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Gear Guy

Q:

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?

(emhenn via Flickr)

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?

A:

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.

Bianchi Cross Concept Bike

Cross Concept Bike

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 (ransbikes.com) 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.

Filed To: Road Biking

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