Sunshine and budding trees bring out the cyclist in us all - but there's more to sitting atop those wheels than just pressing the pedals. Unthoughtful cycling can undo all the benefits of this joyful form of locomotion. The bicycle is the most efficient machine ever invented for transforming energy into motion, and despite the fears many have about facing traffic, you have less chance of being hurt on your bike than you have in a car.
But you do need to learn how the road works. Enrol in one of the city's CAN-Bike courses through Parks and Rec. Several a year are offered free.
Helmets save lives, no doubt about it. Wear yours every time and make sure it sits level across the top of your head, the front almost touching your eyebrows. The side buckles should be right below your earlobes, and the side straps should straddle your ears. Keep your chin strap tight enough so that only one finger can be slid between it and your skin. Replace your helmet if it's been in an accident or after five years, whichever comes first.
Buying a new metal steed? You can reduce your injury risk by enlisting the help of an expert in bike fit. Take a test ride before you buy. Keeping your two-wheeler well maintained lessens the chance of unexpected stalling, failure to stop or breakdown - all potential accident inducers.
Warm and/or breezy weather sucks water from you fast. Start your ride well hydrated, and drink a big gulp every 20 minutes on the road. Drink some more and eat a snack within 50 minutes of finishing your ride. Don't mix the other kind of drinking with cycling; a significant percentage of bicycle fatalities involve alcohol.
What the experts say
"People who have had joint or flexibility problems will want to be much more upright on the bicycle. On the typical seat, the seat is now widened so it cradles the pelvic bones better and lessens stress on a nerve and artery that go through that part of the body. But even the best saddle incorrectly placed will cause problems. Gloves specifically padded to protect nerves that run through the hands address the problem of hand numbness. Clipless pedals or even a toe strap can lower joint stress. With a traditional pedal, you're pushing down very hard, and releasing that causes more stress."
RANDALL BOESSENKOOL, operations manager, Sweet Pete's Cyclepath, Toronto
"Because of the kind of seats used and extended time biking, there can be undue pressure on mens' perineal region, between the anal region and the genitals, where the pudendal nerve comes through. Men may develop numbness of the genital region and also problems with erectile function. We recommend a special kind of seat that has a groove in the middle and a much wider base that allows pressure to be evenly spread across a much larger area. This is a reversible condition, but it has to be addressed.'
MIGUEL LLANO, MD , staff physician, Canadian Men's Clinic, Toronto
"The most common cycling-related injuries are in the knee, followed by back, neck and wrist. Many overuse injuries stem from improper rider-bicycle fit, but other factors such as anatomical alignment and training techniques may also contribute. Back problems can be addressed by doing flexibility exercises and/or increasing the height of the handlebars or adjusting the seat position. Neck and wrist extension problems are caused by excessive reaching. They can be managed by addressing bike fit.'
EDISON AU chair, Sport Physiotherapy Ontario
"Ground-level ozone burns your lungs. It is made in the air under the influence of sun and heat and builds up during the day. Overnight it will abate. The preferred thing (for 9-to-5ers) is to ride your bike one way and take the subway home. Then there's particulate matter. Particulate matter is too small to be filtered out by the masks people wear and remains constant until the wind blows it away. It hurts you because it's loaded with acids. If you're exercising heavily, you might be breathing three times as much air (including the particulates) as when sitting. On very polluted days, exercise lightly, or choose those as your down days.'
TED BOADWAY , MD, executive director of health policy, Ontario Medical Association
"Cycling to work provides a huge psychological benefit. It's well documented that the stress of commuting in cars makes people crazy. Bicycle use is the safest form of transportation per capita - safer than taking a plane, walking or driving. A major cause of car-bike collisions is cyclists riding off the sidewalk and into the road. To make yourself more visible, signal, ride in a straight line a metre away from the curb or parked cars. Make eye contact with motorists at every intersection. Use lights and reflective tape.'
SEAN WHELDRAKE , bicycle promotions coordinator, City of Toronto