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.
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
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
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.
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.