The bicycle is one of the most commonly used pieces of exercise equipment. Whether you are riding indoors or outside, an improperly fitted bike can lead to overuse injuries of the knees, spine, or arms. Making some simple adjustments to the bike you are riding will help with overall comfort and injury prevention.
Indoor trainers of the recumbent and upright variety usually have limited adjustability. These adjustments usually involve the height or length of the seat from the pedals. This position is important to help take pressure off of the knees during the revolution of the pedals. To make the proper adjustment, the knee should be slightly bent to approximately 30 degrees when the foot is in the bottom position of an upright bike or furthest away from the seat on a recumbent bike.
Bicycles ridden outside need the same seat height adjustments that are pertinent to indoor trainers, but adjustment to the handlebars are important for the health of your spine and upper extremities. Initially the proper size bike frame is important to make sure the handlebars are not too far from the seat. This will cause excessive bending at the trunk and has the potential to create low back and neck strain. Your local bike shop can help with the selection of the proper size bike. The next adjustment should focus on the height of the bars. This also determines how far forward the rider will lean to place the hands on the bar. If too low, excessive stress will be placed on the low back, shoulders, wrists and hands. The neck can also be strained from having to “look up” at the road. A simple rule of thumb when making adjustments to the handlebar height is if you cannot easily remove your hands from the bar because you are bearing too much weight through your arms, then the bar is too low. Be sure not to test this while you are riding for obvious safety reasons.
Bicycle fitting has become very specialized in recent years and qualified professionals can usually be located at your local bike shop.
By Steve Bernstein PT, OMT