Gear Guy


How Can I Relieve the Pressure on My Back and Neck That Comes from Road Biking?

I'm a 57-year-old female cyclist who likes long day rides and touring. I have always enjoyed a quick, responsive bike, but I'm now experiencing arthritis and neck pain with the current, fairly extreme, bike configurations. I guess I need a new bike. What type should I buy?

How Can I Relieve the Pressure on My Back and Neck That Comes from Road Biking?

Photo: emhenn via Flickr


Well, Catherine, it may be time for a little different bike design. I understand your interest in a quick, responsive bike. But the price you re paying for that is a bike with some real ergonomic issues. And, well, you re getting a little older now (the Gear Guy and his sciatica feel your pain!), and your joints and neck aren't as limber as they once were.

You can do a few things to modify your current bike, whatever it might be. The biggest change to make is to swap out your stem (for non-bikies, that s the thing that secures the handlebar to the bike). Your current stem probably is a -5 or -6, meaning that the horizontal portion of the stem appears to be, well, horizontal. By getting a stem that s a little shorter and has more of a rise, one that angles up at least +5 degrees, you take a lot of pressure off your shoulders and neck. Then it goes to your butt, but that s another story.

You might also go to a slightly larger tire. Let s say you re running 700X23 s now. Maybe switch to 700X25 s. They ll offer a little smoother ride and better cushioning, reducing small impacts transmitted through your arms to your shoulders and neck. And dial back the air pressure a little, maybe reducing it from 120psi to 100. That has a minimal impact on rolling resistance, but it results in a much smoother ride.

The more drastic step is to switch to a bike frame with a more relaxed geometry. You might find that some of the current generation of cross bikes offer a sporty ride but one that isn t as cramped as a criterium frame. Bianchi s Cross Concept ($2,350) is an excellent bike, with a Scandium frame (rides like steel) and Shimano Ultegra components.

And I ll say it now before all the recumbent guys pile on top of me: Recumbent bikes prevent almost all of the neck/back ills that afflict those of us riding wedgies." The tradeoff is you re riding a recumbent. The Rans F5 Enduro ( is a nice little recumbent, for $1,800.

I just saw a posse of five guys on recumbents, every one of whom had a beard. That seems to be the rule: ride a recumbent, gotta have a beard. What is up with that?!?

Check out the new 2007-2008 Winter Outside Buyer s Guide, packed with reviews of more than 300 new gear must-haves. It s available on newsstands now.

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