Handlebar Horrors

Handlebar Horrors

With 3 fits in quick succession where the same cause had led to sore backs, I need to share!

With our work often retrospectively fitting cyclists who are uncomfortable, one could be forgiven for thinking that with so many cyclists arriving with sore backs, that cycling causes sore backs.

But as statisticians already know

correlation doesn’t imply causation

Cycling per se can’t possibly cause back ache/pain, otherwise as an activity, it would have a ‘government health warning’ stamped all over it.  The truth is the French health authorities prescribe cycling as a health measure, with the French in general treating any and all road cyclists like demi-gods; and whilst motorists in the UK may not want to acknowledge our existence, Boris does, as do all the governement-funded Cycle To Work Schemes out there.  So what’s going wrong?

image-2_jpg-2Well apart from the obvious poor positioning issues that could cause grief in many a joint (FIT FIRST people! FIT FIRST!), we’re seeing more and more bikes coming in having been put together with an inappropriate width handlebar … of the ‘way too narrow’ variety.  They not only look wrong, they are wrong, and it’s easily explained through basic biomechanics.

The red and yellow markings on Mr Two-Halves here, show the two sides of our Posterior Oblique Slings (POS), which connect the latissimus dorsi muscles (the broadest muscle of the back, fondly known as ‘the lats’) to the opposite buttock muscles, or ‘glutes’.  The POSs are a major influence on how we’re propelled forwards in walking and running, instigating a natural, twisting, counter-rotation movement pattern (which is an article of soap-box proportions all of its own!).

Anyway, effectively, the POS connect the inside of the upper arm bone, through not-very-stretchy fascia across the lower thoracic spine AND the entire lumbar spine (remember this), across to the opposite buttock muscles and finally onto the top of the thigh bone.

Now, visualise yourself in either road-race or time-trial position (not forgetting, there’s nothing anatomical, either in action or position, about cycling!).

It’s not good, is it?

That ‘bent forward, arms forward, knees forward & bum left behind’ zig-zag position takes both POS simultaneously into stretch.   For all practical purposes, you’ve altered the normal axial rotation of the hip and shoulder sockets … and, if you stretch too far, there’s the potential of compressing both the lumbar spine and part of the thoracic spine.  NB. The latter is part of your breathing apparatus, folks … don’t go limiting that – it’s right up there on the totem pole of priorities to get right.

An ‘over-reach’ doesn’t just come from the standard consideration of the ‘reach’ or the effective length of your bike; tuck your tail bone under and you’ve done it; bring your arms too close together and you’ve done it; have poor posture on the bike and tiny handlebars and there’s a whole world of lumbar trouble waiting for you.

The final straw for me was the 6’3″ strapping rower/triathlete unwittingly riding a 38 centre-centre handlebar, suitable only for a very small physique.

So – everyone – go get your tape measures out!

Oh, and I won’t give up the day job for a career in line drawing, don’t worry 😉