Upper back soreness on long-ish rides

Hey, all. I’ve noticed on rides >1.5 hours on my Trek endurance geo road bike that my upper back/shoulders start getting sore. I have a reach distance on this bike similar to a gravel bike that was fit to me, but, other than that, I haven’t checked any other dimensions. Is it possible it’s a strength or endurance issue, and, if so, any suggestions? Or is this absolutely a fit issue? Heck, maybe it’s a positioning issue? I’m at a loss. After buying the bike, I put a shorter stem on it, and I do core exercises as well as weight training. Arg. And thanks!

Can be all sorts of things.

First thing that comes to mind though is tension. Are you relaxed on the bike? Drop the shoulders, hands loosely on the bars? Can you remove your hands from the bars whilst keeping the position of your upper body the same?

Do you have this issue on the gravel bike too?

How hard did you inflate the tyres? Is there lots of vibration coming through?

I dunno either. Just adding to the confusion :wink:

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Yeah, I’m wondering if it’s a combo of tense shoulders and trying to ride a road bike on gravel. I’m on 28c knobbies with about 35/45 psi front/back. No, I did not have this issue on my gravel bike…at least, that I can recall. I bent the frame on my kickr a few months back, so I haven’t ridden it in a bit.

@Katie_Murphy This is what came to mind for me as well given that it occurs over a certain period of time. How well your frame and tires take or don’t take bumps could certainly be a contributor.

That said if you are not doing two days a week of core work then try scheduling it in. Even if that is not the root of the problem, core work will always help your overall performance on the bike and it is something that you can do every other day without getting too far in the red.

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Wow, that must have been quite the workout!


Yes, that’s what it was. Not me doing something stupid…nope.


I’ve been riding gravel on weekends on my gravel bike for 14 months now. I’m still getting sore upper back/interscapular pain during prolonged gravel rides. Anything above 4h usually gives me discomfort unless its an easy zone 2 long ride. What really helped is the regular core exercises. I think I can get it even better if I start doing regular pushups. It’s the combination of the unnecessary habitual tension, bumpy terrain and the weak muscles. I have a proper gravel bike with 42-45mm tyres running at 26-29psi (front) paired with suspension stem. It still gets me at 5th, 6th hour.

I get the same problem on my road bike. Poor upper body strength may be the source as I am shockingly bad at push ups etc

Another thing might be handlebar size. My bike fit told me I needed narrower bars. I haven’t stumped up for them yet but changing positions of my hands regularly on a long ride does help

Definitely recommend using SYSTM Strength. You can add it as a Cross-Training plan and if you are brand new start at Level 1. Strengthening your posterior chain is critical for becoming a strong and healthy cyclist. I am also a big fan of the 12 Minute Foundation Training :wink:

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strength is helpful. also suggest to check fit even if the dimensions seem similar. There can be unexpected culprits, like a saddle that’s two narrow giving you fewer acceptable hip-rotation positions, different cleat position between your road shoes and mtb shoes that gives a slightly longer effective pedal stroke, etc.

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Agreed on this. Perhaps good to do a basic bike fit again.
But there are other factors at play which the others have mentioned like tyre pressure, handle bar width, stem length, stem height, saddle to handle bar drop, fore and aft position of the saddle, cleat position or even just poor body posture.