May 23, 2019 by ACE Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine Institute  
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Tid Bits of Info

  • Handlebars of recreation bikes are wider for more control.
  • Rental bikes are designed for the rider to be almost upright.
  • Seat height of a rental bike should allow you to pedal comfortably without excess hip motion.
  • The low back is the second most injured body part of cyclists.
  • Seek the advice and treatment of a Physical Therapist if you develop pain in any joint after riding a rental bike.

Riding a rental bike on vacation can be a great deal of fun for family and friends, but it can also lead to injury if the bike is not properly adjusted. If you watch someone riding a rental bike at the beach, take note of their knees. If the knee comes up to the chest when the leg moves to the top of the pedal, then the bike seat is too low. If you rent a bike, don’t assume that the bike is “set” for your body.  There are some very easy ways to assess the proper height of a bike seat and almost every beach is easily adjustable.

There is an entire science behind sizing a bike for an individual, but no one is going to worry about the specifics when they are going on a fun ride on the beach. There are many problems with an improperly fitted bike seat.  The shoulders, back, and knees can be negatively affected if the seat is too low.  It pays to take 10-15 seconds and adjust the seat.

When you get your rental bike, stand next to the seat.  Your belt line should be approximately one inch above the seat.  If it is close to that level, sit on the seat. Put a pedal to the bottom of the pedal stroke. Place your heel on the center of the pedal and your knee should be fully extended (straight). No one pedals with their heel so when you slide your foot back to the proper position to pedal your knee will have a slight bend in it at the bottom of the pedal stroke. The ideal position for your knee when you are pedaling a bike (any kind) should be approximately a 10-15 degree flexion (bend). Too much flexion can lead to many knee injuries.

Too much knee flexion puts a lot of pressure on the kneecap.  When the knee flexes, the kneecap, patella, moves into the groove that it “tracks” in when the knee moves.  The quadriceps muscle group (big muscles on the front of the thigh) use the patella as a pulley system to generate force.  The most force of the muscle group can be generated at approximately 60 degrees of knee flexion.  If the flexion angle is too great, the force of the muscle contraction can cause damage to the groove, patella or lining in the joint that produces lubricating fluid for the joint.  The best way to avoid this condition is to make sure your rental bike seat is set at the proper height.

In the unfortunate event that you develop knee pain from riding a rental bike, seek the treatment of a Physical Therapist.  These licensed professionals are capable of treating the symptoms that develop when someone rides a bike and has the seat too low.  They can develop a plan that strengthens and stretches the muscles of the core and lower extremities.  Treating the symptoms usually requires the use of modalities, manual therapy, and over the counter medication that will reduce inflammation.

If you plan on riding a rental bike when you are on vacation, take the time to adjust the seat to the proper height.  Don’t assume that the rental agency has “set” the bike seat for you.  Most rental bike seats can be adjusted in a few seconds with the turn of a handle that does not require the use of a tool. Have fun on a rental bike but do it with a properly fitted seat!

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