With the days getting longer and the fragrance of blooming daphne’s in the air, it’s time to get back on your bike. If it has been a while since you’ve gone for a ride or if you feel annoying aches and pains when you bike, you might be due for a bike fit.
As a former elite amateur competitive cyclist, I cannot overemphasize the value of a bike that is fit to you. A bike fit is when someone adjusts your bike to fit your body to improve performance and avoid overuse injuries like tendonitis and nerve pain.
Anyone can benefit from a bike fit, even if you don’t wear Spandex or plan on riding the Chilly Hilly. Also, as we age, we become less flexible and a once-perfectly fit bike may become problematic as our bodies change.
Here are some common complaints and possible bike-fit solutions to consider before you saddle up for a spin down the Burke-Gilman Trail or start training for the Seattle to Portland Bicycling Classic (STP).
The low back is a common source of aches and pains often caused when riding in an excessively bent posture. An overly aggressive position can lead to pain in the lumbar spine and cause sciatica.
The length of the bike stem will give you either more reach or more of an upright riding position, and switching to a shorter length can often relieve back symptoms. Having a seat (aka saddle) that is too high can cause the hips to rock side-to-side and lead to not only back pain but also saddle sores where the skin in the groin and inner thighs chafe from excessive friction. Wearing worn-out cycling shorts can also be a cause of saddle sores.
Knee pain is usually associated with a saddle position that is too high or low or too far forward or back. Being too low or too forward can not only cause pain in the front of the knee but also prevent the strong gluteal muscles from producing power. This causes the quadriceps to overwork, leading to tendonitis.
Pain in the back of the knee is also often related to incorrect saddle height. Improper positioning on the pedal or poor cleat alignment can lead to pain on the outside of the knee and ankle. Now is a great time to replace old, worn-out cleats and cycling shoes.
Having a difference in leg length is not uncommon and can be corrected with shoe inserts or orthotics.
Hand pain and numbness may be avoided by wearing padded cycling gloves and riding with your elbows slightly bent, not straight or locked. You should be able to use all the positions on the handlebars with a slight bend in your elbows, which act as shock absorbers. If you cannot get into these positions, your bike needs some adjusting. A saddle that is tilted down slightly will place more pressure on the arms and hands and can lead to numbness. The saddle should always be level.
Riding a bike that is too long or with handlebars that are too low can cause neck pain. Cramps, fatigue and trigger points in the neck and shoulder area can often be relieved through small adjustments of the handlebar.
It’s not uncommon for people to have neck soreness and fatigue when first returning to cycling after time away from riding as these muscles build stamina. Temporarily adjusting the bike into a more “relaxed” position for the first few rides can sometimes avoid this bother.
Women with discomfort riding should first consider riding a woman-specific bike and saddle that accommodates their anatomy appropriately.
Riding a bike should be a fun and injury free experience. A bike fit that is slightly incorrect can eventually lead to pain and tendonitis. Working with a rehabilitation professional who understands the mechanics of the body and bike fitting can be the best way to recover from or prevent bike fit-related injuries. A good bike fit feels great and will let you mind and body enjoy the fresh spring air.
AARON SHAW is an occupational therapist and certified strength and conditioning specialist at MoveMend (www.MoveMend.info) in Madison Valley. He is also a USA Cycling coach.