Neck and shoulders kill me on long gravel stuff

When I race/ride gravel, my neck and shoulders really kill me on anything over 50 miles. Like, to the point where on a couple of rides I’ve barely been able to keep my head up by the end. It’s awful.

So here’s the thing: my position on my gravel bike is great on the road—probably the most comfortable I’ve ever been. By contrast, my CAAD12 is more aggressive (lower and longer) and isn’t nearly as comfortable, but it’s still fine on the road even on long rides.

But what really bothers me is gravel. My gravel bike is 5-10mm shorter and 10-15mm higher than the 12, and like I said it’s great on the road. But off road, it just beats my neck and shoulders up. What can I do to combat this? Strength training of some sort?

It’s worth noting that raising the bars isn’t really an option because 1) I rather enjoy this position on the road which is at least half the use of this bike and 2) the steerer is cut so going up isn’t much of an option without flipping the stem. And let’s be honest here: I’m too damn vain for an upright stem. :man_shrugging:

Otherwise, hit me with your suggestions. Eventually, I’d even like to lower the position on both bikes if I can find a way to get my neck and shoulders on board with the change.

Doing any gym work to strengthen your back and shoulders?


Pardon the sales pitch, but I can’t say enough good stuff about this suspension stem:

It is a perfect match to the suspension of the IsoSpeed rear on my 2015 Trek Boone. It is super solid (in the way you still control the bars) with just enough give to really take the strain out of the shoulders and arms.

I am happy to answer more questions about it, if you are interested in it.


I’ve said this on the forum before…and I’ll say it again. Even though it’s unpopular to some.

(By the way, I race gravel as well)

I used to have HUGE neck/shoulder problems on long rides – road or gravel – until I started working on my on-bike strength. Once I got to the following marks, I never had neck/shoulder pain again…

*Be able to do 50 push-ups without stopping
*Be able to do 15 pull-ups without stopping (10 will probably suffice)
*Be able to hold a plank for 90 seconds (holding your head up, simulating the flexion you’d have on a bike)

If you work towards these marks…even if you never hit them…you’ll likely have a huge improvement in this area.

Also, you might be clenching on gravel due to the sketchy nature of the surface…so work on relaxing on the bike. That should also help.

Good luck!


@pwandoff That’s what I’m thinking too. Gonna start using @batwood14’s recommendation there!

@mcneese.chad Funny you mention the ShockStop—I picked one of those up a while back and wasn’t a fan, but I think it’s because I got a shorter size than my current stem and it made me feel cramped. I literally just swapped with another guy who had one that was too long, so I’m going to give it another try.

My biggest hangup with the SS stem is that I think it would be great on gravel, but I wasn’t a huge fan of how it felt on the road. My gravel bike serves double duty as an endurance bike and gravel rig right now, so that’s a bit of an issue for me. Again, though, that may be because the one I had was too short and I just felt “crunched.” And honestly, I may just need to suck it up and deal with it on the road if that’s what it takes.

On a similar note: do you find that the SS is more upright than the advertised -6 degrees? Mine seemed pretty high by comparison, and I know I had the elastomers installed correctly.

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+1 (+10?) strength (and flexibility) training!

At 61, I have mild arthritis in my neck, hips and lower back and used to come back from long bike rides pretty beaten up (and was loosing interest in cycling as a result). Fast forward after 3 years of strength training (and stretching and rolling after EVERY bike ride): I almost never feel any pain in either hip, back or neck, including after 10kft GFs or somewhat aggressive long MTB rides. It’s been absolutely amazing to me how developing strong musculature protects your joints in addition to making you faster.

I have a pretty robust full body program, but a few elements that may be relevant to your specifically mentioned neck and shoulder issues, include:

  • Shoulder shrugs
  • Lat pulldowns and shoulder presses (opposing movements)
  • Delt fly and Peck fly (opposing movements)
  • Lateral dumbbell raises

+1 @batwood14 suggestion re: planks. you can start out at 5x 45secs with 1min RI and increase to 6x 1:30 (as an example of a progression)


Hard to say. I have been on mine for a couple of years now, and barely remember the years before it. I could try to measure, but I don’t think it was off enough that I even noticed it.

You can take some measurements with your current setup and compare once you install the SS stem. Might need a change to spacers under the stem (assuming that you have some) and could get to the same setup within a few mm’s.

Hopefully the longer length will work better for you. It is the kind of thing that you notice a bit at first. But I think you might just start to ignore it once you ride it a while. I have a dedicated gravel setup, so other than riding it on the road for some stretches, I don’t use it on smooth stuff much. I could see how the slight motion might be an issue.

Still, I think it is worth a try. I think the mini-vibrations are massive in taking a toll on our bodies over longer rides. I think mine increased my overall comfort and is well worth the weight penalty, for my needs at least.

Good luck on your test, and don’t be afraid to play with elastomers to get the balanced feel that you want.

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I can’t do the pull-ups yet, but I’ll second this sentiment. I’ve done a lot of core work recently and it makes a huge difference on longer rides. I can ride hard for 4-5 hours and not experience any lower back or shoulder pain.

I follow this routine 3x a week:

There is also evidence that pushups have a correlative effect that is greater than aerobic capability for heart disease:


5 hours riding gravel is much harder on your neck and shoulders than riding on a smooth road. I recommend finding a long ride length that doesn’t cause issues and slowly build from there.

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N=1 here, but I don’t get neck or shoulder pain, despite a herniated disc in my neck. I have done strength training for years and can do the above, so I’m sure that has helped.

I have a Trek Domane that I use on gravel with 35/37mm tires. The Domane also has a form of suspension in the seatpost and stem. I’m sure that helps some more.


Nutrition/hydration always played a big part in relieving aches and pains of a long gravel ride for me. Muscles are like gel packs & water/glycogen provide a lot of the gel. So as that gets drained out aches and pains become much more noticeable. No amount of gym work is going to make that feel better. But you’ve probably got your nutrition sorted.

Also consider higher volume tires, lower tire pressure. But you’ve probably got that sorted as well. However, most frames allow a bigger front tire than a rear tire. So if your frame allows that consider going with a higher volume front tire. That’s a first order suspension improvement w/o spend a lot of money.

Maybe try kinesio tape on the back of your neck?

Aerobars are great for temporary relief from this sort of thing.

And finally, one great way to get past this sort of thing is to ride 70 miles of gravel several times.


@summerson, one more…

if your saddle is nose down, consider setting it level. If.


Good suggestions above regarding strength work. In addition to high volume tires, take a look at your tire pressures. If you’re running tubeless, you may be surprised just how soft you can run them and what an enormous improvement in traction and comfort comes with that low pressure.

For example, I’m 6-2, 200 pounds. I’m using 40mm Maxxis Ramblers, set up tubeless and typically run 40F/45R for gravel. This makes for a confident, comfortable ride. Running higher pressure more or less turns my ti CX bike into a jackhammer. Lighter riders can obviously run even lower pressure.

You could also consider double-wrapping your handlebar.


Perhaps try a different (stiffer) combination of elastomers.


I went with a different strength training program based on this article and no longer have neck or shoulder problems. Some of my favorite exercises are the independent arm/leg exercises - dead bug, single leg deadlift, renegade rows, etc. The exercises that seem to help the most with resolving shoulder issues from long rides include dumbbell pullovers, cable rows, T-bar rows, face pulls, bench press, and a bunch of rotator cuff exercises.

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I’m trying out Tom Danielson’s book “Core Advantage” to correct my posture, it’s dedicated to building core strength in cyclists. Maybe that would work for you too.

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Man, you guys have some killer suggestions here. This is great.

Thanks a ton, TR fam!

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Good points about strength training and I can relate as my new road bike has a purposely lower position (for me) and causing neck/shoulder pain after about 2-3 hours, but is otherwise very comfortable.

To add 2 points (tensing and tire size) - could you be also tensing up on the gravel rides? I have had to work on being confident on gravel, especially descents. For a long while that floating/skating feeling on descents and constant scanning for conditions had me super tense. Going with a wider/grippy-er front tire and practice helped me tons and turned some rides from death grip hang ons to smile-inducing ripping.