Question: My jaw hurts after long downhills. It’s painful under my ears almost like I’ve been chewing toffee too hard and overworked the muscles. Any idea what causes this? I don’t like to descend, and I need to get better for a Colorado tour I’m doing this summer. — Bailey A.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: Because you don’t like riding downhill, my guess is that tension is causing you to clench your teeth. That’s fatiguing your jaw muscles and nearly cramping them, causing pain.
Riders often don’t notice how tense their facial muscles become during the stress and strain of difficult riding — and descending tops the list for many. They don’t notice the pain because they’re concentrating so hard. But they feel it as soon as they get on level roads and start to relax.
One of the secrets of great descenders is their ability to stay loose on the bike. They can flow at 50 mph down curvy roads without tension in their upper body.
Relaxing makes descending safer because you aren’t fighting the bike. The front wheel is free to respond to your input, to crosswinds and to imperfections in the road surface. But if your upper body is tense, shock from bumps is magnified. The bike may even begin to shimmy out of control.
To overcome the problem, always descend at a speed that’s within your comfort zone. The more downhills you include in your rides, the faster you’ll be able to go without tension returning. Consciously relax your elbows and shoulders and your jaw will relax, too.
Help by wiggling your jaw a bit as you take the plunge. I bet it’ll feel better. And your descending will improve, too.