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Canadian study suggests road cyclists should wear body armour as well as helmets

"Cyclists were often injured after being struck by a motor vehicle," says researcher...

A study of injuries to road cyclists and mountain bikers in Canada has concluded that both groups should be urged to wear body armour as well as helmets.

The study, published in a recent edition of the Canadian Journal of Surgery, looks at incidence, risk factors and injury patterns over a 14-year period among 258 severely injured cyclists in southern Alberta.

“Trauma to the head is still the No. 1 injury in both cycling groups, which underscores the importance of wearing a good-quality, properly fitted helmet,” said Dr Chad Ball, the senior author of the research paper.

“At the same time, almost half of the injuries we noted were either to the chest or abdomen, suggesting that greater physical protection in those areas could also help reduce or prevent serious injury.”

The study examined riders with severe, multiple injuries from 1995 to 2009, as recorded in the Southern Alberta Trauma Database, which tracks trauma patients admitted to Foothills Medical Centre.

In that period, 209 road cyclists were severely injured, and 49 mountain bikers.

“Street cyclists were often injured after being struck by a motor vehicle,” said Dr Derek Roberts, lead author of the study.

Some might therefore think it odd that the surgeons suggest protective equipment rather than improvements to cyclist road safety. In the words of a commenter on Calgary TV’s coverage of this story: “Maybe governments should start doing their job and make streets safe for people to cycling on. Networks of separated bike lanes would be a good start.”

As for the idea of wearing body armour, Dr Roberts told CBC News there's not much research around chest pads, but it is something for cyclists to think about.

He said: "Although we don't know exactly how effective they are, I think that they are something we can give to bicyclists that they can consider to use."

According to the study, the cyclists sampled were just 2.2 percent of 11,772 admissions with severe injuries in the study period. The majority of the other 97.8 percent were probably pedestrians or motor vehicle occupants so it’s curious that the researchers chose not to direct their attention to the road users who might most benefit from being studied.

Researchers say that helmet use frequency could not be determined from admission statistics. However it seems likely that most riders would have been wearing helmets, especially the mountain bikers. It’s therefore interesting to note that researchers found the incidence of traumatic brain injury was identical to a 1975 study in Calgary, well before the widespread adoption of cycling helmets.

Here's Dr Chad Ball talking to CBC News about the study. To be fair, in this clip, he does point out that he thinks it's unreasonable to ask road cyclists to wear body armour.


John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for Along with founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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