Common cyclists' ailments

Common cyclists' ailments

Many cycling ailments are due to a bad position on the bike. There are numerous formulas to find the correct riding position but these do not account for individual differences. Your local bike shop may be able to help. To help avoid the worst scenarios, this article outlines some of the most likely problems and ways to prevent them.

Here are a few ailments common to cyclists, together with possible ways to avoid or correct them:

Saddle sores are the bane of many cyclists. Buy good quality cycling shorts. These usually come with an artificial chamois insert (you should never wear underwear with cycling shorts as the chamois should be next to the skin to help stop chafing). Shorts come in many styles: bibshorts, shorts that finish at the waist and there are also lycra shorts cut specifically for women-specific.

Use a chamois cream (buy from a bike shop) or nappy rash cream, which can be cheaper and more easily available. Shorts must be washed every day to avoid any infection (caused by the bacteria which may be merrily breeding in all the sweat and dirt).


Choice of saddle is key
Saddle positionThen comes your choice of saddle. There are many styles out there. Broad or narrow, padded or unpadded, so-called 'suspension' saddles, traditional styles and many now have cutaway holes in the centre. Material range from a sheer carbon fibre shell (only for those who feel no pain!) to generously gel-padded and sprung saddles (particularly useful to anyone who might have prostrate problems). The last decade has also seen tremendous growth in the range of 'women's' saddles in the market, too.

Visit a reputable cycle shop where someone will give you good advice, but do note that your backside is a very personal thing. The saddle that suits one rider may not be ideal for you. Don't be afraid to use a saddle marketed for a different purpose if that suits you. Some female cyclists prefer regular gents' racing saddles, and some men find that they are more comfortable on women's touring saddles! The shape of the saddle is more important than how padded it is.

Once you have chosen your saddle, you must then position it. This is where your friend the coach comes in again. He or she can help set the saddle at the correct height and also adjust it forwards or backwards to suit your riding style. As a good rule of thumb, your kneecap should be over the forward pedal axle when the cranks are horizontal; the saddle should also be horizontal, only varying slightly up or down at the nose. (Women often prefer a slight downward tilt to their saddle). All this should put you in a relaxed position where you are not fighting the bike.

Aching wrists are mainly due to either the saddle being too far forward or the saddle pointing down at the nose, both of these can cause you to support more of your body weight through your wrists. As with saddle soreness and many cycling ailments this can be alleviated by a good relaxed position on the bike. If in doubt, set the saddle further back for a more relaxed position. However, do check the overall height of the saddle if you adjust the fore and aft position this should support your body weight more squarely in the saddle leaving the wrist and arms relaxed on the handlebars.

Saddle too high, misaligned shoe cleats, over use and cold weather are a few causes of sore knees

Neck and backache - First of all check your saddle position. If this is okay, the next step is to check your stem length and the position of your handlebars. If the stem is too long, you will be over-stretched. If it's too short, you will be cramped and sitting too upright with too much of your body weight falling to your lower back. This can be a major problem if the road or trail is rough, as it will cause too much shock up your spine. With a stem the correct length and height on a road bike your hands should fall comfortably to the handlebars and brake levers.

Saddle too high, misaligned shoe cleats, over use and cold weather are a few causes of sore knees. If your saddle is too high this can cause a strain on the tendons surrounding the knees. The easiest starting position is to sit on your bike and place a pedal at its lowest position in line with the seat tube. Place your heel on the pedal (in shoes) and your leg should be straight. Pedal backwards and your pelvis should sit squarely on the saddle without rolling or rocking from side to side. Once set, place your foot normally on the pedal (ball of the foot over the pedal spindle) and there should be a slight bend in your leg when pedal is in same position.

Cleat position is more difficult to recommend. First of all, they need to be positioned so the ball of foot is over pedal axle. Then set them squarely to the sole of the shoe. Now ride your bike a little way (or better still, use a turbo trainer). Do the cleats need moving? If they do, it will feel like your heel is either pushing in or out against the pedal, it might only take a minute movement to get it right. Check this on the road or trail on short journey before you embark on a long ride. Alternatively, you can buy a pedal system that allows natural movement (float) of the feet and knees. Then the only thing you have to do is set the ball of foot over pedal axle!

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