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Are you ready to ride – selecting the right bike

One of the most important things to do when getting ready to ride is to find a bicycle that fits your body. A properly fitted bike allows your joints and muscles to work more efficiently and reduces stress that may lead to injury. The ultimate goal is to select a bike that's right for both your body and the terrain on which you'll be riding.

Touring bikes have larger, lighter frames and drop handlebars on which the rider leans forward. They're commonly used for long-distance street riding and racing. Due to their aerodynamic design, touring bikes generally create lower wind resistance, allowing the rider greater speed with less effort.

The firmer tires and more rigid frames of a touring bike produce a higher impact on the body. Specifically, the rider absorbs the jolts and bumps of the terrain, increasing the chance of riding-related muscle strains and injuries. The rider's posture on touring bikes tends to flex the lumbar (low back) spine, which can feel better for riders with certain back conditions, but may aggravate pain from disc injuries. Drop handlebars can cause some shoulder and neck tension, as well as being tough on hands. To relieve the pressure, change your hand position often and consider wearing padded gloves.

Mountain bikes have smaller frames, thicker tires and straight handlebars. The rider sits upright, which reduces pressure on the back, neck and shoulders during riding, especially if there is disc involvement. These bikes also have slack frame geometry, which allows the bike to absorb the shock of the terrain and cushions the rider from muscle strain and fatigue. A mountain bike's wider tires will grip the terrain better, but because they are heavier and have increased friction, these bikes tend to be harder to pedal. Geared for climbing and changes in terrain, mountain bikes enable riders to pedal up steep inclines at a higher cadence. Higher cadence and smaller gears decrease the effort of large leg muscles, causing less fatigue.

Hybrid bikes have become incredibly popular in recent years because they blend the best characteristics of both road and mountain bikes into a bike that is sturdy, comfortable, and fast. Ideal for both street riding and bike paths, most hybrid bikes have an upright lightweight frame, made of aluminum or steel. Handlebars are typically flat – like a mountain bike – and go straight out from the stem. The wheels on a hybrid bike combine characteristics of both road and mountain bike tires. Wider than a road bike wheel, but less bulky than those on a mountain bike, these tires offer a smooth ride on a variety of terrains. Many hybrids have front fork suspension and/or seat post suspension to absorb significant force from potholes or bumpy bike paths.

When shopping for a bike, it's a good idea to have a professional help you select the right type and fit of bicycle for your riding style. Some guidelines to use for finding a bike that fits:

  • Frame size. The bike frame size should be 65% of the rider's inseam measurement.
  • Saddle position and height. The typical bend in the knee (when the leg is in the straightest position) should be 25-30 degrees. The saddle should be relatively level.
  • Fore/aft saddle position. Place pedals at 3 and 9 o'clock. While seated on the bike, drop a plumb line from the front of the kneecap of the forward leg to the front axis of the pedal-it should hang straight. By adjusting your saddle to position the knee over the axis of the pedal, you will generate maximum power and less stress on the kneecap.
  • Reach. When positioned with elbows bent, hands on brake hoods (or mountain bike grips) and forearms parallel to the ground, the front hub should be blocked from the rider's view.
  • Handlebar/brakehood placement. Handlebars should be about the same width as the rider's shoulders. Handlebars should be set so the bottoms of the drops are parallel with the ground. Brakehoods should be set halfway down the bend of the bars so when the rider is on the hoods, forearms are relaxed and parallel with the top tube.
  • Cleat position. Center the ball of the foot over the pedal axle.

Don't forget, safety is important. Always wear a helmet!

Don't let a nagging pain or injury stop you from riding! For additional information on getting "fit" for the road or to schedule a Free Injury Evaluation*, call the Aurora Sports Medicine Hotline™ at (414) 219-7776 or (800) 219-7776.


*Due to federal law, Medicare, Medicaid and trICARE patients are not eligible for this service.
Aurora Sports Medicine Institute is part of Aurora Health Care, a not-for-profit health care provider and a national leader in efforts to improve the quality of health care.