Physical therapist has advice for STP, other distance riders

The fit of the bike, familiarity with group rides can make or break the experience

By Barbara Clements  |  HSNewsBeat  |  Updated 3:15 PM, 07.10.2015

Posted in: Healthcare

  • Bikers ride in the Seattle-to-Portland fund-raising event. Flicker | brewbooks
In the 4:30 a.m. dark July 11, about 10,000 riders will be waiting their turns to start the 36th annual Seattle-to-Portland bike ride at the University of Washington.

For many of the racers, the tour may end at the halfway point of the 202.4-mile trek, around Centralia. For others it’s a pedal-till-you-drop-push through to Portland at the end of the day. To all these riders, young and to some as old as 90, Kevin Olson, a physical therapist at the Sports Medicine Center at Harborview, has a bit of advice. 
Clare McLean
Harborview physical therapist Kevin Olson gets a bike fitting from colleague Gwen Scott.
Harborview physical therapist Kevin Olson gets a bike fitting from colleague Gwen Scott.
Or as a longtime cyclist who has pedaled the STP at least a dozen times (half of those in one single-day surge), Olson offers quite a bit of advice.

The first might not seem obvious: Watch the rider and the road ahead of you.

“People have obviously been training for this,” said Olson, who often cycles into Harborview Medical Center from his Broadview home. “But many people are not used to riding in groups like this, he added.

The maw of cyclists, especially at the race’s beginning, can be tricky for bikers to negotiate.

“You really need to practice a pace line,” he said, referring to the practice of riders riding in tight formation, wheel-to-wheel to save on air drag. While the practice conserves 20 to 30 percent more energy, one does need to trust the cyclist in front of them to signal if there is a bump or pothole in the road.

Cyclists also need to have a bike that fits them, Olson stressed. And it’s not as easy as it sounds. If the seats are too big, or the frame is too big, or too small, knee strain can result, as too much pressure it exerted on the kneecap.  Olson suggests also shifting hands on the handlebars, especially over long rides, to avoid pressure on the wrists as well as the little finger, which can go numb under uninterrupted pressure. Wearing padded gloves is helpful, as well as padded bike pants.

Make sure you pay attention to your feet as well, he added. Although weekend cyclists might use tennis shoes for casual biking, Olson advises getting biking shoes for the long rides.

“If you don’t have a solid sole, you’re going to get numbness in your feet,” he said. “Pedaling puts a lot of pressure on the soles of your feet. “

Olson will not be riding in the STP this year, but has his eye on the Tour due Blast next year, a modest 85-mile ride up Mount St. Helens. Vertical gain: 6,500 feet.
Tagged with: bicycle, sports medicine, physical therapy
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