When a first-bike-buyer walks into the shop, they've usually got a checklist that looks a bit like this:
-Comfortable/natural to ride
- Bag to carry your laptop & suit to work
- Lots of space to put lights so that you're visible at night
- Tough tyres so that that you don't have to repair punctures every week
- Costs less than $500
All are excellent characteristics on a bicycle, but that checklist is missing one critical point: how are you going to avoid repetitive strain injuries (RSI) on the bike?
Check out my checklist below.
IS IT THE RIGHT SIZE?
The most influential variable of a bike on RSI is the size. If you get the sizing right, your posture will be better, and you can minimise your risk of neck pain, low back pain, hand/wrist pain, and you’ll be able to cycle faster!
Bikes have different sizing groups for men and women but don’t just rely on your gender for deciding which is best for you. If you are quite long in the legs and short in the torso, women's sizes might be best for you – regardless of whether you’re a woman or not. Likewise, if you have relatively short legs, a men’s size bike might be the best option regardless of sex.
Once you’ve picked the sizing group, you have to choose a size. The shop assistant will help you do this, but if you’re between two sizes, it’s always better to opt for the slightly larger one.
DOES IT DEFINITELY HAVE GEARS?
Fixies and single-speeds are very fashionable at the moment, but they do terrible things to your low back. Get gears!
Bicycle gears change the resistance of the pedals – low gears increase resistance which loads your quadriceps and glutes, and high gear decreases resistance which takes the pressure off the muscles and on to your cardiovascular system. The ability to give your muscles a rest is essential to preventing muscle spasm, tendinopathy and other RSI.
DOES IT HAVE CLEATS? (AND DO I WANT CLEATS?)
Cleats attach your shoe to your pedal, allowing you to apply consistent resistance for the full pedal revolution, instead of only the down-stroke. They can be dangerous, especially if you’re not a confident rider, but they also prevent low back pain and other quadriceps RSI.
By engaging the full pedal revolution, you are also engaging hamstrings to take the load off of the quadriceps. RSI happen when single muscle groups become over-worked, so the more muscles you can engage, the better your chances are at remaining RSI-free on your bicycle.
For answers to other bicycle questions, email me directly via the contact page. For specific information on an injury you have, or for treatment, contact one of my clinics directly. You can find that information here.
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Dr Mitch Clark