Sunday, May 20, 2007


"Kvetch" is a Yiddish word that my parents would use good-naturedly around the house when I was growing up. To kvetch means to complain. "Oh, quit your kvetching!", my parents would say if I might be whining about something or another. Well, this section is devoted to the aches and pains we've been experiencing on this ride, and readers may well be tempted to say: "Duh.... what did you guys expect if you were going to do a bike ride like this???? Quit your kvetching!" You have every right to say that, and if you are so inclined, you can feel free to just skip this section!

Ok, for those who are still with me, here are some thoughts around our physical complaints from doing this long bike ride. The first thing everyone might think of is that the legs will hurt. Well, surprisingly, legs are generally not the issue for most cyclists. Our legs have been holding up pretty well. They certainly get tired by the end of the day, and the quad muscles can feel a little sore, but basically, our legs are fine.

Of a little more concern might be the knees. Joan's been feeling her knees a bit more than Mike, but it is more like a dull ache at the end of the day, vs. anything more acute. We are both very aware of our knees as we ride, and ANYTIME we feel any sort of twinge of pain, we back off of the pedaling a bit.

A problem Mike has had is with his shoulders and neck. He was fighting some neck pain and stiffness before the trip, and the position of leaning forward on the handlebars, but keeping the head up and looking forward, creates some neck and shoulder stress and some pain, particularly near the end of the day's ride. Interestingly, though, when not riding, his neck is actually feeling a little better vs. before the ride. It may be that the ride is actually strengthening the neck and shoulder muscles, a good thing.

Now, at the risk of getting too personal, let's talk about rear ends for a moment. Riding a bike all day, every day, means that your rear end and the bike seat are going to become intimately familiar with one another, and your rear end WILL feel some pain. One point to make is about the type of bike seat you use. We upgraded the seats on our bikes to be easier on our rears, plus we got seat posts that have some give to them, like little shock absorbers. This has helped us, but has definitely not eliminated rear end pain. A second point to make is that we, like most cyclists doing longer distance rides, use special cream on our rear ends each morning before our ride. A product called, creatively, "Chamois Butt-R", seems to work well, really cutting down on the abrasion you feel. In spite of the above measures, though, we still wind up with pain, especially in the bones of the buttocks at the end of the day. We were told by a couple of the riders in that inaugural group that we should give it 2 weeks. After 2 weeks, they said, that pain will go away. Well it has not been a full 2 weeks yet, and the pain in the rear is still there. But it is something we can live with.

The physical issue that has been most troublesome for us, and which frankly has the greatest potential of causing us to have to end the trip early, is with our hands. We are experiencing what is sometimes called "Handlebar Palsy", and it is actually quite common with long distance cyclists. The pressure of the hands against the handlebars all day, absorbing the road shocks from the ride, has over the last week begun to pinch the ulnar nerve in our hands. The symptoms are not painful at all, but rather consist of tingling and numbness of the ring and little fingers, and a loss of strength in the hand. I feel it mainly in my left hand, Joan in her right. During our layover day on Saturday, we visited a bike store in Starkville, MS, and talked to the proprietor there about strategies for riding so as to take pressure off of that nerve. We also bought new bike gloves to help. We are finding that, with that one day of rest, and then being conscious of riding with less pressure on the hands during the last 2 days, our hands are beginning to feel better. We're hopeful we can manage this and continue to ride. If not, the only real remedy is to stop riding for a few weeks, which will resolve the hand problem, but would certainly change our plans for this trip. We remain hopeful and determined at this stage that we can make it work, but won't ignore this if it really ends up becoming more of an issue.

Ok, that's it for now. I will now quit my kvetching!


Ken Lyon said...

Go ahead, Kvetch; you’ve earned the privilege! I envy you your adventure even as I read about your all-too-familiar pains.

Here are some ideas that may help:

1. Knee pain: Can be disastrous to a trip. My wife Carol and I had to stop our cross-country trip in the middle ‘cause I got bad pain under one of my kneecaps that didn’t go away even with a week’s rest. Here are some things I did to prevent it which worked well enough so that we could complete our trip two years later:

a. Keep your cadence up around 80-85 or even 90. That lowers the gearing which takes pressure off your joints. It might seem like the extra revolutions would be wearing on the joints, but that isn’t how it works out. Having a cycle computer that that shows cadence really helps me keep my cadence up.

b. Adjust your seat-to-pedal distance so that your leg is almost fully extended at the bottom of your stroke, to minimize the knee flex angle at the top of your stroke.

c. Get pedals that allow your foot to easily float from side to side during the stroke to minimize torsion on the knee. I got Speedplay Frogs and love them. They say that the regular pedals with toe clips are the worst for knees.

2. Neck pain: The only advice I have here (but see below) is that I found that Aleve really helps the arthritis in my neck.

3. Butt pain: You mentioned all the things I know about but one and that’s twinky spandex bicycle shorts. I resisted getting them on our first trip, feeling that with my physique, I’d look like a popsicle on a stick. But after the first painful day of our second long trip, I got them and experienced immediate lessening of the pain. Yes, with those shorts, I do look like a rather large popsicle on two rather spindly sticks, but it was well worth it.

4. Hand pain: We both got biking gloves with gel palm inserts. I don’t know if these are still made, but they were great. If you have the drop handlebars, you can easily vary the position of your hands, which does help.

Finally, I do have to mention that switching over to a recumbent bike immediately and completely eliminates pains 2, 3 & 4 above. While biking recumbent style doesn’t do anything for your knee problems, it does mean no neck pain, no butt pain and no hand pain. The prospect of (almost) painless touring is what converted us. You can see the ‘bents we got here:


Ken Lyon

Debbie said...

i feel a lot closer to you now. thanks for the ass update.

Mike said...

Ken, thank you for all of your great suggestions, coming from REAL experience, as we both know!

Gearing down is definitely the right thing to do for the knees. We know that, but sometimes it is hard to remember when tackling a big hill. Your comments help reinforce doing the right thing there. I forgot to mention in the "rear end" section that we do use those bike pants with the padding in the seat. Would really suffer without them. We'll keep your other suggestions in mind too. And yes, as soon as the hand thing started, I immediately thought about recumbents! Thanks again for taking the time to put all this together!