In this blog; I will discuss the physical injuries that I have and how it affects my cycling & bicycle touring
Knee pain was the first physical injury that I noticed. I realised this was an issue for my 16 /17 year old self in 2011/2012, when cycling a two day trip to Margate. In the last 20 or so miles, on the second day, my knees became painful and I sort of wanted to quit before I arrived at the seaside town. The concrete coastal path was very bumpy, especially in between the slabs. And again in 2013, when cycling to Wales with my brother & father, there was a short segment where I 100% wanted to stop cycling. I remember an off road bumpy section – that was extremely windy, and my knees messing up.
So yeah, I know what makes my knees definitely worse; cycling on bumpy & cobbled streets. Also hills / wind – due to there being more resistance.
I also know what helps; wearing knee supports / braces. These are found at a relatively low price online and in my view really do help with pain in the knees on another level. On later tours after wearing them I did not experience the same pain (I.e. London to Scotland and all the subsequent tours). I believe the knee supports provide more support somehow to the kneecap, hence strengthening the area and maybe as a result don’t absorb all the shock from any bumps. That’s my belief.
I’ve read a few comments on my online posts about me wearing these knee supports, and I often hear remarks while cycling such as “You’re too young to have bad knees” – I.e. in Market Rasen, 2018. This is probably true, but whatever I’m still cycling so I don’t care currently!
I don’t know exactly whats wrong with my knees, as I have never seen a doctor about them. I get sharp pain but I have no real interest in seeing one. As they don’t have a magic answer other than surgery. I don’t want to consider that in my 20’s.
Also, I have noticed the heavier the bicycle. I.e. if I’m touring and the bicycle is fully loaded with panniers, sleeping bag etc. Then I experience more pain in the knees – since for every pot hole / bump there is a bigger impact.
My current bicycle is the right size for me, and I am aware some cyclists experience knee pain if the seat is too high or low.
I have read there are certain types of food that help with arthritis – I may have this condition, I don’t know. These foods include; fatty fishes, spinach & walnuts – which can be eaten on tours. And I’m aware of foods that are not beneficial to this condition, including; cheesy foods & fatty foods (excluding olive oil). I have taken note of all this, just in case it helps me while cycling.
Note: If my knees are hurting while on the bicycle. I will slow down and not put much pressure on each pedal stroke. I will also try not to go off road if it’s hurting badly. I don’t think any professional would recommend carrying on at a face pace if you’re in pain. And for me if I’m in pain – I will want to cycle at my own pace, and I do not enjoy having to tell others to go slower. Not one bit.
Lower and Upper back pain – Muscles tightening;
This one generally doesn’t affect my cycling, unless all my back muscles are tightening up – then it get uncomfortable to cycle, and obviously there is the pain element. It also means lifting my fully loaded bicycle can be problematic, as I am unable to lift over 15 – 20 kg nowadays without my back going south. After cycling to Poznan (Poland) in 2016… returning home I asked a train guard if he could lift my fully loaded bicycle on, and I was lucky to have some nice Egyptian guy that offered to take the bicycle off the train in Western Germany. It’s now 2019 and I believe things have improved, however not perfect. I accept I may have back problems for most of my life, where I’m restricted to only lifting a certain weight, and always having to ensure I have correct posture while lifting.
For this injury, I had an MRI scan on my back, and saw a muscular- skeletal specialist with the National Health Service. They tried to determine if my back pain was linked to a muscular injury, or a disc injury (where a part of the lower spine snaps off). They believed it was neither, and the specialist said she suspects I have a “torn ligament or tendon”. However, later opinions from a local physiotherapy contradict this and believes there could be an issue with the discs – that weren’t visible on the MRI, due to sciatic nerve pain (as will be discussed below).
Sciatic nerve pain;
Sciatic nerve damage I would consider to be the most annoying and painful from all of these listed injuries. It came on for me once I arrived in Poland on a bicycle tour. I believed for months that it was related to a muscular injury from cycling too hard and fast from Berlin to Kostrzyn (Polish border town). This made more sense, than it being connected to my back (as physiotherapist believes). This is because I had done plenty of cycling in the year of 2016 while I had the mentioned back issues. Who knows, maybe this nerve thing was going to happen anyway. Google says one possible cause of sciatic nerve pain is damaged discs, therefore it’s potentially connected.
Before the nerve pain, I was comfortable bicycle touring 80 + miles if required on a fully loaded bicycle. I also had managed to cycle just under 100 miles twice, while carrying stuff. From Cambridge – Hunstanton, and Berlin to Koztryn. I believe things have changed now, but I have hope this will improve in the future. If it doesn’t who cares – it just means I have to slow down, and if you slow down you get to absorb more of your surroundings. Get more opportunities to film stuff, and plenty would argue bicycle touring is not about how fast you can cycle somewhere but just about having a good time seeing stuff along the way.
I’ll admit when I first got into cycling, at school – I was trying to prove myself as a fast cyclist to people etc. But I realise now, no one actually cares & it’s pointless. Just cycle for the adventure and for fun, don’t cycle to prove anything… At the end of the day if you can’t do the big miles, then it’s not the end of the world.
I have to say I do admire professional, world-recording breaking cycle tourers though. Such as Mark Beaumont & Jonas Deichmann. Way more so than any Tour de France cyclists. I’m not really interested in races as much.
Note: If you’ve experienced this pain, you may understand where I’m coming from. Sharp cold pain down the leg. One minute you may feel fine going pretty fast up a hill, but later on that day or in a hours time for whatever reason… I could be struggling on flat terrain. But for whatever amount of pain I have I adjust my speed accordingly. I just go with what feels right at the time, and it’s almost second nature to me now which is great. Multiple people however have seemed to find this concept hard to understand. Therefore I just prefer to cycle on my own. I probably have done 95% of my cycle rides solo, since I got into cycling in early secondary school. Therefore the plan is to continue this approach… although I recognise cycling solo can get boring at times.
Even though I have injuries, notably sciatic nerve pain – I have impressed myself, I cycled in Brittany in 2018… Which was extremely hilly along the coast. Brittany is like France’s Cornwall for those that don’t know. A hilly area – I also managed to cycle 80 miles (without panniers) from Marylebone Station in London to Eastbourne…. with a fair bit of climbing (1000 meters). This was impressive for me. However, in the same year I also faced problems. I found cycling to York a real struggle, and this was flat terrain. I also planned to cycle to a town called Newark- On-Trent however due to nerve pain I ended the trip in Market Harborough (and just got the train there).
I think a lot of the pain, especially back pain & nerve pain is psychological. I.e. the more I think about said pain, the more it hurts…. Some people have expressed interest in cycling with me. However, if you view it from my perspective – the more I cycle at a different pace, the more I think about it… the more I think about it the worse it gets… and it starts to ruin the cycling experience for myself. If you’re in serious prolonged pain, then there’s not a lot of room for fun.
I now try to learn from past cycling tours. E.g. in Swansea Wales, not to bother cycling up long hills at the night (when it’s getting colder), after you’ve cycled all day, for 50 + miles.
I have also learnt not to care about arriving late to campsites, etc and I try not to rush myself for any reason. I just turn up when I get to the location. And I’m prepared to change plans if required… which I have multiple times, one recent example was on route to York…. just north of Lincoln I had to end the trip at 30 or so miles rather than 55 miles, due to pain. I was forced to stay in a campsite that charged £20 for a one man tent. Bit of a joke but whatever. Also, if I believe taking rest days in certain cities will help me with any potential injury – then I won’t hesitate anymore and just book another night.