the early 1900s, cycling was one of the more popular ways
to get around town. Ironically, cyclists clamoring for improved
roads helped set the stage for the automobile, which relegated
the bicycle back to where it started: as a recreational mode
cycling is more than just fun. It's an extremely efficient
way to keep in shape and improve cardiovascular fitness. More
than 100 million Americans still ride for pleasure on occasion.
In New York City alone, 100,000 people cycle to work each
bicycle was not invented by one single person, but was gradually
developed throughout Europe beginning in the late 1700s. Invention
of steering, the wheel crank, and the chain-and-pedal system
is attributed to various Europeans.
important American contribution came in 1889, when John Dunlop
developed the first air-filled tires; in 1898, the first coaster
brake brought the bicycle into the modern age.
Feet's Link to the Pedals
selecting a bicycle that meets your specific needs, proper
shoes are the most important piece of cycling equipment. Cycling
shoes must have a stable shank to efficiently transfer power
from your feet to the pedals. The lack of shank support in
sneakers allows the foot to collapse through the arch while
pedaling, which may cause arch pain, tendon problems, or burning
under the bottom of the foot. A rigid shank protects your
feet from the stress of pedaling.
in a cycling-specific shoe is a good idea if you have had
preexisting problems with your feet or wear orthotic shoe
inserts. Most orthoses control the arch and heel, and for
cycling, usually require critical forefoot balancing. Riders
with mild bunions or hammertoes should select a wider, deeper
shoe that will accommodate the deformity.
a shoe that's right for you among models designed for racing
and mountain biking. For the casual rider without known foot
problems, cross-training shoes provide the necessary support
across the arch and instep in a shoe that can be used for
other purposes. They also provide the heel lift that cycling
shoes give. Combination cycling-hiking shoes meet the needs
of the casual rider well, and have recently become popular.
use of toe clips, and their degree of sophistication, begin
to separate the casual rider from the more serious devotee.
Toe clips range from traditional clips to newer shoe-cleat
ensembles -- "clipless systems" -- that resemble ski bindings.
Many companies model their units on the French manufacturer
LookŠ. A Look-compatible unit will offer the most diverse
combinations of shoes and clips from which to choose.
shoes and clips or cleats working as a unit are important
to achieve maximum efficiency in transferring power generated
by the hips to the foot. For most efficient pedaling, shoes
should extend fully under the ball of the foot.
the study of external forces on the living body, plays a crucial
role in efficient, satisfying cycling. For example, when seated
on a bike with hands on the handlebars, the hands, shoulders,
and front axle should all be in line.
enhancing the biomechanics of the foot, podiatric physicians
specializing in sports medicine can improve the mechanical
functions of related body parts. If, for example, an experienced
cyclist's knees hurt after a 30-mile ride, the problem may
be a biomechanical imbalance. A podiatric physician can alleviate
the pain by correcting that imbalance through prescription
orthotic shoe inserts. Training and conditioning methods should
also be evaluated.
preclude pain before it starts, podiatrists advise stretching
the major muscle groups used in cycling -- the gluteals, the
quadriceps, calves, and hamstrings -- before and after getting
on the bike. Riders should start slowly and work up to normal
cadence, or rate of pedaling. The seat is at the proper height
when knees are slightly flexed and hips are over the knees.
recommend the use of a pulse monitor for a cycling-based training
regimen. Some models strap around the chest, while smaller
units wrap around the wrist or the thumb and display the pulse
rate as you ride.
your podiatrist about an appropriate pulse rate while you
ride. Usually, the same criteria applies as with running:
your pulse should be 60-70 percent of the maximum for efficient
day, podiatrists treat cyclists who have sustained overuse
injuries by pushing themselves beyond their limitations. Here
are some of the most common cycling injuries and their causes.
As with all athletic injuries, pain that is persistent indicates
a need to seek treatment from a sports medicine specialist
familiar with cycling injuries.
Pain: Some intrinsic knee problems like swelling, clicking,
or popping should be immediately evaluated by a sports medicine
specialist. Cartilage irritation or deterioration, usually
under the kneecap, can be caused by a biomechanical imbalance,
improper saddle height, or faulty foot positioning on the
pedals. Riding in too high a gear, too far uphill, or standing
on the pedals all may aggravate the problem. Cleated shoes
or touring shoes with ribbed soles that limit side-to-side
motion can cause knee pain if the knees, feet, and pedals
Splints: Pain to either side of the leg bone, caused
by muscle or tendon inflammation. This may be related to a
muscle imbalance between opposing muscle groups in the leg.
It is commonly related to excessive foot pronation (collapsing
arch). Proper stretching and corrective orthoses for pronation
can help prevent shin splints.
Tendinitis: Irritation and inflammation of the tendon
that attaches to the back of the heel bone can be caused by
improper pedaling, seat height, lack of a proper warmup, or
overtraining. This condition is usually seen in more experienced
riders, and can be treated with ice, rest, aspirin, or other
anti-inflammatory medications. Chronic pain or any swelling
should be professionally evaluated.
Sometimes known as the "ball bearings of the foot," the sesamoids
are two small bones found beneath the first metatarsal bones;
the sesamoids can inflame or rupture under the stress of cycling.
Sesamoiditis can be relieved with proper shoe selection and
Impingement of small nerve branches between the second and
third or third and fourth toes can cause swelling that results
in numbness, tingling, or burning, or sharp shooting pains
into the toes. Wider shoes, or loosening toe straps or shoe
laces can alleviate the problem. If the problem persists,
try a clipless system.
or tingling with leg pain may represent a serious problem
known as "acute compartment syndrome," which requires immediate
a successful cycling regimen frequently results in the desire
to match skills with others. There are four categories of
competitive cycling. Category I denotes world-class competition
-- with conditions and strategies an average cyclist would
not be able to navigate. Category II is also advanced, and
employs such techniques as drafting, and involves certain
"courtesies" of cycling etiquette.
III and IV offer opportunities for fit cyclists to go out
and test their mettle against other enthusiasts of the sport.
No special equipment is required, only the desire to compete
and an adequately trained, biomechanically tuned body. See
your local bike shop for schedules of races in your area.
As with all competition, start at a low level and work your
way up the categories. Remember, put safety first, and enjoy
beginning any exercise program, be sure to check with your
American Podiatric Medical Association operates a toll-free
telephone service, 1-800-FOOTCARE (1-800-366-8227),
from which consumers can obtain informative literature on
a variety of foot health topics. The American Academy of Podiatric
Sports Medicine, an affiliate of APMA, may be reached at 1-800-438-3355.
in cooperation with the American Academy of Podiatric Sports