Thursday, September 29, 2011

On Curing Neck and Hand Pain

On my first two PBPs, and on nearly every ride I've done of 600K or longer, I've suffered severe neck pain somewhere along the way. I don't think I'm too unusual in that regard. Some of my buddies have complained of the same thing.

Neck pain came become so intense that it takes you off the bike. That happened to one NC rider in 2007. On the latest PBP, Ian saved the ride for Ivan, a rider from eastern Europe who was apparently suffering from Shermer's neck. We met Ivan along the way when we stopped to take this picture...

Ivan came riding up in obvious pain. He was suffering miserably, and his finish was in doubt. Ian to the rescue. He took a bungee cord off his rear rack and attached it to Ivan's helmet and jersey to hold his head upright. Here's a picture of Ivan riding off into the sunset. Note the green bungee.... I'm happy to report that we saw Ivan at the finish.

I vowed to solve my own neck issues before heading to Paris and knock on wood I may have done so. Here's what I did:

* New stem. For two years, I've been riding with a 110 mm stem with a fairly shallow rise. I came to the conclusion that it put me too far forward and down on the bike. Not a big deal on the shorter brevets, but for the longer rides, my neck strained, leading to mile upon mile of pain.
My solution was to install a shorter (90 mm) adjustable Forte stem and set it at a 20 degree angle. The net result was to put me in a more upright position and shift my weight back on the bike and off my hands. Voila -- I had probably 30 minutes of neck pain on Day 2 of PBP. Hopefully, I've found the cure. As to the stem itself, I'd advise shopping around for another brand. While the Forte one was adequate, the four attaching bolts have a smaller diameter than those used by other makers, and I could not get rid of a creaking  noise when climbing.

* New gloves. With a more upright position on the bike, I took some of the weight off my hands. But that's not all I did to relieve hand pressure. Before heading off to Paris, I stumbled across a pair of  Bontrager Crochet Gloves at a local bike store. One online marketer takes a couple pokes at their look. Check this out:
Remember these? Yep, these Bontrager Crochet Gloves are just like the old-school ones you used to wear. Hand knotted cotton tops, genuine leather palms with light padding, even the absorbent thumbs, every detail, just like they were. Grab your old clunker, pull on a wool jersey and slip these on, retro never looked so good. (Also compatible with carbon fiber.) 
Well, haha la de da. But you know what?  Those gloves had padding in all the right places -- and at about double the thickness of similar gloves I've used. I brought two pairs to Paris. At $15 a pair, they're hard to beat for long-distance comfort.


Anonymous said...

Great and timely post. I'm still struggling with hand tingles/numbness/fuzziness after this year's PBP. You've provided a straw to grasp!

Sadly, my feet are in the same state as my hands. I've been jumping through hoops for six months trying to resolve this, to little good avail. Suggestions?


Anonymous said...

Good article, Mike. I had ulnar and median nerve lesions in my left hand after 2007. I used similar solutions, i.e. riding a more upright position, using better gloves (Specialized gel pad), and I jettisoned the left hand STI in favor of a down tube shifter.

Just as important was beaucoup time in the weight room developing the interscapular muscles. We cyclists are puny in the trunk, and strength in these muscles in particular alleviates a host of maladies.

The 2011 ride went off trouble free.

Chris Kamm

skiffrun said...

Clever, Ian.

A hint of heritage from Gilbert and Adrian in that solution?
verification word: "sadslate"