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May Is National Bike Month!

Bike Buying and Injury Prevention Tips

Right bike, seat height and handlebar position will reduce risk of injury

Spring has sprung, and bike riding season is in full swing. Celebrate National Bike Month (May) by learning how to enjoy this great, low-impact way for you and your kids to stay active and get around, without the risk of injury.

Here are some tips for preventing bicycle injuries, from choosing the right bike to seat height and handlebar position:

Bike and helmet selection

  • Generally, for long distances, a sport/touring or racing road bike is ideal. However, many people have comfortably completed long rides on mountain or hybrid bikes by switching to a thinner, smoother road-type tire.
  • A lighter helmet may help to reduce neck pain.
  • Regarding the size of the frame, allow 1 to 2 inches between crotch and top of frame tube on a road bike. If using a mountain bike, the clearance between the crotch and top tube should be 3 to 6 inches.

Seat height

Several methods have been developed to determine proper seat height, but the two most generally accepted are as follows:

  • Get on a bike trainer or have someone hold your bike steady while you place the balls of your feet on the pedals, as when riding. When the bottom foot is at the very bottom of the pedal stroke, that leg should have a 35 to 45 degree bend at the knee.
  • Place your heels on top of the pedals and pedal backwards. The proper saddle height is the point where the heels maintain contact with the pedals, but the hips do not rock side to side. Also, when the bottom foot reaches the very bottom of the pedal stoke, the leg should be very nearly straight.
  • Note that a mountain bike used off road should have the seat lowered slightly.
  • A seat that is too high may lead to pain behind the knee. If too low, pain may develop at the front of the knee.

Seat position (forward/backward and tilt)

  • A plum line starting at the front end of the knee cap should drop down to the end of the crankarm when the pedals are in the three and nine o'clock position.
  • A seat too far forward may result in back and knee pain, but may help to decrease neck and shoulder tension, and vice versa.
  • Regarding tilt, your seat should usually be level. A seat tipped forward may cause neck and shoulder pain and/or hand pain and numbness. A seat tipped up can cause unique problems for men: saddle sores, numbness of the groin region, and even erectile dysfunction.

Handlebar position

After adjusting the seat, position the handlebar as follows:

  • A line drawn down from the nose should fall about one inch behind the stem. The back should be lower than 45 degrees and should have no sharp bends. An overly upright position places more stress on the low back and hamstrings. However, elevating the handlebars may reduce neck and shoulder tension as well as hand numbness. A cramped forward position may inhibit normal breathing and cause increased neck stress. Keep in mind that your upper body position is the least exact part of the bike fit, and may require the most experimentation on your part to find the right fit.

Riding tips

  • To prevent knee pain, keep your cadence high - about 80-100 RPM.
  • Change gears when appropriate - lower for uphill to maintain proper cadence.
  • As a beginner, you may find that you'll want your handlebars higher, but as you grow accustomed to riding, you will be able to tolerate a lower handlebar position.
  • To avoid neck, shoulder, wrist, and hand pain and numbness, use padded gloves, change your hand positions often, and keep your elbows unlocked and loose. One helpful accessory for a mountain bike is vertical extensions at the end of the handlebars, which give you another option for hand placement.
  • Warm up before riding by starting out at an easy pace with easy resistance, and then stretch after riding.
  • If increasing your mileage to complete, for example, a century ride, do so gradually over a period of several months.
  • Become educated about proper nutrition and be especially sure to drink enough water or sports drinks when riding for more than two hours.