Did you know that improper bike fit can lead to pain and injury risk? Well, it does. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) is urging cyclists to help lower their risk of injury by ensuring that their bicycles are fitted properly. This is in conjunction with the recently celebrated National Bike to Work Day held last May 16.
APTA member Erik Moen, PT, CSCS, a Seattle-based “Elite Level” coach through the United States Cycling Federation, says that saddle heights that are either too high or too low, handlebar reach that is either too long or too short, and misalignments of the pedal and shoe are the most common bike fit errors which lead to pain and injury. The following are his recommendations to ensure proper bike fit:
Saddle. Be sure that the saddle is level. If you are sliding too far forward from a forward-tilting saddle, too much weight is being placed on your hands, arms, and lower back. If the seat is tilted backwards, you may place undue strain on your lower back and possibly experience saddle-related pain. A physical therapist can measure proper saddle height by measuring knee angle at the most extended position of the knee in common pedaling.
Handlebars. Handlebar position will affect hand, shoulder, neck, and back comfort. The higher the handlebars, the more weight will be placed on the saddle. Generally, taller riders should have lower handlebars in relation to the height of the saddle. Moen notes that riders should re-examine their bicycle fit after bad falls or crashes, due to possible re-orientation of handlebars, brakehoods, cleats, or the saddle.
Knee to Pedal. A physical therapist also can measure the angle of the knee to the pedal. The closer the angle is to 35 degrees, the better function the cyclist will have and with less stress on the knee.
Foot to Pedal. The ball of the foot should be positioned over the pedal spindle for the best leverage, comfort, and efficiency, Moen notes. A stiff-soled shoe is best for comfort and performance. Pedaling is a skilled activity that requires aerobic conditioning,” Moen says. “You should make it your goal to work toward pedaling at 80-90 revolutions per minute (advanced at 90-105 rpm). Pedaling at this rate will lessen your chance of injury.”
According to Moen, one’s physical condition is also a factor in preventing pain and injury when riding a bike.
“Good flexibility of the hamstrings, quadriceps, and gluteal muscles is crucial because these muscles generate the majority of the pedaling force and must ideally move through the pedal-stroke in 80-90 revolutions per minute.” He adds, “Proper stretching, balance, and flexibility exercises help with coordination of cycling-related skills such as breaking and cornering.” Moen also cautions that changes in riders’ strength and flexibility affect the ability to attain certain positions on the bicycle and also may require them to re-examine their bike fit.
The APTA is happy to provide tips and other related infomation on proper bike fit and preventing bike-related injuries as well as stretching exercises for cyclists via their consumer page.