On the road again: A bike that fits will be fun to ride
It’s a wonderful spring day, with blue skies and comfortable breezes; perfect for a leisurely bike ride or a rigorous cycling workout. Perhaps you’ll cruise the Cape Cod Canal or try the Shining Sea Bikeway in Falmouth. The Cape Cod Rail Trail in Dennis is a nice option, too.
No matter where you choose, before you clip in and saddle up, Stephanie Soares, PT, DPT at Cape Cod Hospital Rehabilitation Services in Hyannis, has good advice to avoid being derailed: Get your body and your bike tuned up.
Soares is professionally certified to treat cycling-specific injuries and fit riders to their bikes.
“Your bike isn’t doing any good if it’s sitting in the garage, and it’s not fun to ride if it hurts,” Soares said.
Soares was guest speaker at a recent informational bike night at Cape Cod Sea Sports in Hyannis. She discussed preparing for the season, common overuse injuries, strategies to remedy discomfort and how to get properly fitted.
Cycling is a repetitive activity and can lead to chronic injuries, Soares said. If you have a poorly fit bike, or physical limitations, it won’t be long before you’re uncomfortable. She cited an International Journal of Sports Medicine study: Out of 500 recreational cyclists, 85 percent reported one or more overuse injury, the most common being neck, knees, groin, buttocks, hands and back.
A Devastating Fall
Julia Klubuk of Barnstable is a member of several bike clubs. She was participating in the Last Gasp ride from Sandwich to Provincetown in 2015 when she crashed and was run over by other riders. She suffered thoracic spinal fractures of five vertebrae, was in a brace for 12 weeks and underwent extensive physical therapy with Soares.
“I had zero upper body movement,” Klubuk said. “The goal was to just function again, resume regular activities, and then, hopefully, riding. It took many months, but I’m back on the bike.”
When Klubuk returned to cycling she discovered the injuries had shortened her height by an inch. Her position on the bike was different, requiring Soares to do a major re-fit.
“Her understanding of some of my physical limitations, and then how to make modifications to the bike was very important,” Klubuk said.
Soares offers clients a personal screening, including assessment of flexibility and range of motion, and then incorporates that into an individualized bike fit.
“The great thing about a bicycle is everything – handlebars, seat, anything you come in contact with – can be adjusted to meet specific needs,” she said.
Soares emphasized that a bike fit should not be one and done.
“People buy a bike, get a basic fit at the shop, and then ride it forever,” she said. “But bike fitting should be part of regular maintenance and done every few seasons, especially if you’ve had any injuries or your goals are different. Your geometry on the bike can change depending on your fitness and how you ride.”
To get ready for the season, preparing both body and bike are equally important, according to Soares. Work on flexibility exercises, back and neck stretching, core strengthening, including quadriceps, hamstrings and hips, and cardiovascular endurance, she said.
Fatigue can lead to postural strain, causing spinal and shoulder discomfort and progressing to a chronic condition if not treated. Professional guidance from a physical therapist or athletic trainer is recommended to ensure exercises are done properly.
To be fitted correctly, there are specific measurements and optimal angles for each individual. But what Soares calls “a golden fit” is only relevant if taken with consideration to the rider’s physical condition.
Before riding, a check-up of brakes, tire inflation, cables and chain is important to make sure everything is in working order.
Soares’ safe-training guidelines include:
- Begin slowly and work toward your goals.
- Start on flat terrain and be careful how quickly you increase mileage. For the first few months, she recommends adding no more than five miles or 20 minutes of riding per week.
- Some discomfort is likely as you get re-acclimated to your bike, but listen to your body, especially if pain persists. Seek professional help to check your bike fit. Early diagnosis will help avoid long-term problems.
“You can develop conditions on the bicycle and they may not continue when you get off,” Soares said. “But if left untreated they can progress to a chronic condition and you’ll still have a problem when you’re off the bike. Most postural strain issues can effectively be managed with bike fitting.
“The goal is to help you be more comfortable and enjoy riding,” Soares said.