“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.”
British writer Arthur Conan Doyle penned those words in 1896 and more than a century later, they still ring true and should spur any one of us to check the bike tires and brakes, don a helmet and head out for a ride on some of the more than 100 miles of Fort Wayne Trails’ paved paths.
“The Trails are a free public asset that anyone can gain access to,” says Kent Castleman, executive director of the nonprofit. “A family in poverty can access the Trails and the wealthiest person in town can access the Trails,” which are continuing to grow in locations, in miles and in connection to county and state-wide trail systems.
Whether it’s a ride along the 26-mile Rivergreenway, the 25-mile Aboite Trails, the north side Pufferbelly Trail currently at 5.5 miles or a ride around the neighborhood, bicycling offers low-impact aerobic exercise, improves joint function and aids in coordination and balance, among other benefits.
Bicycling helps lubricate the knee joints, says orthopedist Dr. Ian Nelson with Fort Wayne Orthopedics and the Optimum Performance Sports team. The team works with area student athletes as well as Mad Ants and Komets players.
“The synovial fluid is the nutritional supply for the cartilage in the knee,” Nelson explains. Increasing range of motion promotes that process of providing the nutrients. Following total knee replacement or surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), “one of the major things they do in physical therapy is get people on a (stationary) bike.”
Family and sports medicine specialist Dr. Jeffrey Levenda with Lutheran Health Physicians encourages his patients to get active through most any exercise but says bicycling has definite benefits. The activity fires the muscles with minimal compression on the joints. Running, on the other hand, “compresses the joint and fires the muscle. Biking is good because you’re not hammering the joints.”
Bicycling is also a natural mood booster, increasing feel-good brain neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, Levenda says, adding, “I tell my anxious and depressed patients to exercise.”
Having the right bicycle with the right fit is crucial, the doctors concur, saying the most expensive bike is not necessarily the best for the non-competing rider. Nelson rides a hybrid bike with wider wheels and greater stability. People with back problems should not ride in an aggressive, racer position, and a recumbent bike is a good option. The physicians say local bike shops do a great job at fitting.
“If you have tightness in the hip flexors, the pedals should be a little forward of the seat,” Nelson recommends. To reduce pain on the outside of the hips or knees, stretch the iliotibial (IT) band by laying on your back, pulling your legs up, one at a time, toward the chest area on the opposite side. Another helpful pre-ride exercise is to stand straight and pull the heels up toward the butt.
For bicycling, “The trails are great. The more we have, the more likely people are to use them for transportation as well as for recreation and exercise,” Levenda says. “I just wish we had eight months of summer rather than eight months of winter.”
Learn more about Fort Wayne Trails, including maps and mileage, at fwtrails.org. Free maps are also available at various Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation locations and all branches of the Allen County Public Library.