Spin It To Win It

"You've got to “Spin it to Win it.” …Lance Armstrong was the cyclist who started the trend of the higher cadence when he won the Tour de France. Well at least he brought it to the attention of the casual rider and spectator. As a result, cyclists today are spinning a high cadence, 90 to 100 revolutions per minute, whether riding on the flats or going up a climb. The higher revolutions keep your legs feeling fresher because a lighter resistance can be pushed. But it adds up to multiple repetitions of flexing and extending your knee, from 8,000 on a weekend spin to over 30,000 in a stage of a professional bike race.

Cycling in general, is much less stressful to the knees than many other activities as there is significantly less impact involved--in fact many professional cyclist have started cycling after a career as competitive runner or skier. However, knee injuries can occur, though they usually can be addressed with simple changes in technique, fit or equipment.

Often times the first nice day of the year signals it's time to dust off the bike and hit road. Unfortunately going from no riding all winter, to fast laps around Reeds Lake may cause some aches and pains. Ensure the first few rides of the year are taken slower and pay attention to not push too hard of a gear. In fact every ride should start with a short period of lower intensity riding to get the legs “warmed up.” Start your ride at a slower pace and ease into a higher speed. Stretching after warming up and after the end of the ride is always a great idea. A few minutes of standing hamstring, quadriceps and calf stretches will keep your legs feeling better.

If you have been good about stretching and warming up, but still experience some discomfort during or after a ride it might be a good idea to seek professional help. A bike that is properly fitted to your dimensions can be crucial in alleviating persistent knee pain. A saddle set too high or too low, too far forward or aft can all cause pain. Pedals that do not allow a natural placement of the foot or keep the feet out too wide can also cause discomfort.  A bike that is too large might yield too great a reach or a crank length that places too much strain on the knee. Additionally a good bike shop should help you find what else you need to make the rest of your ride more enjoyable, from bike shorts and gloves for extra padding to the appropriate tires and tubes for the conditions you encounter.

In general, cycling should be a fun activity and a pain free way to spend some time exercising outdoors. Whether you want to go fast on the road, cruise on on a trail or just ride around the neighborhood to get ice cream, a few easy steps can ensure that this can be done pain free for years to come. For more information on Grand Rapids' trails and area maps click here.

Chris Boer is a Physical Therapist and sometimes competitive cyclist with the EPS cycling team. Sponsors include EPS Security, River Valley Orthopedics, Specialized Bikes, and Village Bike Shop.