A proper fit will fend off many biking injuries, according to Craig Dodson of Richmond Bicycle Club. (Photo by Phong Nguyen)
Descending a hill at 60 mph with nothing but a two-wheeled tube of metal between your legs sounds hazardous, but it’s a risk some 1,000 elite cyclists will take this month, as Richmond hosts the 2015 UCI Road World Championships.
This nine-day, internationally televised event promises economic development for the city and a global audience 300 times larger than the population of Richmond. However, as with most athletic events of this magnitude, injuries are also in the forecast. And, wearing a helmet won’t always do the trick when you hit the pavement at highway speeds.
“Obviously, people fall when they’re on a bicycle,” says Gregg Hilllmar, president of the Richmond Area Bicycling Association.
VCU Medical Center is the health care provider for the competition, and Robin Manke, the center’s director of emergency management, has been a leader in figuring out what to do when the skin of expert cyclists meets the pavement of Richmond roads.
“What history shows us is the injuries that most occur during a cycle race [are] a lot of road rash, a lot of abrasions [and] some lacerations,” says Manke, who is a former trauma nurse.
While there are few injury statistics specific to professional cycling, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention documents 800 bike-related deaths and 515,000 injuries in 2010 in cyclists who were likely sent to the emergency room with the same injuries Manke and her team are preparing to treat.
Accidents aren’t the only cause of cycling injuries. Amateur cyclists are often subject to neck and lower back pain, saddle sores and tendonitis.
These injuries spawn from “what we call points of contact, which is where your body interacts with the bicycle,” Hillmar says, noting “the simplest fix for all of that is a correct bike fit.”
But what sounds like an easy, preemptive step to injury prevention is indeed complex.
“There’s certainly a whole science to bike fit which is esoteric on one hand and completely science-based on the other,“ Hillmar says, adding, “professionals dial that in to the millimeter. It is pretty amazing, some of the lengths they go to get a proper fit.”
One such professional is Craig Dodson, a former competitive cyclist whose academic and vocational pursuits are fueled by a passion for cycling. He studied movement science in graduate school, and has used his bio-mechanical expertise to fit more than 1,000 bikes.
According to Dodson, who fits bikes at Richmond Bicycle Studio and uses the earnings to fund his non-profit organization Richmond Cycling Corps, a proper bike fit is rooted in an understanding of physiology and biomechanics.
Dodson suggests working with someone who “understands the application of science to how bike and rider marry each other,” to prevent injury caused by “imbalances in the firing sequence of the muscles” and “super restricting” degrees of freedom, which are more often than not left unsolved by a poor bike fit.
Expert cyclists are not immune to the aches and twinges of muscle overuse. While some professional cyclists will travel to Richmond with a personal physician, VCU Medical Center will provide on-site physical therapists and a sports medicine clinic.
“We are also going to be looking at massage for sports injuries, and treating whatever comes to us,” Manke says.