[Ken Kifer's Bike Pages]
ARTICLE: Ways of Being Tired
Not paying attention to fatigue can lead to a spoiled trip or even dangerous consequences. It's not enough to know that you're tired; you have to know how you are tired.

How do sedentary people cope with tiredness? Is there only one kind of fatigue? How does drowsiness affect cycling? What are the symptoms of skin burn (sun burn or wind burn)? How and when does heart fatigue affect the cyclist? What is the bonk? When does a cyclist experience muscle fatigue? What are the parts of the body affected by soreness when cycling? What are the symptoms of heat fatigue? What are the signs of cold fatigue or hypothermia? How can a bicyclist spot dehydration? What is the myth about yellow urine? What is oxygen fatigue and how does it differ from oxygen debt? How can boredom destroy a bicycle trip? How can stress occur while cycling? What should a cyclist do when bone tired? What is the solution to all forms of fatigue?


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Instead of a tired old thread,
this is a new tired thread.

Ways of Being Tired 

Bikes are tired before the trip,
Cyclists are tired after the trip.
Thanks to Adam Rice, Jessica L. Mosher, Garry Jones, David Martin, Jim Balter, W. R. Chan, Bob von Moss, Brian O'Brien, and Bill Yoder for suggestions. I have experienced all these forms of fatigue personally, except for hypothermia, and have blacked out on a few occasions.

When sedentary people are tired, there is only one cure: take a nap; therefore most people think that there is just one kind of tiredness. In fact, there are really many ways to become tired, all of them alike in producing fatigue or lost of energy, but each type of tiredness has its own cause, consequence, and cure. It is extremely important for the cyclist to be able to diagnose which kind of fatigue is occurring and to respond with the appropriate countermeasures before severe side effects result.


1) Drowsiness, the most common form of tiredness, is caused by lack of sleep. The symptoms are yawning, a nodding head, dreaminess, and a slight reduction in energy. To a cyclist, this is the least important cause of fatigue, but it can still reduce speed by a mile or two per hour. The only cure is a nap, although people sometimes use drugs to keep alert longer. Several cyclists reported nearly falling asleep or hallucinating. Definitely, stop for a nap under these circumstances; recent reports suggest that other methods for staying awake are not safe. Also, if there is no real cause for being drowsy or the problem is persistent, see a sleep disorder specialist.

Skin Burn (Sun Burn or Wind Burn)

2) Skin burn is caused by too much sun and occasionally by too much wind. The symptoms are red or redden skin that's hot to the touch, a washed out feeling, and mild dizziness. Wind burn only produces mild effects, but sunburn can be life-threatening and is a leading cause of cancer. Even the mild forms are much worst than missing a few hours sleep. Skin burn can easily be prevented through the use of sunscreen, clothing (and hats), and by limiting solar exposure, especially by stopping during the middle of the day. The only cure for skin burn is slow healing, although skin creams can help.

Heart Fatigue

3) Heart fatigue is caused by pushing too hard for your fitness level. The symptoms are a pounding heart, gasping for breath, lack of energy on hills, a feeling of internal stress, and becoming flush with heat. This problem is more likely to occur after traveling beyond the normal distance and is most likely to show up when climbing a hill. The cure is to stop, cool down, take a break, and give the heart a chance to recover. Prevention can come from cycling at a slower pace or by training up to a higher fitness level.

Muscle Exhaustion

4) Muscle exhaustion is caused by burning up the energy stored in the muscles, sometimes called the bonk. If heart fatigue comes mostly from pushing too hard, this problem occurs mainly from pushing too far. Symptoms are difficulty in pedaling, a desire to coast, and sometimes cramping. The effects of muscle exhaustion can last more than one day. Take a break, ingest sugars, travel at a slower pace, and train up.


5) Soreness, if not caused by (2) or (4), is caused by poor fit or position on the bike, too rigid a stance, the pounding of the road, or by a few muscles not being in as good of shape as the others. Sometimes the sleeping position, an injury, or mild arthritis can be involved. Clothing, shoes, and parts of the bike can also be responsible. Very dry weather can cause skin cracking. Some of the areas that are most likely to become sore are the neck, the back, the hands, the arms, the shoulders, the feet, the crotch, and the bottom. Muscles can also cramp. Soreness should not be neglected, as it just gets worse; real problems can follow. The solution varies from one condition to another, but in general, the cure consists of 1) getting off of the bike periodically and doing some mild exercise during those times, 2) mildly stretching and varying the body position when riding, 3) adjusting the handlebar and seat positions and heights, 4) using a different seat, handlebar wrap, gloves, and/or shorts, 5) relaxing more while riding, 6) using strengthening exercises when off of the bike, 7) reducing the amount of daily cycling, and 8) changing the type of bicycle. Some creams and ointments might provide a little relief. Note: it's best to try the least expensive solutions first. Also note: everyone experiences some soreness from time to time.

Heat Fatigue

6) Heat tiredness is caused by high temperatures, humidity, and/or hot sun. The symptoms are an almost complete loss of energy, hot skin, dizziness, nausea, and/or inability to eat. A lack of fluids under these circumstances is very dangerous. This is a life-threatening condition: get off the bike immediately, get in the shade, cool off with wet towels, and drink liquids. To avoid the problem in the future, ride only in the morning and in the evening during very hot weather.

Cold Fatigue

7) Cold tiredness is caused by riding in low temperatures and getting chilled. A headache can be a side effect. A more extreme variety, hypothermia, is a life-threatening lowering of the body's temperature, and can sometimes happen fairly quickly when not wearing sufficient clothing at high elevations or in the rain. The only symptoms are tiredness, lack of energy, lassitude, and cold skin; hypothermia is frequently accompanied by drowsiness and muddled thinking. The solutions are warmer clothing and getting into a warm environment.


8) Dehydration is caused by not drinking enough fluids. Hot and dry or hot and humid weather and a hot sun can cause rapid fluid loss. The symptoms are thirstiness, dizziness, and a washed-out feeling, although sometimes thirst is suppressed. Drink lots of fluids, especially water, wet your clothing, and get some rest out of the sun. A myth is that yellow urine indicates dehydration: yellow urine is caused by vitamins and other dissolved solids, not dehydration. Waiting until you need to urinate or even until you get thirsty is unwise; make a habit in hot weather of sipping water constantly and of stopping for drinks frequently.

Oxygen Fatigue

9) Oxygen fatigue is a shortage of oxygen reaching the brain. It can be caused by overexertion complicated by high elevation, fatigue, and/or blood being diverted to the stomach. The symptoms are dizziness and spots in front of the eyes, similar to a migraine headache. Stopping to rest is important, as throwing up or a black-out may result. No other treatment is necessary. Oxygen fatigue is completely different from oxygen debt, which is insufficient oxygen reaching the muscles, leading to huffing and puffing.


10) Boredom seems like a minor problem, but it can cause fatigue-like symptoms and lead to failure in a bike trip. The causes are monotony in the scenery, no one to talk to, nothing to think about, and nothing to do except pedal. The speed decreases, and each hill gets higher. The cure is to find some way to re-invent the ride or the trip in order to make it interesting again.


11) Stress fatigue is a common problem on the job; it can produce extreme fatigue in a short period of time without any exercise or work involved. Cycling normally reduces stress by allowing the tensions to be released, but some days when the traffic is bad, real strain can set in. This stress can lead to fatigue or muscle fatigue. The best solution is to get off the bike and unwind.

Bone Tiredness

12) Bone tiredness is probably a combination of the above, from the need for sleep down to stress. This is the bonk to end all bonks; the crash that shuts business down. Find a place to stop as quickly as possible and get some real rest.

The Real Solution

When cycling down the road and the feeling of fatigue is first just barely noticeable, pay attention, figure out the cause, and apply a solution right away, following Velocio's rules: eat before you're hungry, drink before you're thirsty, cover up before you're cold, and rest before you are sleepy. More miles, a higher average speed, and a happier trip will be the result.

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