Cyclists risk nerve damage from uneven street surfaces

CYCLISTS are at risk of permanent nerve damage because of poor road surfaces in Scottish cities, research has revealed.

Dr Mark Taylor on his databike. Photograph: Edinburgh Napier University
Dr Mark Taylor on his databike. Photograph: Edinburgh Napier University

Vibration caused by uneven streets and cycle paths can cause Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (Havs).

A study by Edinburgh Napier University found cyclists were at risk of developing the condition after pedalling for as little as 16 minutes on the worst surfaces, such as cobbles.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Dr Mark Taylor, who built an innovative measuring “databike”, plans to devise a cycling vibration route map to help riders avoid the worst stretches and highlight areas for improvement. The databike has a camera, sensors and computer to record vibration levels.

He said: “The minute you get onto a poorly maintained surface you’re getting a substantial duration of vibration exposure that’s being transferred up through your arms and into your shoulders. Continued exposure to such vibration levels over commuter journeys may lead to discomfort and potentially cause harm.” A clinical study is planned to prove the link.

Professor Chris Oliver, a consultant trauma orthopaedic hand surgeon at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh who is involved in the research, said: The vibrations transmitted from some surfaces to cyclists’ hands, arms and wrists can cause Havs. This can equate to significant damage to nerves and blood vessels in the arms. It can include numbness in the fingers and cold can trigger painful finger blanching attacks.

“Although some cycle paths and roads are riddled with dangerous potholes, it’s continual vibration over time that’s more significant.”

Dave du Feu of cycling campaigners Spokes said some cobbles were a particular risk. “It is not just a matter of discomfort, but a cobbled or potholed surface distracts the cyclist’s attention very significantly from the traffic and is a serious road danger,” he said.

Edinburgh City Council transport convener Lesley Macinnes said: “We would encourage the public to report any problems and defects they spot.”

A Glasgow City Council spokeswoman said: “The council is keen to incorporate such data into the assessment of cycle lanes.”