Amputee Bicycling: How to Get Started
Bicycling, or simply cycling, is popular among many amputees primarily because it’s easy on the knees and ankle joints. It’s good for increasing heart health and muscle strength, as well as developing coordination and balance. Cycling is also an excellent, low-impact method to increase the range of motion in the knees and hips.
Before getting started on a new activity, we recommend checking with your primary care physician first. He or she can check for possible medical conditions, especially concerning the joints, heart, and circulatory system.
Next, set an appointment with your prosthetist to ensure that your current prosthesis can cope with the repetitive pedaling motions. Although most modern prostheses are designed to endure different stressors, adjustments are necessary, especially with the alignment.
If both your doctor and prosthetist have given you the go-signal, but you’re still unsure if biking is for you, visit your neighborhood gym or local prosthetic shop and try riding a stationary bike. Ride at a moderate pace for five minutes. This can help you decide if bicycling is right for you.
Once you’ve decided to pursue cycling, you need to set yourself up for success and ensure safety. We’ve outlined a few things below that can help you better prepare for your new sport:
Choosing the right bike for you
Bicycles can be costly, but if you’re ready to invest in a good name brand, do so. If you prefer to look for low-cost options, you can check out discount stores and even second-hand shops. Many of these bikes won’t come with all the shiny features similar to high-end ones, but as long as it’s functional, cheaper bikes can offer several years of riding.
Choosing a bicycle seat
Hardcore riders, such as dedicated mountain bikers, are particular about the bicycle seats. This is because rough road cycling can be quite uncomfortable on a standard bicycle seat. Otherwise, the seat that comes with your bike will likely serve you just fine.
What to wear for a ride
The right clothing can elevate your biking experience. Most amputees like to wear shorts while biking. However, if you prefer loose pants, we recommend securing the pant leg near the ankle with a rubber band. This prevents the fabric from getting caught in the chain.
Don’t forget to get a helmet. These are available in bike shops, discount stores, or sporting goods stores.
Personalize your pedals
Lower-limb amputees often have problems with the placement of their prosthetic feet on the pedals. Prosthetic feet tend to slip, which can make the experience frustrating.
You can secure your foot on the pedal with a toe clip. Slip the front part of your shoe into the clip, and proceed with your ride.
A DIY solution involves Velcro strips. Put a strip of Velcro on to the pedal, then wrap another around your foot. The Velcro strip will adhere to the other once your foot comes in to contact with the pedal. This is enough to prevent your foot from slipping.
Another solution is to buy special pedals with matching cycling shoes that clip into the pedal. You often see these in spinning studios. However, getting used to the clips takes time, and a lot of practice. Choose a safe area where you can practice clipping in and out of the pedal.
Prosthetic foot alignment
One more thing, ask your prosthetist if your foot can be adjusted. Walking and biking require different alignments. Most prostheses are aligned with the foot slightly toed out—the proper alignment for walking. Adjusting the prosthetic foot to toe-in makes it more efficient for pedaling. If you’re confident enough, your prosthetist can teach you how to adjust your foot yourself using an Allen wrench. Ideally, you can add marks on your pylon that designates one for cycling and the other for walking.You don't have to give up on the activities that you love. As long as you work alongside your healthcare team to monitor any health issues and practice moderation, you can enjoy bicycling.