Ask the Experts: Cycling Smart

Photo by Solana Jean

I'm buying my first road bike and I'm told I should have a professional fitting. What's involved in a fit session and am I "fit" differently as a woman?
A professional fitting helps you find the right bike positioning so you can ride stronger, longer and more comfortably, as well as avoid overuse injuries. During a session, a bike-fit specialist will focus on such things as the height, tilt and setback (forward or backward position) of the saddle. She'll examine the reach, width and brake lever placement of the handlebars, and the position of the pedals and angle of the cleat (clip-less system).

The length and cost of a fit session can range widely. A $75 to $100 one-hour fitting at a local bike shop is fine for a recreational cyclist, whereas elites or people with certain injuries may spend more than $500 for the technology and expertise of a professional training facility.

I recommend getting a dynamic--instead of static--fit. A static fit involves plugging your body measurements, like arm and leg length, into a mathematical formula to determine your bike positioning. On the other hand, during a dynamic fit, a specialist examines you in motion taking into account how you pedal, move on the saddle or grip the handlebars. In addition, a good fitting will factor in such things as your core strength and flexibility, and your cycling goals (racing, touring, cross-training).

Women aren't fit any differently than men, but you may want to get a fitting before you select a bike to see if a women-specific frame--generally with a shorter top tube, narrower handlebar and shorter-reach brake levers--would better suit you.

Also keep in mind that your strength and flexibility will change over time, so you may need to get refit periodically. There's no set rule for this; some of my professional cyclists haven't changed their position for their entire careers, while others are constantly tweaking their seat and handlebar heights. But if you find you're less comfortable on the bike than before or you're developing aches or pains, a refitting may help.

I'm a veteran runner with a history of knee pain, and I'm thinking of taking up cycling. What knee problems do cyclists commonly have and how can I avoid them?

In sports medicine we have a favorite joke: What do you call a runner with bad knees?
A cyclist.

There's some truth in this. Many runners turn to cycling for relief of knee pain. Although both cyclists and runners experience overuse injuries, biking does offer advantages over running to better avoid and treat injuries. In addition to sparing the body the constant impact that running inflicts, cycling allows you to vary the level of resistance through the use of gears, helping to reduce stress on aching hips, knees or ankles.

Perhaps the most common overuse injury in cycling is patellofemoral syndrome--pain on the front of the knee. Weakness in one of the four quadriceps muscles in the front of the thigh allows the kneecap to slip out of its groove, usually toward the outside of the knee. Patellofemoral syndrome is worse when walking or running downstairs or uphill. On a bike, riding uphill or using hard gears can exacerbate the problem.

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