As mud season recedes, excuses for not getting out on the bike dry up. Even if your wind trainer and cross-country skis gathered dust all winter, a bicycle with fresh lube on the chain and new air in the tires will be forgiving on your rusty joints.
Getting the kinks out is simply a matter of taking to the street or trail, according to Dr. Thomas F. Breen, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Masschusetts Medical Center in Worcester and team doctor for the Saturn bike racing team. After all, riding a bike comes back just as easily as, well, riding a bike.
"You really need to get a certain number of good base miles in. That just means spending time on the bike," Breen said. A casual rider might get back in the groove after 50 or 100 miles in the first couple of weeks of the season, while a professional racer will need 1,000 miles or more to feel competitive.
"The muscles have a certain amount of memory," Breen said, "but you sort of have to retrain your muscles to work within that range."
Stretching the quadriceps, calves and gluteal muscles before riding helps. "Stretching doesn't get the same emphasis in cycling as in other sports, which is funny because cycling does emphasize massage," Breen said.
Spinning -- pulling the pedals around and up in a circle, not just pumping them down -- is crucial. Use the same motion as if you are trying to scrape mud off your shoe, but the shoe sticks to the pedal, thanks to cleats or toe straps. Shift into easy gears to maintain a steady, fast cadence, at least 70 to 90 revolutions per minute.
"One of the biggest mistakes people make is pushing big gears too soon, getting in the big chainring and pushinng those power miles," Breen said. Spinning is easier on the knees, less tiring, better aerobic exercise and works more muscles.
Breen, who moved to the Saturn pro squad after three years doctoring the Plymouth-based IME-Healthshare team, is an intermediate (Category 4) amateur racer himself, this year with Landry's/Hot Tubes. He can often be seen on his Merlin titanium frame at the Wells Avenue training series in Newton.
He enjoys noncompetitive riding too. Every August he rides the Pan-Mass Challenge from Sturbridge to Provincetown, and this summer, to mark his 40th birthday, he plans to bike the length of Vermont.
He got right to work for Saturn when 1992 U.S. road champion Bart Bowen, one of the top talents on the automaker's team, fell in the Redlands Bicycle Classic last month in California, injuring his elbow. Breen operated on Bowen at UMass, and Bowen is back on the road this weekend at the Tour of Willamette in Oregon, getting ready for the start of the Tour DuPont next week in Delaware. Injuries aside, the buzz this year is that there is more parity between Saturn, Coors Light and a Chevrolet/LA Sheriff, the three principal domestic teams.
Since the advent of "floating" pedal systems, which allow the foot slight lateral motion while clamping the shoe to the pedal for effective spinning, Breen said, he sees fewer overuse injuries from cycling. "Cycling is generally very forgiving to the lower extremities. It's often used as rehabilitation for knee and hip injuries from other sports."
However, that can lull cyclists into a false sense of security, Breen said, and they can still overdo it. Most common are knee problems related to poor bike fit or stemming from misalignment of the foot, ankle and knee, he said.
Breen hopes to develop a cycling clinic at UMass, similar to Dr. Andrew Pruitt's practice at the Western Orthopedic Clinic in Denver, where cyclists set up their bikes on a wind trainer and are videotaped so doctors can critique their riding for injury factors.
Breen will be the featured speaker at a free seminar on biking injuries from 6:30 to 9 p.m. May 24 at New England Rehabilitation Center, 463 Worcetser Road, Framingham. Other speakers are Dr. Jerry Sobel of the New England Spine Care Center, bike mechanic Mike Hamlet from Landry's Cycling & Fitness, and North Shore physical therapist Craig Devine. To reserve a seat, call Brian J. Green (617-935-5050, ext. 1700) by May 20.
Lynne Tolman's bicycling column archives
Lynne Tolman's home page