Want Wheel Joy?

Fit Your Body to Your Bike

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Whether you’re communing with nature or commuting to work, riding a bicycle works on your body the way a good rain soaks the earth. Riding pumps muscles, builds strength and burns calories. Bikes are fun, energizing and provide a terrific way to play with family or friends.

Bike riding is also a healthy way to self-medicate. Next time you’re feeling blue, or anxious, jump on your bike for a 30-minute spin and watch how your mojo gets going when your mind, your body and your breath change gears and synchronize.

Riding your bike won’t leave you feeling drugged and drowsy, and the most common side effects are a calmer brain, stronger legs and a renewed sense of well-being.

ARE YOU READY TO ROLL? Safety first. Start with the tires. Does the rubber look good? Is the tread intact? Check your spare, too. And your pump. You do carry a pump, right? Is it working? Working brakes are also a must, so check before you wreck. If yours are low or sticky, have them fixed or replaced.

CHECK YOUR WHEELS AND CHAIN. Clean your hubs and spokes from time to time. As you wipe away the dirt, make sure your spokes are secure at both the rim (the top) and the hub (the middle). If any spokes seem loose, take your bike to a professional to have the spokes trued, or tightened. If you have a spoke wrench and a willingness to try, you can flip your bike upside down, spin the wheel to see if it’s off kilter and learn the art of wheel truing yourself.

Me? I take it to my local bike shop pro—an adorable kid with thighs the size of watermelons.
Cleaning your chain is a snap. To remove the dirt and grime, spray bike cleaner on the chain and gently wipe it off with a rag. Then spray it again, lightly, with bike shop solvent so the chain is left clean, but slightly oiled.

ADJUST YOUR BODY TO YOUR BIKE. This is crucial. Please pay attention. If your body doesn’t fit your bike, you are an injury waiting to happen. Cranky knees? Screaming lower back? Sore behind? These can all develop if you don’t take a few minutes to make sure you and your bike are a good fit.

To set your bike up correctly:

Raise or lower your seat post so that, at the bottom of your downstroke, your knee is slightly bent. When I ride, I always notice people—especially kids—riding with the seat way too low. I can almost feel them grinding out their knees. It’s painful to watch, unless you specialize in knee replacements.

Adjust your reach across the top of your bike so your body is stretched out for easy (and efficient) breathing, but not so stretched out you strain your back. It’s a delicate balance. The adjustment points are the height of the stem post and the forward or backward positioning of the seat.

A general guideline is to put your elbow at the edge of the saddle and lean your arm down toward the handlebars. You should be able to touch the handlebars with your fingertips.
Riding with upright handlebars feels more comfortable and is fine for everyday cycling, but if you’re riding competitively or for long distances, racing handlebars (in the rolled-under position) are more energy efficient.    

YOUR SADDLE: Your saddle should be parallel to the ground, not nose up or nose down. Wider, softer saddles may seem comfy for short hauls, but over the long run the narrower saddles create less friction, especially the ones with open space between your cheeks.

Position your saddle forward or backward so that when you pedal, your knee is directly over the center of your pedal when your knee is fully bent.

WEAR YOUR HELMET: Riding without a helmet is always tempting, and never smart. Choose a solid, hard-shelled (not Styrofoam!) helmet that fits you well—not too large, too small or too loose. If the inside foam is dry or brittle, time for a new one. And ride with it squarely on your head, not tilted back. Looking cool isn’t as important as keeping your brain intact.

“Converting calories into gas, a bicycle gets the equivalent of 3,000 miles per gallon.”

Marilynn Preston—healthy lifestyle expert, well being coach and Emmy-winning producer—is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website, marilynnpreston.com, and welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. She also produces EnExTV, a digital reincarnation of her award-winning TV series about sports, fitness and adventure, for kids of all ages, at youtube.com/EnExTV and facebook.com/EnExTV. © 2017 ENERGY EXPRESS LTD.—Bill Strickland

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