Thinking of a cycling trip over Labor Day weekend? It's a wonderful (and healthy) idea — just remember to bring your helmet. In the United States, an increase in bike-related injuries occurred between 1998 and 2013, driven by a spike in rates for the over-45 crowd, a new UC San Francisco study revealed.

Along with rising numbers of middle-aged cyclists, other factors contributing to the boost in “over-all injuries and hospital admissions include an increase in street accidents and an increase in sport cycling associated with faster speeds,” wrote the researchers.

My Bike!
My Bike! Bhavishya Goel, CC by 2.0

Remember your first ever bike ride? Taking that first trip around the block probably ranks among your most joyous moments of childhood. Sure, while learning you fell once or twice and there was the close call (or two or three) when you forgot to look and a car came to a screeching halt. Still these minor mishaps could never mar the perfect freedom of cruising along with the wind in your hair and sunlight on your naked arms.

Bike Ride Home
Bike Ride Home Thierry Draus, CC By 2.0

Now you're an adult... sigh. Aware of biking's "health benefits," you may want to spin through the streets once again, but it’s a little impractical. Hey, it gets sweaty biking to work and it’s impossible to carry bags of groceries. Most of all you worry you might take an embarrassing fall. What is the likelihood of wounding yourself?

Unfortunately, bike injuries are difficult to track, since they’re not usually reported to the police. To examine trends in biking accidents, then, Dr. Benjamin N. Breyer, associate professor at UCSF, and his colleagues turned to hospital records. Specifically, they analyzed data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), a national probability survey that collects injury data from about 100 emergency rooms. The research team queried the NEISS for adult bicycle injuries between the years 1998 and 2013.

Their analysis may surprise you. During the time period the incidence of injuries increased by 28 percent, while hospital admissions related to injuries increased by 120 percent. Overall, women racked up nearly 35 percent of these injuries, a statistic that remained consistent over time.

What differences did occur over time? The percentage of cyclists with head injuries increased from 10 percent to 16 percent, the researchers found. Plus, the proportion of injuries occurring in adults over the age of 45 swelled from 23 percent to 42 percent, while the proportion of hospital admissions for that same age group expanded from 39 percent to 65 percent.

“These injury trends likely reflect the trends in overall bicycle ridership,” wrote the authors. A good thing, overall, for national health (go, team!). Still, they added that with this shift to an “older demographic, further investments in infrastructure and promotion of safe riding practices are needed to protect bicyclists from injury.”

Source: Sanford T, McCulloch CE, Callcut RA, Carroll PR, Breyer BN. Bicycle Trauma Injuries and Hospital Admissions in the United States, 1998-2013. JAMA. 2015.