RBR Reader Matt wrote, “I’m going to start commuting 15 miles round trip. My old commute bike has flat bars. How difficult would it be to put on drop bars? Or should I buy a new road bike? I find the straight handlebars less comfortable and my hands get sore / tired. Maybe I need to wear gloves? Or just get used to it? Attached are a couple of photos of the bike.”
Coach Hughes responds, “Bravo for starting to commute! Depending on the terrain you’ll get 30 – 45 minutes of aerobic exercise each way. When I worked at Stanford I commuted a similar distance, which was a great way to maintain my aerobic base. When the days were long enough I’d add miles on the way home.
You could put drop bars on your commute bike but it would take some work. The brake and shift levers on your flat bars won’t work on drop bars so you’d have to change them, too, and probably put on longer brake and shift cables.
Your bike looks like it’d be great for commuting: sturdy wheels, wider tires with more tread than on a road bike, fenders and provisions for a rack on the back. When I commuted I kept a sports coat and good shoes at the office and carried a dress shirt, slacks and tie on the back of my bike.
Rather than a new bike I suggest you work on your core strength for a number of reasons:
1. Prevent tired / sore hands
Your core should be strong enough to support the weight of your upper body. Your hands should rest lightly on the handlebars like you’re typing. Here are a couple of related columns:
2. Prevent upper back, shoulder and neck pains
If your core is strong enough to support your upper body then your upper back and shoulder muscles aren’t doing much work and don’t fatigue and start to complain. With a strong core you can ride with a flat back. If you ride with a somewhat arched / curved back then you have to flex your neck more to look down the road, which leads to neck fatigue. These columns goes into more detail:
- Cycling Aches and Pains II: Upper Back, Shoulder, Neck Pain / Discomfort
- 4 Things To Do to Prevent Upper Body Fatigue / Pain
3. Prevent lower back pain, especially climbing
Your legs are levers and your pelvis is the fulcrum. A strong core stabilizes your pelvis. If you have a weaker core then you use your lower back muscles to stabilize your pelvis. As they fatigue they tighten up, which causes the pain. These columns goes into more detail:
- Cycling Aches and Pains IV: Lower Back Pain / Discomfort
- Five Exercises to Prevent / Help Lower Back Pain
4. Improve cycling efficiency
With a strong core and stable pelvis your legs work efficiently. With a weak core then with each pedal stroke a bit of your energy is moving your pelvis.
How to increase core strength
The surface muscles you use for crunches run up and down your abdomen; similarly, the surface muscles you use for arching and bending your back run up and down your back. Below these surface muscles are the core muscles, which run around your body. Because the deeper muscles form a girdle around your core, they are more effective at holding your pelvis, back and neck in alignment than crunches. Here’s how to strengthen your core muscles:
This column is an index to all of my columns on different aches and pains:
My eBook Butt, Hands, Feet describes in detail the general factors that can cause discomfort / pain in cycling’s pressure points. I then discuss the specific factors that can cause butt pain or painful hands or hot feet and specifically how to prevent problems in each of these pressure points. If you unfortunately suffer from one of these I also describe what to do to alleviate the pain. The 12-page eBook Butt, Hands, Feet is just $4.99.
My Preventing Cycling Ailments bundle of four eBooks provides a wealth of well-researched knowledge and vast experience on how to prevent and deal with some of road cycling’s typical ailments: issues with your butt, hands and feet; the scourge of cramps; nausea, bonking and other fuel-related maladies related to nutrition; and the power of the mental side to help forestall or overcome these and other on-the-bike issues. It includes:
- Butt, Hands, Feet
- Preventing and Treating Cramps
- Nutrition for 100K and Beyond
- Gaining a Mental Edge: Using Sports Psychology to Improve Your Cycling
The Preventing Cycling Ailments bundle is just $15.96 (Save $4 vs. purchasing individually).
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.