By Dr. Alan J. Stoughton, Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician
Now that spring is upon us we get a few sunny, dry days when it feels great to get out and ride a bit. Freedom from the trainer dungeon, some fresh air away from the spin class, or maybe just reacquainting yourself with your bike again–any reason is a perfect reason to get out and ride! But unfortunately, it’s not always as simple as hopping on your bike and pedaling. I mean…..it is literally that simple, but here are a few tips to make your ride more enjoyable, safe, and to prevent injury on these glorious, sunny islands in a sea of cold and snow.
Protect Your Knees
It feels great to get a little sun and start working on those kit-tans, but winter-spring is not the time. Many cyclists think that because their legs are in a constant state of motion, that they will generate heat and stay warm. However, our skin offers very little protection against the elements when the weather drops below 60 degrees F. Our patellar tendons are out cutting the wind like the hood ornament of a car, and a thin layer of skin is not going to insulate that. Wear knee warmers, tights, knicker bibs, or whatever you can to keep your knees warm. It will prevent injury by insulating and keeping the tendons/ligaments/muscles warm as they work in the cold.
Get A New Bike Fit
Over the last few months, whether you’ve been riding indoors, weight training, skiing, or just lounging on the couch in an extended holiday-season binge, your muscle length has changed. Tighter hamstrings, shortened hip flexors, weaker core, beer gut covering said core, etc., these can all affect the fit of your bike when you hop back on. Been riding all winter and still a beast? Does your trainer mimic flat ground? Trainers are often stuck in one position the entire winter. When you get on the road, you’ll find yourself in a variety of different positions as the road points up and down along the route. One thing I’ve noticed since moving to CO from Illinois, and that is that the road is never flat for too long.
Don’t Descend Like a Bat Outta Anywhere
As painful as it is to admit, the roads are not cleared off in the winter with cyclists in mind. In fact, the work they do to clear the streets for cars could only be worse for cyclists if they threw down tacks. The shoulders are mostly non-existent, and what little is left is usually heavily covered with sand/gravel. On the nice days, there is snow-melt that contributes to wetting the roads and causing debris to stick to our wheels. This can eventually work its way in through the rubber and pierce the tube. I shouldn’t have to remind anyone to ride with spare tubes, but do be aware the road conditions are not what you remember from your last fall ride. Be especially cautious when descending, as the gravel can make for very dangerous conditions.
These are just a few recommendations from personal experience, both riding and treating injured riders. Dress for the conditions, be mindful of traffic and traffic laws, notice and account for how the road has been damaged by the elements and take care to avoid these spots, wash your bike afterward to reduce erosion of your components, and most of all….HAVE FUN!