Back to bike riding? Watch your back

From the Chiropractic Society of Rhode Island

“It’s like riding a bicycle”. How many times have we heard or used that expression? Yet if you have been away from bike riding for a long period of time, getting back in the saddle can have some repercussions on your body, particularly your back, if your bike is not set up properly.

The most important part of getting back to bike riding is finding a bike that fits you. The size of the frame you choose is dictated by your leg length, not your actual height. To find the right size, straddle the bike with both feet flat on the ground. There should be an inch or two of clearance between your crotch and the bike frame.

You also want to be sure your saddle or bicycle seat is positioned correctly. To determine that, have someone hold the bike while you sit on it. Rotate your pedals until horizontal in the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock positions. If your saddle is positioned properly, your forward knee should be directly over the respective pedal axle (with the ball of your foot on the pedal). If you need to adjust the seat, needed, loosen the seat post and slide the saddle forward or backward, keeping the seat level.

You always want your seat to be level. You may want to check this periodically. You can do so by using a carpenter’s level balanced on the saddle while the bike is on level ground. An unlevel saddle tips you too much in either direction and that places pressure on your arms, shoulders, and lower back.

Finally, there’s handlebar position and distance. Handlebar setup is a matter of personal preference because it will affect shoulder, neck, and back comfort. Generally, handlebars are positioned higher for comfort (a more upright riding position) and lower for improved aerodynamics. If you are having issues with your back, upright might be the preferred way to go.

If you’re unsure, most bike shops will help you position your seat and handlebars appropriately. If you’re presently seeing a chiropractor, you may also want to bring your bike to next appointment and ask your doctor for his/her advice. Also, if you are really concerned about what bike riding might do, try a recumbent bicycle, which is more biomechanically aligned to allow for minimal stress on the back and knees.

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