Getting to Ride Again: Getting back on a Bicycle as an Amputee

With the great weather upon us, riding a bicycle is an activity that amputees can easily enjoy providing a good cardio workout and enjoy the neighbourhoods. An easy ride around the neighbourhood is a great low-impact activity that is easy on the joints, helps increase muscle strength, helps you develop coordination and balance.

Below are a few tips to get you back on the bicycle this summer:

***Disclaimer*** By participating in any exercises described below, you are in agreement that you do so at your own risk, are voluntarily practicing these activities, assume all risk of injury to yourself, and agree to release and discharge Amputee Coalition of Toronto and it’s authors from any and all claims or causes of action, known or unknown, arising out of Amputee Coalition of Toronto and it’s author’s negligence. Check with your rehabilitation team before performing these exercises or using the items described below.

Check with your primary care and prosthetists

It is always a good idea to check with your primary care provider including physiatrist, physical therapist and prosthetist before starting a new activity. They can check for possible medical conditions including joint health, heart and vascular issues that you should be aware of before starting the activity. It’s just good to get an overall health check to make sure you are healthy enough to ride a bike.

Next, check with your prosthetist to make sure that your prosthesis set up can take the repetitive pedaling or cycling motions. It is also a good idea to ask them what you should watch out for during or after cycling with regards to socket fit, skin friction, redness, blisters and so on to make sure your residual limb stays healthy. They may also check alignment of your prosthesis to make sure it is optimized for riding a bike. For upper limb riders, they may check the how the straps and belts fit in the riding position.

Try a stationary bike

Once you’ve been given an “all clear” and healthy to ride a bike, try out a stationary bike at your local community centre that offers a gym access or your own gym if you belong to one. You can also ask your physiotherapist if you can try a stationary bike at their rehab clinic or rehab centre. This will give you an opportunity to feel what it would be like to pedal and more importantly, your riding pace so that you do not overwork your heart on your first ride. Ride the stationary bike for a few minutes at a moderate pace and increase it gradually to a comfortable cadence. Do not go into a race speed as that is a tumble waiting for a place to happen once you are on the road. Learn your safe pace to enjoy the ride while being safe.

What you’ll need

  •  A bike. If you already have a bike prior to your amputation, you can likely ride the same bike. If  you do not own a bike, shop around and ask friends who ride about their bikes and their experiences with different bikes.Bike cost vary from as little as $200 for low cost ones (usually your sport store or department store brand bikes) to thousands of dollars for high-end specialty ones. Decide on the type of riding and where you will ride the bike before choosing a bike. Visit a bike shop in your local neighbourhood and have them measure you for a bike. Many shops offer this service for free and can make recommendations on bikes and bike parts that would be good for the bike you want to ride. But don’t get caught up on the fanciest bike for your first bike. As long as it is functional, light enough that you can carry it, the right size for you and the right bike for the riding you want to do – a cheap bike can give you several seasons of riding. Once you get more comfortable riding a bike and you are finding you are riding more and could really benefit for a more custom bike, then invest in an expensive bike.
  • A helmet. Safety first! Whether or not it is regulated in your neighbourhood to wear helmet, wear one anyway for your own safety. You just never know when a fall can happen especially during the first few times you get on the bike. In addition to learning how to fall safely, a good bike helmet just adds more security and protection. Go to your local sports store that sell bike helmets. Make sure the helmet fits your head and it fits well, and that it is easy to put on and take off. There are many options out there and many styles. Pick one that both protects and speaks to your personality!
  • Comfortable clothing. You don’t have to get fancy on your first few rides. But wear clothes you’d be comfortable in. A pair of comfortable shorts would usually do but if you prefer to wear pants, make sure it will not restrict your movement pedaling and it will not get caught gears when pedaling. You can use a rubber band to secure your pant leg near the ankle to prevent the pant leg getting caught in the gear or chain.

Pedals and pedaling

Lower-limb amputees may experience problems placing their prosthetic feet on the pedals. If you are not very familiar (space-wise) where your foot is in relation to the pedal, you may experience some difficulties putting your prosthetic foot on the pedal to start pedaling the bike. Don’t get frustrated if you don’t get this right away. Overtime with practice, you will be able to know where and how far the bike pedal is in relation to your foot.

Another issue that lower-limb amputees run into is keeping the feet on the pedals. Prosthetic feed tends to slip off the pedal. Sometimes, because of your alignment, you may hit the pedal crank with your heel and your foot slides off the pedal. Again, don’t get frustrated. Overtime, you will figure out how to position your foot on the pedal that these sliding off will decrease or you will be come more aware of when you are starting to slide off that you can adjust your footing to avoid sliding off.

One solution to look is securing your feet on the pedal with matching cycling shoes that clips into the pedal. This will allow you to clip your foot into the pedal and ride more securely. Getting on and off the bike with toe clips will require time and practice. Practice in a safe area first before going on the road with clip on shoes and pedal to make sure you can get in out and of the clip safely.

Handlebars and upper limb attachments

There are various cycling aids and attachments that are available for upper-limb amputees depending on the type of handlebar you will use on your bike. Some upper-limb amputees use special sockets, or semi-sockets or even bar attachments directly on the bike’s handlebar to steer, balance the bike or use the breaking devices. It is best to see your prosthetist to see whether you need an attachment or to modify the bike’s handlebars for your use. You may need to take it to a bike shop to modify the handlebar.

Riding a bike can be very rewarding in many ways. It could be an activity that you can do with your family and friends or an activity to change up your exercise routine. It takes some practice and requires minimal adapting to get comfortable but definitely worth the effort. With the warmer weather upon us, riding a bike is a great alternative for enjoying the outdoors. And as they say “it’s just like riding a bike”… you never really forget how.

Just be safe!

 

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