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RIGHT BIKE, ADJUSTMENTS TAKES PAIN OUT OF RIDING

I grew up riding bikes like the rest of you. In fact my life centered around a bike. It was my mode of transportation to little league, my favorite fishing hole and my friends house.

As I grew older my bike even followed me to college. However, last year I realized that I never really experienced biking until I discovered the world of mountain biking.Along with the Internet and Birkenstocks, mountain biking is here to stay.

In fact it will be an exhibition sport in the Olympic Games this summer in Atlanta, and an official sport in the 2000 Olympics.

Here are a few words of advice that will help you stay healthy as you ride your mountain bike this summer.

Fitting the bike to your body with the proper seat height, seat angle and handlebar height can help you avoid injury.

Seat height: To adjust to the proper height, sit on the bike with one heel on a pedal in its lowest position. Your knee should be straight or just slightly bent.

If your seat post does not go high enough you will need to buy a longer one. Having too low of seat will cause your knee to bend too much and creates excessive pressure behind your knee cap.

Excessive and prolonged pressure on the underside of your knee cap will cause pain, inflammation and could even lead to chondromalasia (softening of the cartilage).

Seat angle: Keep it level. Sometimes on long rides the seat may chaff your groin. This can be alleviated by tilting the seat slightly forward. Be careful not to tilt the seat too far forward as it may throw too much pressure on your hands and wrists.

Handlebar height: High handlebars are more comfortable but are less aerodynamic. Too low of handlebars will throw your weight too far forward and cause too much stress on your hands.

If you have prolonged pressure on the heel of your hand, you may compress the ulnar nerve and cause your little and ring fingers to go numb.

If the numbness in your fingers does not subside by relieving the pressure and continues for hours after the ride, consult your physician.

High altitudes: If you are not used to exercising at 8,000 feet or more and you plan on riding at high altitudes, you may get mountain or altitude sickness.

There is less oxygen in the air at higher altitudes and may cause a shortage of oxygen in your blood. You are experiencing altitude sickness you feel short of breath, fatigue, and nausea.

If this happens to you, take a break and choose a lower attitude.

Purchasing: If you are thinking about purchasing a mountain bike, I would suggest going to a reputable bike shop. They have trained salesmen who can help you choose the right type of bike for your needs.

Large department stores and discount warehouses seldom have the experienced staff needed to provide necessary advice and service. As with most things, you get what you pay for.

Wear a helmet: More than 900 riders are killed in the country each year, most of them children between 5 and 14 years old. Eighty percent of those deaths are caused by head trauma and could have been prevented by wearing helmets.

Mountain biking is not just for kids who "live on the edge." Increasingly adults are returning to cycling and discovering the experience.

Robert Hawkes is a physical therapist at Sportsmed Physical Therapy of Bountiful.