Friday, May 16, was Bike-to-Work Day. It was a reminder that bicycling safety means more than minding the traffic. A thought to ergonomics when buying a bicycle buys significant protection from some of the health risks associated with regular biking. These include stressed muscles and joints, tendon inflamation, nerve pinching, circulation restriction and vibration-related disorders.
The process begins with fitting the bike to the rider and the rider’s performance needs, not the other way around. A good fit delivers better and safer performance with less fatigue. The rider will be able to fine tune the machine to his or her proportions and needs if the seat and handlebars – particularly the height and angle – can be adjusted precisely. Studies show a well designed gear system can help reduce soft tissue and other damage associated with pedalling. Shock absorbers and gel seat covers are among the ways of reducing the impact of vibration.
An interview on Bike-to-Work-Day in Florida’s NewsPress newspaper highlighted a lesser-known risk. North Carolina physician Jim Parker cited studies that showed about three hours a week astride a traditional road bike seat led to a significantly increased risk of sexual dysfunction in men and numbness in women. The problem stems from nerves and blood vessels in the perineum being squished against a traditional bike saddle.
Parker, and thousands of other cycling enthusiasts have found relief in bikes and bicycle seats that are ergonomically designed to reduce the pressure. According to the article, some believe they have found the answer in recumbent bikes – nicknamed bents – the low slung elongated bicycles or tricycles that position the rider with the tailbone under the body. The pedals are at or near knee height, so the bicyclist is pedaling in front of the body.
Bent bicycles have a disadvantage. On hills, the rider doesn’t have body weight over the pedals to help drive the machine up the gradient, so selecting the right gearing for the bike is critical. An well-designed gear system is particularly important with recumbent bikes.
Typically, bent bicycles have much larger, padded seats with backrests that take the pressure off shoulders, wrists and hands – three of the main points of support on traditional road bikes. And riders of bents also don’t have to crane their necks upward to see the road.
For riders of the more traditional bicycles, some makers offer seats they describe as "no pressure." And hornless seats show promise for reducing pressure on the perineum. These are twin pad with a gap between instead of the elongated ridge and horn of a typical wishbone-shaped seat. A reviewer writing on a shopping site about one hornless model noted that the seat "completely relieves groin area pressure." The model was inwardly and outwardly adjustable, and the density of the padding could be selected to be appropriate for body weight.
The purpose of Bike-to-Work Day was to remind people of the health benefits of regular bicycling. These – a stronger heart and lungs – are what make the extra effort of thinking ergonomics when choosing a bike all the more worthwhile.
Source: NewsPress; Schwinn; Tesco; Amazon