Health – Where’s the rub?

Dealing with cycling's occasionally uncomfortable side effects

Keep a healthy balance between your life and your training

There is often an assumed logic that goes something like: cycling is a healthy, active past time, therefore it must be doing me good. Granted you will be much fitter, less fat and more positive than the average man or woman in the street. But could you be hiding a problem or three that riding is aggravating?


Weakness is something that few are willing to shout about

Biking is a great way to travel around and burn calories, plus it makes your heart and lungs healthier. Delve deeper though, and there may be some problems that you must attend to first…

Honesty is the best policy

Such soul searching as a kind of physical head-to-toe style assessment only works if you are honest with yourself. If Yoda was a cycling coach he would suggest that with some health issues, “Riding more, fix it will not”. Possibly. You may have certain genetic predispositions, or perhaps the results of previous lifestyle choices, or maybe just ‘chance’ has served you a health ailment, which although not life threatening, is a weak link.

But hands up those who like to admit their weaknesses? Thought so. Weakness is something that few are willing to shout about – especially sportsmen and women. Weakness is a bad thing. Instead, many ‘cope’ by burying their head, hoping the problem will go away on its own.

However, some of the complaints may be directly or at least partly associated with the act of bike riding itself or the culture that the sport promotes. It may not cause whatever the problem is, but perhaps cycling does not help it either. My hit list of ‘unmentionables’ is as follows:

  1. Piles – a painful swelling around the anus also known as haemorrhoids that may burn or irritate on or off the bike.
  2. Varicose veins – distended blood vessels in the legs that may cause aching or swelling.
  3. Erectile dysfunction – problems with penis function in the hours or even days after a ride.
  4. Eating disorders – compulsion to exercise after eating, severe limiting of food intake or other associated unhealthy relationship with food.
  5. Exercise addiction – there’s a fine line between motivation and addiction but this is often thought of as riding when severely ill, or negatively affecting other areas of your life by possessing an excessive compulsion to ride.

Acceptance, advice and action

It’s fine to acknowledge that any or all of the above are affecting you. None of the ‘unmentionables’ will kill you tomorrow, but ignoring them and not getting advice or taking action is an unwise choice. Ignorance really is not bliss.

The first step is acceptance, then seeking advice, then taking action. Sounds easy on paper but when symptoms, especially relating to the more private parts of our body, have been ignored, it is a big step to start to seek help.

Riding will often do so much to help the situation. It will usually make you a fitter patient for starters. Similarly, cycling is a positive action that can work alongside medical intervention, like a rock to cling to while you open your weaknesses to the world. If you ride for fitness, the bike is a part of your lifestyle and it serves to give you very positive physical and mental benefits. The exception is those with severe exercise addiction, where riding may have to be careful negotiated and planned, to make it enjoyable rather than something to be endured.

In each case you need to seek professional medical advice as well, which is beyond the scope of this article. These words are more aimed at opening up talk of the unmentionables and triggering you into doing something positive.

Having your head in the sand is no way to enjoy life – the problem may go out of sight but then you have a new irritant to deal with: eyes full of sand!

Enjoy yourself…

If you are free of any ailments, enjoy. Aging gradually adds wear and tear and widens the cracks in our genetic code. So, while you have no problems either to ignore or worry about, as the saying goes: “make hay while the sun shines”. Those with small hiccups in life, such as the five ailments above, must still be positive and not set up massive brick walls that limit aspiration and enjoyment.

Cycling, unlike many other sports that require a great deal of agility or which pound your body, can be continued into the seventh and eighth decade of life – even beyond. It’s not just an activity to do when you are young and healthy – it’s a lifestyle habit, a functional form of travel and a liberating pastime that brings together people who may be 40, 50 or 60 years apart.


The older rider may have a few ailments that the young rider has yet to know about but they both enjoy the act of riding. If you can accept and act on advice for any niggles you pick up along the way you can keep positive, with your head above the sand and enjoying the view. Here’s to many more years of riding!