July 9, 2014
joe commuter

Bringing you tips on bike commuting from one dedicated rider in Portland.

“The tired drudge of a clerk or book keeper, after being on his feet all day, does not relish such a prescription for his dyspepsia as a ‘long walk,’ but he can ride a wheel and enjoy it, and at the same time promptly cure his dyspepsia.”

The quote is from one George S. Brown, M.D., arguing the case for bicycle commuting in 1896 in the pages of the Journal of the American Medical Association.  “The great advantage which the wheel has over all other modes of exercise is the pleasure it affords,” Brown asserted.  “The therapeutic value of fun is, I think, undisputed.”

The good doctor was responding to the Journal’s editors, who were scandalized by the sanitary and moral dangers they expected to follow from the newfangled fad of two-wheeled transport and “the hideous humpbacked caricatures which professional wheelmen and their multitudes of imitators make of themselves.” Bicycling men, they warned, were doomed to irritability of the bladder, congestion of the prostate, “and ultimately atrophy of the testes.” And that danger was “small beside that suffered by young women” who “can not be suspended on the summit of a wedge without injury to the structures above, and deformation of the pelvis.”


Photo credit: www.cyclesdeoro.com

Obviously Brown won that debate. But it is true that cycling can cause overuse injuries, especially if you ride long distances every day. To prevent overuse injuries, it’s important to start with choosing a bike that’s the right size for your body, and then to fine tune the saddle and handlebars adjustments to optimize the fit. These basic tips from American Family Physician and the League of American Bicyclists are a good starting point:

Frame size: When you stand straddling the bicycle, your crotch should clear the frame by 1 to 2 inches (3 to 6 inches for mountain bikes).

Saddle: Use a saddle that’s wide enough to support your “ischial tuberosities,” a.k.a. your butt bones. Adjust the height so that your knee is bent at a 25 to 30 degree angle when the pedal is at 6 o’clock position. Or try this formula: measure your inseam length in centimeters, multiply it by 0.883, and use that length for the distance from the top of the saddle to the middle of the bottom bracket (where the pedal crank rotates in the frame). Either way, make sure you are not rocking back and forth across the seat when pedaling. Adjust the tilt of the saddle to level or slightly elevated at the front.


Handlebars: For performance, set the height about 1 to 2 inches below the top of the saddle on mountain bikes and road bikes with traditional drop bars. But for comfort in a more upright position, height is a matter of personal preference. The bars should be wide enough that you can grip them at about shoulder width.

Foot position on pedal: Neutral, toes not pointing up or down. The ball of your foot should sit over the middle of the pedal.