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Keep Riding With These Easy Injury Prevention Tips
By Fred Matheny 

My Butt Hurts! / Hands and Handlebars / Pedals and Feet / Knee Health

You're not likely to get injured while riding a bike (unless you fall off). Compared to high-impact sports like running, where your feet hit the pavement with substantial force on each stride, cycling is a compliant activity. The saddle, pedals and handlebars support your body weight, so most of your energy goes into powering the pedals around. As a result, cycling is relatively free of the overuse injuries that can plague participants in other sports.

Still, the three contact points mentioned above-crotch, feet and hands-are potential trouble spots. And, because your knees bend about 90 times per minute while riding, they bear a significant load. Let's look at how to keep your contact points-and hinges-happy.

My Butt Hurts!
It's the familiar lament of beginning cyclists: "My butt hurts!" However, with today's anatomically designed bike seats and recent advances in the science of fitting riders to their bikes, there's no reason to endure crotch pain. First, find a saddle that fits your particular anatomy. Everyone is different, and the saddle that works for your friend-or the one that came on your bike-may not be the best for you. It can be expensive to buy and try several saddles looking for perineal nirvana . One approach is to get together with cycling friends. Each of you buys two saddles to try. Switch them around until you find the one that works best for you. Some bike shops have seats they will loan out to prospective buyers. Many riders, male and female, swear by the new generation of seats designed to reduce impact on the crotch. An example is the Body Geometry saddle by Specialized, available at many bike shops.

Second, make sure the saddle is adjusted correctly on your bike, both for height and for tilt. According to Andrew Pruitt, Ed. D, Director of the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine and Chief Medical Officer for the 1996 U.S. Olympic Cycling team, gradually raise your saddle until your hips rock slightly when you pedal. (Have a friend ride behind you to check.) Then lower the seat just enough so the rocking stops. It's important to get this right. A saddle that's too high will irritate your crotch as your tender tissue saws across the nose of the saddle when you reach for the pedals on each stroke. A saddle too low means your knees bend excessively on each stroke, putting undue stresses on the tendons and the back of the kneecap. As for tilt, the top of the seat, looked at from the side, should be parallel to the floor. Some riders like the tip of the saddle tilted down slightly, but never more than one to two degrees.

Finally, wear good cycling shorts with a sewn-in synthetic pad (called a "chamois" from the days when they were made of leather). Don't wear underwear with cycling shorts-the seams will irritate your skin. It's also a good idea to lube the chamois lightly with either a commercial product like Chamois Butt'R (available in bike shops) or petroleum jelly to reduce irritation.

Hands and Handlebars.
If you support too much weight on your hands while cycling, your fingers can get numb and tingly. Although this sensation usually vanishes shortly after getting off the bike, "handlebar palsy" can occasionally become chronic. Two solutions will keep your fine musician's touch: first, wear padded cycling gloves whenever you ride and consider padded handlebar tape (or padded grips if you ride a mountain bike). Also, get your position checked by a knowledgeable bike shop. Hand pain is usually a result either of a saddle that slopes downward at the nose, pushing your weight forward onto your hands, or an excessive reach to the handlebars, resulting in the same thing. It's worth the price (usually $25 to $50) to get positioned on your bike at a shop that specializes in bike fit.

Pedals and Feet.
Feet can get numb and tingly just like hands and for the same reasons-pressure on the nerves. Invest in stiff-soled cycling shoes so the pressure from the pedal is distributed over a wide area of your foot. Shoes that are too narrow squeeze the bones located at the ball of your foot, impinging on the nerves and producing a burning sensation called "hot foot." The inexpensive solution is to try thinner insoles or socks to give your feet more room. A pricier fix-purchase wider shoes. Most expensive but highly effective is a pair of cycling-specific orthotics made by an orthopedist or podiatrist.

Knee Health.
Finally, protect those all-important knees. You won't be riding if you don't. Be sure the saddle is adjusted properly as discussed above. Beyond that, protect your knees by warming up with easy pedaling for at least 15 minutes before increasing your gearing and intensity. Use low gears on hills and spin at a high cadence, rather than grind at a low rpm, on the ascents. Aim for a pedal rpm of at least 80 on climbs. If your bike doesn't have a gear low enough to keep your cadence high, check at your bike shop to get lower gears installed. In hilly regions, you may want a triple crankset to widen your gearing range. Also, it's traditional advice to keep the knees covered with tights or leg warmers when the temperature is below about 65 degrees F. You'll often see riders bare-legged when it's much colder but they're taking a chance on a nagging and debilitating injury.

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