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  1. #1
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    neck/shoulder fatigue and handlebar fit

    i bought my bike used (about 4 months ago) and the bars that are currently on the bike are too narrow for me. the fitter i worked with recommended something 4" wider than what i have now.

    lately i've been doing some longer rides and i've noticed about the 2 hour mark i really start battling neck/shoulder fatigue and minor pain. is this mostly a product of the handlebars being too narrow? or is this just a product of not having the strength/stamina built up for longer rides?

    trying to decide if i want to spring for some new bars before i tackle my first metric century in a couple of weeks.

    thoughts...

  2. #2
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    Handlebar width can indeed make a huge difference, especially in the neck and shoulder area. I suffered with one that was too narrow on one of my bikes and that is exactly where I had an issue. Got a wider set and the difference was immediately apparent. Your pain could be from some other areas as well, but start with the obvious and fine tune from there.

    Get the new bars.

    And BTW, his recommendation was probably for a set that was 4 cm. wider, not 4".
    Last edited by stilltooslow; 08-25-13 at 09:16 PM.

  3. #3
    OM boy cyclezen's Avatar
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    lets say that your bars could be a diiffernt width than they currently are...

    now lets talk about things which might really affect your comfort and control.
    if you ride for any length of time with your elbows locked, then every small road shock which comes up thru the front wheel, fork and bars, goes thru your braced arm into your shoulders.
    And if your elbows are rolled outward slighty (or significantly) then those shocks go from the shoulders right into the neck.
    and if you allow your shoulders to shrug upward, you've now braced the shoulders so all the shocks are directed inot the cervical area muscles and veterbrae.
    do an experiment, with the bike and bars are they currently are.
    find a stretch of road with some frequent, small bumps and stuff like expansion joints.
    do the above - lock your elbows, roll them slightly outward (as if you had 'hybrid' straight bars...) and shrug your shoulders up to your neck.
    ride that section
    then do it again
    this time
    put a slight bend in your elbows, bring the elbows in line under your shoulders, drop your shoulders so they are in a natural, relaxed position similar to when you're just sitting down.
    now go ride that same section
    compare

    things which keep you from the more comfortable position

    saddle position which doesn't help balance your torso.
    a large torso which makes it hard to find a good balance
    core strength which could be better

    all this is somehwat independent from your bar width - bar width can be a worthwhile DETAIL, but it'll never be a full solution.

    so, how does a rider get to the point of doing 100 miles - maybe 6 hrs of riding time (more or less...) when they are uncomfortable after 2 hrs?
    they recognize the real issues and solutions, and 'train'.
    Riding is not just 'training' the legs, it's training the entire body, the mind and psyche to reach those goals.
    so 1st step is to work on things which can make your 2 hr ride more comfortable - this is usually 'training' your posture. Then do it for 3 hrs, the 4, then 5 - you get the drift.

    BTW - your fit - 'optimizing' for performance is a very good thing. but for a rec cyclist, fit should first focus on supporting the rider and allowing them to get into a good posture/position; and then work towards performance, as the rider develops.
    if your fitter hasn't asked if you're more comfortable, then maybe, he's missed an important aspect?
    Last edited by cyclezen; 08-25-13 at 09:37 PM.
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  4. #4
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    It could be either the bars or lack of conditioning.

    The way to tell is if it improves over time.

    Like most fit related issues, once pain stops improving with more riding, it's time for an equipment adjustment/change.

  5. #5
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    thanks for the thoughts.

    and yes...i meant cm and not inches.

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    Quote Originally Posted by cyclezen View Post
    lets say that your bars could be a diiffernt width than they currently are...

    now lets talk about [other] things...
    There certainly is some truth to what you've said, and obviously you put some thought and time into your response. I'd like to know how you'd respond to my riding discomfort, which is pretty much as the OP's situation.

    I, too, get a pain on the upper left shoulder, very close to the neck, after extended riding (90 minutes or more). Again, only on the LEFT side . I am otherwise in fairly good cycling shape, typically ride 150-200 miles per week, and often with some very strong riders. Lately, on the harder days I ride 50-60 miles or more. Essentially no other pain, discomfort issues. I ride with bent arms, and in, what I believe is, an efficient position. I believe that my frame and components fit me well.

    I was curious about something, so I measured my arm lengths. It turns out that my left arm is about 1 inch longer than my right. I actually tried de-aligning my bars with my forks. Seemed to be a bit more comfortable, but I still have the pain while riding, and now I'm starting to feel it away from the bike.

    I'm in a similar situation as the OP. I'd be interested to hear any additional responses about our discomfort.
    IMO, FWIW, CFM, YMMV, E PLURIBUS UNUM

  7. #7
    has a Large Member Campag4life's Avatar
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    I like what zen wrote as I usually do. A good response.
    OP...its all about fit including how aggressive your fit is...saddle setback and bar position relative to your level of conditioning. A weak rider should ride more upright to take more pressure off the hands...which goes up the arms, into the shoulders/traps and neck. This is the whole premise of cruiser bikes.
    The tradeoff is speed. You can't propel a bike as fast in the cruiser position because of air drag and muscle recruitment. The stronger the cyclist the greater the pedal force which neutralizes a more aggressive fit with less weight on the hands. Reduce those pedal forces = more weight on the hands.
    Most average cyclists are better served with a bit more saddle setback aka behind KOPS and a higher handlebar. If you can't achieve this with a conventional frame and you think you may prefer a higher handlebar as many do, look into a comfort geometry road bike.

  8. #8
    OM boy cyclezen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by on the path View Post
    There certainly is some truth to what you've said, and obviously you put some thought and time into your response. I'd like to know how you'd respond to my riding discomfort, which is pretty much as the OP's situation.

    I, too, get a pain on the upper left shoulder, very close to the neck, after extended riding (90 minutes or more). Again, only on the LEFT side . I am otherwise in fairly good cycling shape, typically ride 150-200 miles per week, and often with some very strong riders. Lately, on the harder days I ride 50-60 miles or more. Essentially no other pain, discomfort issues. I ride with bent arms, and in, what I believe is, an efficient position. I believe that my frame and components fit me well.

    I was curious about something, so I measured my arm lengths. It turns out that my left arm is about 1 inch longer than my right. I actually tried de-aligning my bars with my forks. Seemed to be a bit more comfortable, but I still have the pain while riding, and now I'm starting to feel it away from the bike.

    I'm in a similar situation as the OP. I'd be interested to hear any additional responses about our discomfort.
    you obviously are putting some good thought into your situation, and the 'bar disalignment' is certainly an out of the box idea of merit. how much this can help and the eventual consequences - a more psersonal and longterm assessment by you.
    FWIW - I don;t have an arm length disparity, but in '04 I had a fairly serious motorcycle mishap - serious enough to lay me up for almost 6 mos. The good news was, other than some serious bruising, from the hips down I was ok. Bad news was I destroyed my left upper side. 5 ribs, punctured lung, pulverized scapula - suprisingly the shoulder joint made it through in better shape. Anyway, I have chronic pain/discomfort in the upper left back and neck because of structural imbalance.
    If I don;t pay attention, those back and neck muscles, because of the constant imbalance, eventuallly will go into spasm.
    What helps me...
    I try to have massage done at least every 2-3 wks. And I've also learned to do some basic self-massage for the neck and shoulder areas that I can reach. I do strengthening exercises. Since the mishap, I've found Yoga to be HUGE in helping me cope with all the related issues of my skeletal imbalances.
    Massage, with direction from you, and some basic instruction, having someone work that area is way better than not having it at all. Frequent professional massage can become expensive. But having someone who care about you to be a regular basic 'therapist' goes a long way to being a good supplement to Pro massage therapy.
    If you have a diverse yoga culture in your area, as we do here in Santa Barbara - there could be regular 'practices' of 'therapeutic yoga' - designed to open you up as much as strengthen you.

    I was off the bicycle for 7 mos, after the mishap. SO it was like starting over, with a new hand of cards. My left side reach was very much limited, so after about 2 mos. of 'downdog' (Adho Mukha Svanasana), I could actually ride for 30 mins.
    Never thought of disaligning the bars - guess I wasn;t creative enough.
    But I did move the left brifter up the bars/bend about an inch - which helped a lot. And over the next 6 mos. slowly moved it back downward to the matching position of the right side.
    I guess there really is no one solution, just us trying to find things which work for each of our situations.
    Keep us posted... we can learn from you
    Golden rose, the color of the dream I had
    Not too long ago
    A misty blue and the lillac too
    A never to grow old

  9. #9
    Seņor Blues on the path's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyclezen View Post
    you obviously are putting some good thought into your situation, and the 'bar disalignment' is certainly an out of the box idea of merit. how much this can help and the eventual consequences - a more psersonal and longterm assessment by you.
    FWIW - I don;t have an arm length disparity, but in '04 I had a fairly serious motorcycle mishap - serious enough to lay me up for almost 6 mos. The good news was, other than some serious bruising, from the hips down I was ok. Bad news was I destroyed my left upper side. 5 ribs, punctured lung, pulverized scapula - suprisingly the shoulder joint made it through in better shape. Anyway, I have chronic pain/discomfort in the upper left back and neck because of structural imbalance.
    If I don;t pay attention, those back and neck muscles, because of the constant imbalance, eventuallly will go into spasm.
    What helps me...
    I try to have massage done at least every 2-3 wks. And I've also learned to do some basic self-massage for the neck and shoulder areas that I can reach. I do strengthening exercises. Since the mishap, I've found Yoga to be HUGE in helping me cope with all the related issues of my skeletal imbalances.
    Massage, with direction from you, and some basic instruction, having someone work that area is way better than not having it at all. Frequent professional massage can become expensive. But having someone who care about you to be a regular basic 'therapist' goes a long way to being a good supplement to Pro massage therapy.
    If you have a diverse yoga culture in your area, as we do here in Santa Barbara - there could be regular 'practices' of 'therapeutic yoga' - designed to open you up as much as strengthen you.

    I was off the bicycle for 7 mos, after the mishap. SO it was like starting over, with a new hand of cards. My left side reach was very much limited, so after about 2 mos. of 'downdog' (Adho Mukha Svanasana), I could actually ride for 30 mins.
    Never thought of disaligning the bars - guess I wasn;t creative enough.
    But I did move the left brifter up the bars/bend about an inch - which helped a lot. And over the next 6 mos. slowly moved it back downward to the matching position of the right side.
    I guess there really is no one solution, just us trying to find things which work for each of our situations.
    Keep us posted... we can learn from you
    This is a much better and more detailed response than I could have hoped for. Thank you. I'm very sorry to hear of you accident and injuries. I'm glad that you are still around to talk about it.

    I've got quite a bit of experience with hatha yoga and also have had therapeutic massage. It's easy enough for me to try some postures and see what helps. If I make some good progress and soon, I'll keep you posted.
    IMO, FWIW, CFM, YMMV, E PLURIBUS UNUM

  10. #10
    has a Large Member Campag4life's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyclezen View Post
    you obviously are putting some good thought into your situation, and the 'bar disalignment' is certainly an out of the box idea of merit. how much this can help and the eventual consequences - a more psersonal and longterm assessment by you.
    FWIW - I don;t have an arm length disparity, but in '04 I had a fairly serious motorcycle mishap - serious enough to lay me up for almost 6 mos. The good news was, other than some serious bruising, from the hips down I was ok. Bad news was I destroyed my left upper side. 5 ribs, punctured lung, pulverized scapula - suprisingly the shoulder joint made it through in better shape. Anyway, I have chronic pain/discomfort in the upper left back and neck because of structural imbalance.
    If I don;t pay attention, those back and neck muscles, because of the constant imbalance, eventuallly will go into spasm.
    What helps me...
    I try to have massage done at least every 2-3 wks. And I've also learned to do some basic self-massage for the neck and shoulder areas that I can reach. I do strengthening exercises. Since the mishap, I've found Yoga to be HUGE in helping me cope with all the related issues of my skeletal imbalances.
    Massage, with direction from you, and some basic instruction, having someone work that area is way better than not having it at all. Frequent professional massage can become expensive. But having someone who care about you to be a regular basic 'therapist' goes a long way to being a good supplement to Pro massage therapy.
    If you have a diverse yoga culture in your area, as we do here in Santa Barbara - there could be regular 'practices' of 'therapeutic yoga' - designed to open you up as much as strengthen you.

    I was off the bicycle for 7 mos, after the mishap. SO it was like starting over, with a new hand of cards. My left side reach was very much limited, so after about 2 mos. of 'downdog' (Adho Mukha Svanasana), I could actually ride for 30 mins.
    Never thought of disaligning the bars - guess I wasn;t creative enough.
    But I did move the left brifter up the bars/bend about an inch - which helped a lot. And over the next 6 mos. slowly moved it back downward to the matching position of the right side.
    I guess there really is no one solution, just us trying to find things which work for each of our situations.
    Keep us posted... we can learn from you
    Hi Zen,
    Never heard that story before about your motorcycle crash. What happened? I sold my last motorcycle last year. I basically sold it...I love motorcycles...to avoid exactly what you went through...an inevitable crash. Motorcycling like bicycling is about when you will crash not if. The big difference is...with motorcycles...even ATGATT...its the speed that kills or maims. Riding 60 and having a car cut you off is a lot different than riding 20mph. I am glad you lived through it as there is a long list that don't but sorry to hear you suffer from it. I basically made a choice. I love motorcycles but at the end of the day I liking cycling more because it promotes such great overall health and I didn't want to incur an injury on a motorcycle that would keep my off my bicycle.
    Let me know how your crash occurred. Btw, the reason I ask is because you are a thoughtful guy. Most that crash motorcycles...I would say 70% of crashes that occur on them are because of operator error aka poor judgement. One can ride a motorcycle to the letter of the law but still not know how to survive on the road as you know. I figured I could compensate for 99% of the idiot cagers on the road but was worried about that 1% that blew an intersection when I was coming through. In that case, vigilant or not, it doesn't matter.
    Best Regards.
    Last edited by Campag4life; 08-26-13 at 12:50 PM.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyclezen View Post
    lets say that your bars could be a diiffernt width than they currently are...

    now lets talk about things which might really affect your comfort and control.
    if you ride for any length of time with your elbows locked, then every small road shock which comes up thru the front wheel, fork and bars, goes thru your braced arm into your shoulders.
    And if your elbows are rolled outward slighty (or significantly) then those shocks go from the shoulders right into the neck.
    and if you allow your shoulders to shrug upward, you've now braced the shoulders so all the shocks are directed inot the cervical area muscles and veterbrae.
    do an experiment, with the bike and bars are they currently are.
    find a stretch of road with some frequent, small bumps and stuff like expansion joints.
    do the above - lock your elbows, roll them slightly outward (as if you had 'hybrid' straight bars...) and shrug your shoulders up to your neck.
    ride that section
    then do it again
    this time
    put a slight bend in your elbows, bring the elbows in line under your shoulders, drop your shoulders so they are in a natural, relaxed position similar to when you're just sitting down.
    now go ride that same section
    compare

    things which keep you from the more comfortable position

    saddle position which doesn't help balance your torso.
    a large torso which makes it hard to find a good balance
    core strength which could be better

    all this is somehwat independent from your bar width - bar width can be a worthwhile DETAIL, but it'll never be a full solution.

    so, how does a rider get to the point of doing 100 miles - maybe 6 hrs of riding time (more or less...) when they are uncomfortable after 2 hrs?
    they recognize the real issues and solutions, and 'train'.
    Riding is not just 'training' the legs, it's training the entire body, the mind and psyche to reach those goals.
    so 1st step is to work on things which can make your 2 hr ride more comfortable - this is usually 'training' your posture. Then do it for 3 hrs, the 4, then 5 - you get the drift.

    BTW - your fit - 'optimizing' for performance is a very good thing. but for a rec cyclist, fit should first focus on supporting the rider and allowing them to get into a good posture/position; and then work towards performance, as the rider develops.
    if your fitter hasn't asked if you're more comfortable, then maybe, he's missed an important aspect?
    zen - do you think narrow bars could encourage a shoulder shrug? me thinks it might.

    i'm going to hold off on the bars and try to 'train' my posture and grind out the metric in a couple of weeks. actually think i might raise my bars a mm or 3 as well...in an effort of improving comfort for the metric. thoughts?

  12. #12
    OM boy cyclezen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Campag4life View Post
    Hi Zen,
    Never heard that story before about your motorcycle crash. What happened? I sold my last motorcycle last year. I basically sold it...I love motorcycles...to avoid exactly what you went through...an inevitable crash.
    C4L - I'll keep this short as possible to not hijack the thread. My crash was on a local fav moto road - the 150 between Carpinteria and Ojai. I was leading a group ride on a Sat. Was a mellow pace, but as I approached a tight, blind curve, a Hummer came around the curve mostly over the double yellow and in my lane. Left me about 5 ft on the far right (curve to left). I was center my lane but good training kept me from fixating on the Hummer and was able to stand the bike up and move far right of the lane and focus past into the curve. I missed the Hummer by about 18 inches, but couldn't hold the tight turn after that and went off. I was trail braking a bit to scrub some speed, so I went off at about 35 mph. Bike tumbled a bit, but no serious damage. I, however, tumbled a bit further and came to a stop on top of some boulders - that did the damage. I was lucky I didn;t suffer spinal injury. I was lucky to have my riding buds. And as it turned out, the reason the hummer was in my lane, he? (did not stop, so can't say who was driving) decided to pass a pair of cyclists in the blind curve. The cyclists were an MD and an EMT, and were my first responders... I apparently also had a nice helicopter ride, which I didn;t remember because I did go into shock. I was/am always ATTGATT, and the gear did help a bunch. Was there anything I could have done? I could have been 10 sec sooner or later and the whole thing would have been just a 'close call'. I still ride motorcycles, but cycling has always been higher on the list and continues up there. I've made it a point to bring my motorcycle awareness and scanning to riding the bicycle, 'reading' and anticipating problems and issues has saved my bacon, on the bicycle, many times.
    I understand and appreciate your decision - I still ride the moto, but mostly for local shopping and multi-day sport touring. California, from SB going north, is incredbly beautiful and diverse. Seeing it on the moto is the best way to get around for a 5 day tour.

    Quote Originally Posted by mshred View Post
    zen - do you think narrow bars could encourage a shoulder shrug? me thinks it might.

    i'm going to hold off on the bars and try to 'train' my posture and grind out the metric in a couple of weeks. actually think i might raise my bars a mm or 3 as well...in an effort of improving comfort for the metric. thoughts?
    I'm not trying to talk you out of trying other bars. But I firmly believe that a fundamentally sound position and posture lets us make best use of the potential in the equipment. Best of luck.
    Golden rose, the color of the dream I had
    Not too long ago
    A misty blue and the lillac too
    A never to grow old

  13. #13
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    Many years ago I attended a prep class for riding STP, put on by Cascade Bicycle Club. STP is a double Imperial century, with one and two day options. The commonest question asked in this class was, "What can I do about my neck and shoulder pain?" Many people not on the Road Bike Forum would say, "It's that you're riding a road bike, silly. Get a bike with a more upright position or modify your position so that it's more upright." Which is, of course, totally wrong.

    It's due to position and lack of conditioning. Most things about position have been explained upthread. I'd add to rotate your pelvis forward, thus taking the convex curve out of your back. Your back would be approximately straight from hips to neck. What this does is lessen the amount of flexion in the neck necessary to look forward. Also, make sure you have plenty of reach forward, IOW that you're well stretched-out on the bike. Then bending your elbows will be more comfortable and natural.

    The conditioning one gets from simply riding can be supplemented by exercises. That makes the conditioning process go much faster and greatly increases endurance.
    Things to do, in no particular order:
    Horizontal rows
    Lat pull-downs
    Pushups
    Shoulder shrugs
    Dumbbell presses
    ^All relatively low weights and high reps, 20-30.

    If your gym has a device for exercising the neck, that's very good too.

  14. #14
    has a Large Member Campag4life's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyclezen View Post
    C4L - I'll keep this short as possible to not hijack the thread. My crash was on a local fav moto road - the 150 between Carpinteria and Ojai. I was leading a group ride on a Sat. Was a mellow pace, but as I approached a tight, blind curve, a Hummer came around the curve mostly over the double yellow and in my lane. Left me about 5 ft on the far right (curve to left). I was center my lane but good training kept me from fixating on the Hummer and was able to stand the bike up and move far right of the lane and focus past into the curve. I missed the Hummer by about 18 inches, but couldn't hold the tight turn after that and went off. I was trail braking a bit to scrub some speed, so I went off at about 35 mph. Bike tumbled a bit, but no serious damage. I, however, tumbled a bit further and came to a stop on top of some boulders - that did the damage. I was lucky I didn;t suffer spinal injury. I was lucky to have my riding buds. And as it turned out, the reason the hummer was in my lane, he? (did not stop, so can't say who was driving) decided to pass a pair of cyclists in the blind curve. The cyclists were an MD and an EMT, and were my first responders... I apparently also had a nice helicopter ride, which I didn;t remember because I did go into shock. I was/am always ATTGATT, and the gear did help a bunch. Was there anything I could have done? I could have been 10 sec sooner or later and the whole thing would have been just a 'close call'. I still ride motorcycles, but cycling has always been higher on the list and continues up there. I've made it a point to bring my motorcycle awareness and scanning to riding the bicycle, 'reading' and anticipating problems and issues has saved my bacon, on the bicycle, many times.
    I understand and appreciate your decision - I still ride the moto, but mostly for local shopping and multi-day sport touring. California, from SB going north, is incredbly beautiful and diverse. Seeing it on the moto is the best way to get around for a 5 day tour.



    I'm not trying to talk you out of trying other bars. But I firmly believe that a fundamentally sound position and posture lets us make best use of the potential in the equipment. Best of luck.
    Thanks for your response zen. The thoroughness of your response speaks to how much you know about motorcycling. Many wouldn't have survived what you went through...may have even hit the Hummer head on or not been able to scrub off speed and ride straight off the road. I would say more than half that ride motorcycles don't know how to countersteer or ever practice evasive handling.
    Cruisers as you know have horrible handling and sounds like you were on a std. or sport bike. I am half surprised you still ride motocycles but understand as I had many close calls and still rode. I love motorcycles and totally understand the beauty of CA and why you ride. Same lessons can be applied to bicycles for sure. At the end of the day those on 2 wheels have to compensate for other's mistakes. Sometimes as you know, it isn't possible.
    I hope you feel well and ride often.

  15. #15
    Senior Member RollCNY's Avatar
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    Ok, I have a story to share on shoulder pain, and the possible help of physical therapy:

    25 years ago, I broke my collar bone, and it healed with an overlapping lump. I was a very active cyclist at the time, but after the injury, suffered shoulder pain. It actually got to the point that riding would cause my shoulder and elbow to buckle. I stopped riding, for that reason and others, and favored that shoulder for 20 years.

    Four years ago, I started riding again, on flat bar bikes. I learned that if I had my wrist turned palm down, as it is on flat bars or the tops of drops, I could ride forever, but if I turned my palm parallel to the ground, as it would be on hoods or drops, or even bar ends, after about 15 minutes, my shoulder would buckle. So it led me to doing 130 and 150 mile rides on a flat bar, perfectly comfortably, but couldn't go 10 miles on a drop bar bike.

    Then two years ago, I hurt my shoulder at work, and my arm was useless. I ended up in physical therapy, and in five sessions, not only corrected the arm injury, but addressed the twenty year old shoulder issues. I do not remember the name of the muscle, but basically I had a weak muscle that runs below the lower portion of the shoulder blade, everything else was stronger, and my shoulder was essentially pulled out of position all the time. Those sessions, and the resulting exercises, have gotten me away from flat bars, and into drops.

    Didn't mean to be long winded, just wanted to say that I played with fit and farted around with drop bars to work something out, but I never would have gotten there without the physical therapy and addressing a simple issue that I didn't know about.

    And I also have to say that anyone who says flat bars are always uncomfortable is full of poo, but that is a different story.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyclezen View Post
    I'm not trying to talk you out of trying other bars. But I firmly believe that a fundamentally sound position and posture lets us make best use of the potential in the equipment. Best of luck.
    That's all well and good, and I agree about all things stated about posture, conditioning, and the myriad aspects of fit, but if a pro fitter found that the bars were around 4 cm too narrow (which is quite a bit), then that's at least one of the 'elephants in the room' and should most definitely be addressed before going much further.

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