"I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike" sang Freddie Mercury of the rock group Queen back in 1978. He's not alone as each year we in Britain cycle about 5 billion kilometres. We cycle for all sorts of reasons - to get to work, to get fit, or just because it's fun. Physiotherapists often advise cycling as part of a rehab programme after lower limb injuries. But is there a down side?
With the increase in people cycling, there has also been an increase in the number of cycling-related aches and pains. These injuries can often be related to improper bicycle fit. Making sure that your bike is the best possible fit to your own anatomy will go a long way to reducing the likelihood of developing the common complaints seen in cyclists - neck, back, and knee pain so what should you look for?
When you straddle the bicycle frame with your feet flat on the ground you should be able to comfortably clear the crossbar or "top tube" of a gent's bike. Ladies who want a bike with the traditional "step-through" frame can get a good indication of suitable frame size by trying a gent's bike first.
Once you have an appropriate frame size you must think about the 3 points of contact the human body has with the bike - hands, feet and backside. Our body weight is spread over these relatively small points so correct positioning will improve comfort when cycling.
Your saddle should be high enough that your knee is almost, but not completely, straight at the bottom of each pedal stroke. Riding with a "soft" knee like this ensures that the knee is not repeatedly overextended with each revolution of the pedals as this would stress the ilio-tibial band, stress the hamstring tendons and increase loading on the patellofemoral joint all resulting in knee pain.
Riding with a saddle which is too low will inhibit leg power making you an inefficient cyclist and will also stress the quadriceps tendon again giving knee pain. Your saddle is too low if you can get both feet flat on the ground while sitting on the saddle.
Saddles come is 3 standard widths and it is well worth ensuring that you have the best fit for your anatomy as determined by the width of your ischial tuberosities or "sit bones".
Saddle fore / aft position
If you want to shorten or lengthen your reach to the handlebars your bike will allow for a small variation by moving the saddle fore or aft. A good way to judge this is to get your arms comfortable on the handlebars than see which part of the saddle is taking most of your weight. If you are sitting mainly on the nose of the saddle, the saddle can be moved forward for a better fit.
This shift in saddle position can also influence pedalling efficiency by altering the position of your knee over the pedal.
Handlebar height depends a lot on personal preference but remember that lower bars require more body flexibility and promote a more aerodynamic riding style whereas higher bars reduce spinal flexion and therefore reduce neck, back and wrist strain.
Handlebars should be the same width as your shoulders. If wider, then arms and chest create a large area for wind resistance to slow down speed of travel but if arms are too close together it becomes harder to breathe properly.
Toe clips keep the ball of the foot over the pedal axle for an efficient cycling technique. The position of the toe clips is important.
If rotated towards the bike there will be extra rotation of the shin bone resulting in knee pain, particularly around the knee cap. If the toe clips are rotated away from the bike frame this causes external rotation of the shin giving pain on the inside of the knee.
Get on Your Bike!
An ill fitting bike can be the cause of knee, back, neck, shoulder, and wrist pain. Time spent ensuring the anatomy of your bike is a best fit for your own anatomy will help you stay on your bike to get fit, have fun and avoid unnecessary pain. We all want that!
This article was written by the McNaughton Physiogrange Team and first appeared in the August 2011 edition of the 702 Gazette