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Three road cyclists riding with mountains in the background

Bike Shorts: The Easiest Way to Prevent Neck Pain When Cycling

It may not be the first problem you expect when you start doing a lot of distance cycling, but neck pain is a common nuisance. If you don’t know how to prevent neck pain when cycling, you may find it aggravating enough to call it quits.

When you think about it, it’s no surprise that this could be a problem. Spending hours hunched forward is a recipe for plenty of aches and pains. But that doesn’t mean it’s inevitable.

“If cycling is a pain in the neck, it’s quite possibly your own fault,” says longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie. And while there are remedies you can pursue after you’re already sore, prevention is always the best medicine. Ultimately, it’s all about subtle changes in your cycling positioning, and this is one of the first things Coach Darryl looks for if a rider is having neck trouble.

To illustrate this, we’ll reference the three riders in the picture above. If each of these cyclists maintained his position for long enough, their outcomes in terms of neck pain would be radically different. Let’s take a look at each in turn.

Guaranteed Neck Pain (The Center Cyclist)

The cyclist in the center is in the exact position that Darryl expects if a rider comes to him complaining of neck pain. Although his body is leaning forward somewhat, his forehead is directly above his chin so that he’s looking straight ahead. His neck is kinked back.

To get a feel for what this does to your neck, try this when you’re off your bike: Sit in a chair and lean forward with your neck up — forehead directly above your chin — in a position similar to the center rider in the photo. Now, without moving your neck, move your body upright from the hips. You should be sitting straight up now, but with your eyes pointed toward the ceiling. 

Imagine sitting like that for hours. That’s essentially what this position does to your neck. Even though it’s not much of an angle, hours of riding like this is bound to bring intense neck pain and stiffness.

Adaptable but Not Ideal (The Front Cyclist)

The rider in front (left in the photo) is in better shape. Although he’s leaning even farther forward, he’s not overcompensating by raising his head too much. Notice how his forehead is out a bit farther than his chin. His neck is straighter than the rider behind him, and he’ll experience less neck pain because of it.

However, he’s still likely to have some neck discomfort if he rides long enough in this position. Although neck muscles can adapt to a degree, eventually that slight tilt in his neck will become unpleasant.

A Neck-Pain-Free Ride (The Rear Cyclist)

The cyclist in the rear (right in the photo) is positioned just right to prevent neck pain while cycling at bay for a long ride. He’s leaning forward like the front rider, but his face is angled downward just slightly more. You can see that it almost looks like he’s watching the rear wheel of the rider in front of him.

He’s not actually looking down, though, as that wouldn’t be a safe riding posture. Although you can’t see his eyes, he’s likely looking straight ahead by shifting his eyes to view out of the top part of his sunglasses. That’s the biggest trick to cycling without next pain: 

Direct your gaze ahead with your eyes, not with your neck. Your eyes can stay in that position for hours without any discomfort.

Sport Sunglasses — Essential for Neck Pain Relief

For this prevention of neck pain while cycling to work, though, you need to make sure you’re properly equipped. That’s why Coach Darryl always recommends sport sunglasses, not just any standard pair of eyewear. Sports sunglasses have a large viewing area, which allows you to look out of the top without the frames of your glasses blocking your vision. Regular glasses will force you to bend your neck to see correctly, and neck pain will inevitably follow.

There you have it. It’s an incredibly simple fix, but it could make the difference in whether you actually enjoy cycling or not. Next time you’re on the road, just remember to keep your head down — but your eyes forward.


Look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.