the room to store a mountain bike inside. For some of you, that might mean you sinned a little and store your bike outside. If you did, a tarp usually isn’t enough to fully protect your bike from the elements. You should consider having your bike checked out by a professional repair shop to make sure it can handle the rigors of the Spanish mountainside. 

Storing your bike is a long-debated issue. Some believe the only way to store a bike is to hang it upside down — but you never want to do this if you have hydraulic disc brakes. Finding a bike rack specifically designed for your mountain bike model is the best decision you can make when storing it, and will result in the least amount of long-term damage.

Everything look okay? You’ll still want to start out by giving your bike a deep clean. Take a biodegradable cleaner and wipe everything down with an old towel (and sometimes even a toothbrush) to scrub the chain, frame, pedals, brakes, seat, and all those tiny parts and mechanisms you’ll never know the name for.

Next, take your bike for a short ride (being careful not to venture too far from home) to check that your brakes function properly. Keep in mind that you’re not putting too much stress on the brakes without actually being in the environment where the bike is designed to be used. That’s why we always suggest professional tune-ups for your bike. You might find the brakes weren’t as safe as you thought.

Check your wheels. There shouldn’t be any bumps along the tire, and the rim shouldn’t be at all bent or warped. Riding a bike that has any of these problems could be dangerous. Do the tires still have an appropriate level of tread? New mountain bikes don’t always realize how quickly the rubber wears down on rough surfaces, so they don’t always replace them promptly. Accidents frequently occur because of this lack of foresight.

Be sure to oil the chains!

It’s Not Too Late For A Bikepacking Trip This Winter!

There are plenty of areas where one can enjoy the winter landscape in all its glory — but the best are all far above sea level. The easiest way to get to those places is to bike there. The pristine winter wonderland above the clouds is a sight to behold. Those who have ventured so far will often describe it as whimsical, peaceful or, sometimes, creepy. No matter what your experience, it’s likely you’ll find solitude.

But you can’t just get up and go if you’ve never gone before.

Bikepacking requires using every square inch of space on your bicycle for storing gear, a task which becomes monumentally more difficult in winter. Why? Because you need warmer gear, and warmer gear is heavier and takes up more space.

Almost always, you’ll need a sleeping bag rated down to zero degrees. Whereas lower rated bags can weigh two or three pounds, these warmer bags will probably weigh at least six. 

And then you need a fourth-season tent. These tents are sturdier and will hold up to harsh mountain winds in winter — or even under a bit of snow. They’re better insulated, but not by much. They’ll add another few pounds.

Heat lost to the ground is the most important problem to consider, which means you need a sleeping pad with a high “r” value. The higher the value, the thicker and heavier the pad. We recommend a foam pad coupled with an air mat. The latter can be placed directly in your sleeping bag. For added comfort, you can purchase a lightweight sleeping bag liner or two to increase the sleeping bag temperature rating another five or ten degrees.

Then you need to consider clothes. You won’t want to bring too many. Usually a daytime pair and a nighttime pair is enough. Insulated boots and a pair of wool socks will do well. Save the thicker socks for bed, because they can cut off circulation and make you colder while you ride.

Wear a polyester thermal set as your base layer if you need it. If you don’t need it, store it in your nighttime bag with your dedicated nighttime pair. Doubling up always helps. You’ll want a thick pair of wind-resistant pants, a cotton shirt, and a merino wool hoodie as your mid-layer. You may or may not need another layer for your legs, but it’s up to you.

A thin pair of gloves can be doubled up with a thicker pair of weather-resistant gloves.

You need two more things: a puffy coat (how much you spend matters) and a rain shell for when it gets wet. We recommend wearing a balaclava and ski goggles to protect your face from frostbite.

How To Gain Muscle For Mountain Biking And Bikepacking

Mountain biking and bikepacking are not activities for the faint of heart. They require a lot of preparation, time, and effort — not to mention the vast amount of endurance needed to sustain a bout of exercise. That is why it is so important to find the right exercises to gain muscle and stamina, especially if you plan to learn a few mountain biking tricks as well. Here are a few of the best exercises you can do to gain muscle for mountain biking right now.

  1. Biking. Sounds dumb, right? Mountain biking has a lot in common with similarly strenuous activities — like long-distance backpacking for example. And when people ask how you get into shape for these activities, the answer is most often simple: don’t bother. There isn’t really an activity or exercise that will truly prepare you for mountain biking except long-distance biking. You can gain muscle through doing.
  2. Running. For excruciating activities like mountain biking or bikepacking, one of the best things you can do is gain cardiovascular muscle — because while there is no single, tried and true method of preparing for what you’re about to do, you should make sure you won’t drop dead while you’re doing it. That means getting into slightly better overall shape before you leave.
  3. Core. Yoga is a great way to get a full body exercise, but core muscles are very important for maintaining balance while you’re biking. Practice the plank position frequently, but complement it with squat repetitions to build some muscles in your quads and glutes. Another position involves a side plank using an elastic band just above the knees to do repetitions of leg lifts while resting the body’s weight on your forearm and foot. This will help build up your obliques and hips.
  4. General. Lunges will build your leg and core muscles. One-legged push-ups will build your core, arms, and teach you how to balance. Weight training will build bone density and increase muscle strength. Walking will keep your muscles mobile and relaxed during rest periods.

    A stability ball is a great prop for core-building workouts. Exercises using stability balls also have a number of other important benefits, especially for aging adults. Some research suggests that they can help with lower back pain, and increase muscle mass in the back, glutes, and abs. They are especially useful tools during physical therapy after an accident or injury. If you were hurt while mountain biking, then ask your doctors about the potential benefits!

Is It Ever “Too Cold” For A Mountain Biking Vacation?

Whether you’re an avid mountain biker or a total beginner, there’s no better time to start than fall or winter (before the snow begins to pile up, anyway). That’s because it’s more difficult to become dehydrated during cooler months as long as you remember to keep drinking. But it’s also because the fall and winter months are crisper, cooler, and sometimes even much more beautiful from very high up.

Then again, many of us worry about the stinging chill of the wind.

The wind, no matter how strong, no matter how cold, shouldn’t stop you! All it should do is spur you to become more prepared for the elements than you were before. The cold weather months are greatest for mountain biking for one reason above all others: those months are when most learning occurs.

What’s the first thing to remember about biking in cold weather? First, prepare like you would for any other trip. If bikepacking, be sure to have all the food and water you’ll need — and a little extra just in case you run into problems. Bring the right maintenance tools in case your tire pops. Make sure you have an escape plan. If you’re a novice, you don’t want to stray too far from help. In other words, make sure you cell phone works wherever you’re headed.

After that, much of the preparation is about gear. You need to break the wind, and that means warmer clothes to start. In fall or winter, you can’t just head out with a tee-shirt. You need to be thinking about a base layer, mid-layer, and an outer layer (or your shell). That means thermal underwear, maybe a merino wool hoodie, a puffy coat filled with synthetic down to keep your body heat from escaping, and a raincoat and pants when necessary. A light pair of gloves is definitely a requirement, as is a buff or hat to keep your ears covered.

When it gets even colder, you might consider adding a ski jacket to really keep you warm. You’ll want a pair of heavier gloves to go over the lighter pair. You’ll also want a pair of ear muffs, heavy winter cap, and probably a ski mask or balaclava. The goal should be keep every inch of your skin covered. If even a little bit is exposed, then you might come down with frostbite before you even realize something is wrong.

Beyond that, you’ll want to make sure that you have a cold-weather tent. Make sure you’ve picked up a sleeping bag and sleeping pad rated for the temperatures which you’ll likely experience. After all your preparations have been made, go have fun!