If you are a relatively new rider, you may not know how to prevent the most common mistakes that can lead to physical discomfort during a ride. Even if you have been riding for a long time you can slip into bad habits, and end up hurting more than is necessary. Here are a few tips to help make every ride more comfortable:
1. Warm up/Cool down: Allowing your body to gradually come up to 'operating temperature' at the beginning of a ride, and then pedaling a few extra minutes at a very easy intensity at the end of your ride, can both go a long way toward minimizing muscle soreness and increasing both recovery from riding, and adaptation to training. Make sure to allow adequate warm up and cool down time in every ride.
2. Eye Wear: When you squint due to the sun or wind or even bugs, you use a lot of energy and the facial muscles can become fatigued. This can lead to headaches and strain. To reduce the risks of this occurring, try wearing sunglasses during every ride. I am a particular fan of Rudy Project Glasses, as they make many different styles and lenses that allow you to choose the appropriate lens for a particular sunlight condition.
3. Pain in the neck: Try to avoid riding in the same position all of the time. This especially includes your head position. Try tilting your head from side to side, or stretching it out by sitting or standing 'tall.' Always remember though, safety FIRST, so don't take your eyes off the road.
4. Saddle Sores: Investing in a good quality pair (or two) of bike shorts, and then cleaning them after EVERY ride can go a long way toward helping you avoid saddle sores. Some folks believe that allowing your shorts to dry in the ultraviolet rays of the sun to kill any bacteria also helps. Wash yourself completely (with SOAP!) after every ride, and keep your non-riding clothes loosely fit so air can get in there!
5. Lubrication: Speaking of that 'private area,' we can't discuss saddle sores without also mentioning lubrication. Though there are a lot of favorite lubes among many different riders, after trying many different things, I've come to rely upon A&D ointment as the best and least expensive lube. 'Chamois Butt'r' also works well. Vaseline, in my experience, is just a little to 'greasy' and the residue tends to stick around awhile. Experiment and find what works for you, but whatever you do, avoid going without some kind of lube, or you'll be paying for it toward the end of those longer rides.
6. Stem Length: Your equipment obviously has a lot to do with your physical comfort. Clearly, the most important thing you can do is to have a good fit session with an expert. Remember that bikes don't come in 'one size fits all.' For example, if your stem is too long, you'll feel stretched out and your arms will ache, and if it's too short you'll likely feel crunched up and it'll affect your shoulder comfort. Read the Bike Fit 101 article for some tips, and don't be afraid to ask questions.
7. Numb Hands: To keep your hands from going numb always wear gloves during a ride and try a handlebar cushion or some thick bar wrap, if you need some extra comfort. Change your grip often, so that you never completely fatigue any set of muscles. This goes along with taking regular 'standing' breaks, to stretch out your low back and hamstrings.
8. Back Aches: Speaking of your back, soreness in the low back area is often a problem, and has many potential causes. If you are experiencing some pain, get the advice of a fit expert to be sure you are set up properly, and then remember to include some 'core' training as part of your regular routine. Stretching, particularly of the hamstrings, low back, shoulders, and lower leg, can have a dramatic effect as well.
9. Foot Relief: Foot pain can often manifest itself at the most inopportune times. To increase circulation to your feet you should vary your pedaling techniques (working the 'box') so that you are not putting undo stress on one area. Obviously, make sure you have enough room in your toe box, taking into consideration that your feel will likely swell when the weather gets warmer.
republished from June 2005