Column 34 - Bicycles

Original publication date: April 25, 1984

Made with wooden wheels and an iron frame construction, the bicycle (or "boneshaker") of the late 1800's was the beginning of the popularity of riding bicycles for recreation and as an alternative form of transportation.

Although the idea of human motion via crank, levers and pedals originated in Scotland in 1840 with Kirkpatrick MacMillan, the actual production of bicycles was started by a Frenchman, Pierre Lallement, in 1865. The bicycle or velocipede, as it was called, was very popular even though the vibrations created from the wood and iron construction literally shook the rider to fatigue.

Bicycles, now built with lightweight metals, ball bearings, and specialized gear ratios, are still popular and widely used. As with using any machine, however, there are risks of injuries. The outer calf area, the knee, chronic soreness of the hands, and saddle sores are the most common. All the injuries are a result of buying a cheaply built bike or riding a bike that is the wrong fit.

The faults with a cheap bike are obvious. You'll spend more in maintenance and repairs than if you had bought a good bike from the start.

The bike frame, and its fit, is the most important part of the bike. To ensure that the frame on your bike is the right size, do this s1mple test. For a man's bike, straddle the bar just in front of the seat. You should be able to lift the front end of the bike so the wheel comes off the ground one inch when the bar touches your crotch. For a woman's bike, fasten a plece of string or tape where the bar on a man's bike would be, and do the same test. If the frame is too large, it will cause you to lean forward and put excess weight on your arms and excess pressure on your back.

A man's bike is more structurally sound because of the bar, and if the frame is the right size, there shouldn't be any of the unpleasant injuries which occur when a woman comes to a stop on a man's bike and slips forward off the seat.

The seat too should be a proper fit and height. While backpedalling on your bike, your knees should only be slightly bent as your feet come around to the bottom. If the seat is too high, you'll strain the outer calf and knee. If it is too low, you won't be using all the strength in the legs. Women should ride on a seat which is much wider at the back to accommodate their anatomy. Because seats like this are not readily found, the only thing a woman can do is ride on a padded seat. This, and wearing clothing that covers the inside of the thigh, especially in the summer when your body gets hot and sweaty, will eliminate saddle sores and chaffing that most recreational riders complain of.

The handlebars on the bike that tilt down are recommended for distance riding as it cuts down the wind resistance. However, pain and numbness in the hand often occur when using handlebars like these. Padding on the handlebar or padded gloves may help. If only riding around town, handlebars which tilt up are best as they eliminate the risk of lower back pain. When the body is upright and erect, the bones are aligned and free of pressure.

Riding at a slow pace of six miles an hour can burn 300 calones as well as strengthen your buttocks, thighs and calves. Get your bike out of the garage and enjoy the sunshine.

Copyright 2021 K.L. McCluskey, all rights reserved.