How to get better at riding your bike

If you know me at all well, you’ll know that I’m a sports medicine geek. I’ve been physio to many a rugby, tennis and football team, and while I was studying for my postgraduate diploma, I spent many happy hours at the Olympic Medical Centre, working with athletes from many different sports. So I was super excited to read Dr Richard Freeman’s new book, The Line: Where Medicine and Sport Collide, about his time working as a doctor in professional sport.  He started in football, but became best known for his work in cycling, as head doctor to the British cycling team and Team Sky.

You may know Dr Freeman’s name from last year’s investigations into a certain notorious jiffy bag that was delivered to Sir Bradley Wiggins during the Tour de France. Freeman says this contained the legal decongestant fluimucil; though due to some unfortunate circumstances (a stolen laptop that wasn’t backed up) he wasn’t able to prove this when questions were asked during an anti-doping investigation.

While I have no inside information on the investigation, I have been involved in both amateur and professional sport (though fortunately I don’t prescribe medication, and thus am never concerned by WADA investigations!) I could certainly relate to the difficulty of writing accurate and contemporaneous notes at all times. When you have multiple athletes all wanting your attention at once, it’s tough enough to keep up with demand, let alone keeping your records straight!

In the latter half of the book, Dr Freeman focuses on giving advice to amateur riders who want to be as comfortable as possible on the bike, and to maximise performance while minimising the risk of injury.

I particularly liked his advice about getting a proper bike fitting, which is something we always recommend to our patients who have pain when they ride, or who want to take cycling more seriously. Luckily, we have a local excellent bike fitting service at Swift Cycles, just the other side of Liverpool Street Station from Victory, as they have both the latest technology and a terrific biomechanist in Jorrit van der Plaats.

However, for those not so lucky, Dr Freeman’s advice is as follows:

  • When the pedal is at the three o’clock position, ensure that the front of your knee, ball of your foot, and the spindle of the pedal are in a straight line.
  • When the pedal is in the six o’clock position, make sure the saddle height is such that your knee is bent to about 140 degrees (ie slightly bent), that you have a lower back position that you can maintain for long periods, and slightly bent elbows.
  • As you become more experienced, you may want to start raising the saddle height in order to produce more power, and tilt it downwards at the front for aerodynamic gains (professional riders have a much straighter knee – around 155 degrees – when the pedal is in the six o’clock position).

It’s not all about the bike though: your body has to function smoothly and efficiently too, and that’s something we  at Victory can help with.  Our head of performance, Helen Murawska, has developed our own bike assessment and movement rehabilitation package.  This aims to help you find your best riding position, and to ensure that you are moving symmetrically and generating power as efficiently as possible – which means having excellent flexibility, coordination and strength.

Riding well is about being at one with your bike, so your body and your bike have to be in harmony.  Optimise both (ideally with Swift Cycles to optimise your bike, and Helen to optimise your body) and you will benefit from improved performance and from a reduced risk of discomfort and injury.

If you’re really not able to get to London and get your bike and your body fitted properly, the Amazon ebook that Helen wrote in conjunction with Jorrit, Five Tips for a More Powerful Ride, may be useful – but to get the full, individual experience, and to really optimise your chances of riding well without injury, call us on 0207 175 0150 and book your bike assessment.