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Epilepsy and Getting There – Bike Safety and Epilepsy

Epilepsy and Getting There – Bike Safety and Epilepsy

Hey guys, this is Chris Winwood, the Epilepsy Outreach & Education Coordinator in Prince George. I wanted to talk with you guys today about biking and epilepsy. Read on to find out my story about biking while living with epilepsy as well as check out our tips for those of you who may be considering starting to bike.

One of my biggest struggles with epilepsy was the loss of my independence. I used to drive my car all over the place and I was the one to offer rides and plan road trips. However, once I started having seizures, this privilege was taken away and I was required to be seizure free for 6 months in order to regain my drivers license. I would get halfway through or even to the last month of my probation, have a seizure, and have to start all over again. This meant years without driving and to me years without autonomy.

I live just outside the city limits of Prince George and, by car, it takes about 20 minutes to get downtown and about 45 minutes to get to the university. Now, this is fine if you can persuade people to drive you around but sometimes that just isn’t and option and as there is no public transit out where I live, I had to look for alternatives. I had been a mountain biker for many years prior to my diagnosis, shredding up the trails every summer. I had never really seen a bike as a form of road transportation because that was simply just not how I used it. I used my bike purely as a recreation device on single track dusty trails. Until one day it hit me: I cannot drive to the places I go mountain biking and it felt like a big ask to get people to drop me off and pick me up. This is when I began looking into the world of biking for transport.

Commuter bikes looked all right and made the most practical sense, however I do not always think in terms of practicality but in terms of fun. So, what do I do when I cannot get to the mountain biking trails easily but I can get to the road very easily by simply putting my foot out the door? Road biking! This was it; this was my sport. I had a bike that rocked it on the road, that could be used for more than getting from point A to point B, that opened a whole new realm of possibility and that completely changed my life.

Ironically, without epilepsy, I probably would never have found the sport that I now love to do so much. This exploration would lead me to the ‘Ride for Epilepsy’ a charity bike ride that I put on that raised money for the BC Epilepsy Society. This meant months of training, by which I mean endless fun pedaling on northern BC highways and my local country roads. It is truly odd to think about the doors that epilepsy opened for me as well as the ones that it closed.

Photo by Taylor McElderry of Me at the End of ‘The Ride For Epilepsy’ in 2019 from Prince George to Jasper in two days. (375km)

There are many different types of bikes out there, including commuter bikes, road bikes and mountain bikes that are sold at a number of price ranges. A suggestion for you is to find a local bike shop as these places not only sell bikes but may also run activities such as training sessions to help people learn biking skills and group bike rides to allow people to meet others who bike.

The biggest bonus to any bike, regardless of the type of bike you choose, is that not only will you be able to get outside and improve your physical activity but you will also be able to have fun. If you’re looking for information on different bike types to find out which one is best for you, read on for some of our tips:

Commuter Bikes:

  • Pros:
    • Super practical to get you from Point A to Point B
    • A lot of options for carrying capacity for all of those commuter needs
    • Have a good selection of gears which allows for decent efficiency
    • E-bike versions make for easy pedalling
    • E-bike versions have different levels of pedal assistance that make the best use of the batteries charge
  • Cons:
    • May be heavier than other bike types
    • E-bike versions will bring the price point up
    • The batteries of E-bike versions need to be charged periodically
    • If your E-bike runs out of charge midway through a trip, it can be a little heavy/hard to pedal

Road Bikes:

  • Pros:
    • Great for cardiovascular fitness
    • Still gets you from Point A to Point B, just a little less practically
    • Normally have a large amount of gears that make for excellent efficiency
    • Generally, much lighter than other types of bike on the market
  • Cons:
    • As it has very skinny tires and drop handlebars, the road bike can be quite intimidating for first-time riders
    • Not as practical as a commuter bike due to the limited amounts of carrying capacity
    • Generally has a higher price point

Mountain Bikes:

  • Pros:
    • Provides a good cardiovascular and core workout
    • As it has flat handlebars, bigger tires and looks sturdier, the mountain bike can be less intimidating for first-time riders than the road bike
    • Gets you access to lots of different areas both on and off road
    • Can have front and rear suspension
  • Cons:
    • Not practical for road use
    • Can have a smaller amount of gears than other types of bikes
    • May need to be driven to a recreation facility
    • Can be heavier than other types of bikes
    • Generally has a higher price point

Now that you know what type of bike you want, it is time to talk about safety while biking. Keeping safe while biking is something that is important for all people, including people living with epilepsy. Taking precautions while biking is simple. Just check out some of our tips below:

  • Tip One: Talk with your Doctor: Before you choose to go biking, first consult with your doctor to see if you are able to go biking with your epilepsy. No one knows what your limitations are due to your epilepsy or your seizures better than your doctor. They may even have some safety considerations that they can help you with.
  • Tip Two: Wear the Appropriate Protective Equipment: Ensure you are wearing a good quality helmet to prevent head injuries. You may also want to consider wearing additional protective equipment, such as knee pads and elbow pads to prevent injury to other areas of your body.
  • Tip Three: Employ the Buddy System: Never go biking alone and always go with at least one other person or even with a group. Not only is it safer but it also makes for a fun social experience.
  • Tip Four: Seizure First Aid: Make sure that the people you are biking with are aware that you have epilepsy and know how to help you if you were to have a seizure while biking by telling them about your epilepsy and teaching them seizure first aid.
  • Tip Five: Avoid Busy Roads: Wherever possible, try to avoid busy roads as, if you were to have a seizure while biking on a busy road, it could be dangerous for yourself and other road users. Make use of bike lanes wherever possible as they will keep you as far away from traffic as the road will allow.
  • Tip Six: Don’t Go Too Remote: Try to avoid biking anywhere that’s too remote because should you have a seizure, it could be dangerous if you have no means of contacting someone for help.
  • Tip Seven: Know Your Triggers: Seizures can be triggered by a number of factors, including flashing lights (if you have photosensitive epilepsy), the use of alcohol and drugs, lack of sleep and other triggers. It is important that you are aware of any triggers you have and trying your hardest to avoid them while biking.
  • Tip Eight: Listen to Your Body: It is important to listen to your body and pay attention to any signs that you may have a seizure. As dehydration and overheating may be a trigger for seizures, ensure you are drinking enough water and finding shaded areas to bike in whenever necessary. It is also important not to push yourself and rest when you need to.
  • Tip Nine: Wear Medical Identification: Wearing medical identification helps make others around you aware that you have epilepsy so that they are informed. You can also create a wallet card that explains that you have epilepsy, what to do if you have a seizure and has other pertinent information, such as emergency contacts, medication list, etc.
  • Tip Ten: Inform Others: Before you go out for a bike ride, be sure to tell people that you are going on a bike ride, where you will be going and what time you expect to be back. You can also use tracking apps, such as the “Find my iPhone” or “Find Friends” feature on an iPhone if you have one to allow someone to be able to find you in case you require assistance.

Me on a bike ride with a friend

I hope you guys have found my story and this information helpful! Biking has become one of the most of empowering activities I do. It has given me a massive sense of independence, allowed me to experience my healing process, improved my mental health and helped me to move forward with my life. Jumping on my bike helps me get through life, one pedal stroke at a time.

Stay safe out there everyone!

-Chris Winwood

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