LiveSmart: Bicycling Fun – Proper Fit and Gear Make a Difference

[This piece was written by Diane Tenenbaum, MD, of St. Peter’s Children’s Health Center.]

With the arrival of the warmer weather, many people turn to their bicycles for exercise. Taking the time to ensure a proper fit for your bike and gear can make a difference between a summer of fun and a season of misery.

Before you even think about pedaling off, you need to make sure you have a bike helmet. The rule is simple: If you ride a bike, you need to wear a helmet. According to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, wearing a proper fitting, Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) certified helmet could prevent 85 percent of cyclists’ head injuries.

Most every bike helmet today is constructed of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam covered with a tough-but-thin plastic shell. The helmet works because if you suffer a crash, the foam gets crushed instead of your skull. EPS foam is single-use and it doesn’t recover from being crushed, so if you have a bad crash you need a new helmet before your next ride.

The fit of your helmet is critical for maximum effectiveness. The helmet should be low, level, and snug on your head. To get a perfect fit, put on the helmet and look in a mirror. Your helmet should sit level on your head, and the front of the helmet should cover most of your forehead.

Just as your helmet should have a good fit, so should your bike. An ill-fitting bike can lead to increased risk of injury, including knee pain, neck or lower back pain, or numbness in the hands.

For the best fit, the saddle (seat) should be level and at a height where there is a slight bend in your knee when the leg is straightened while pedaling. Also, be aware of the distance between the saddle and the handlebars. If it is too long, increased strain will be put on your lower back and neck. If the distance is too short, increased stress will be put into your neck and upper back.

Once you are on the road, remember to ride with the traffic and obey the rules of the road. Be extra cautious when riding across parking lots or driveways. Cars can pull in or out unexpectedly or back up without seeing you.

Please remember to bring plenty of water. You should also carry identification, a cell phone, an extra tire tube in case of a flat, and an air pump to reinflate the new tube. And don’t forget the sunscreen!

St. Peter’s Children’s Health Center (1092 Madison Avenue, Albany – 525-2445) offers a complete range of services for children from newborns to age 18. Services include well-child routine care, sick child exams, school and camp physicals, sports physicals, immunizations, health maintenance and education, and access to other hospital services and referrals to specialists.


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