I've taken up cycling because of an operation I had in August 2015. My consultant made it clear I had to get regular exercise.

I thought cycling was probably one of the best exercises I could do.

I'm finding it so hard on hills, even a gentle uphill slope. Very painful butt and aching, burning thighs. The butt I can live with. But the combination of both stops me from wanting to go out.

My last ride was 17 miles. And 24 two days before. Combination of all gradients. Not far into my ride, I hit a gentle uphill climb and my thighs started burning. I tried to ignore it but had to stop for a minute then go again.

It seemed I was resting longer than I was cycling. Probably about 10 revolutions. It seemed ridiculous. I'll be 57 in two days time.

Is it because I'm new to cycling, and my age? Maybe I'm doing too much? Is it normal and does it get better with practice?

  • 22
    Please bear in mind that you will not find reliable medical advise on Stack Exchange. While this seems perfectly normal pain from muscle fatigue, typical for new cyclists, consider the following: When one begins to exercise, and does it with so much enthusiasm (zero to twenty miles, respect!) it is a good idea to consult one's physician.
    – gschenk
    Mar 22, 2017 at 23:16
  • 4
    How much do you weigh? How many floors of stairs can you walk up before having to slow down?
    – Criggie
    Mar 23, 2017 at 0:06
  • 4
    What kind of bike are you riding? A comfortable cruiser will be hard work going up a hill. BTW - congratulations on listening to consultant, and doing something about it.
    – Criggie
    Mar 23, 2017 at 0:09
  • 3
    @Criggie i weigh 68kg and im 5' 5" tall. not sure about the stairs. i ride a flat bar road bike. 34 small chainring/ 30 large rear cog. im pretty sure its to big for me but i have it set so im able to rest my heel on the pedal when sitting. avocetsports.co.uk/whistle-road/product/…
    – Martin
    Mar 23, 2017 at 13:40
  • 3
    First, thanks for allowing me to use "butt hurt" in an answer. Second, the bike is probably OK, but the fitting is almost certainly off.
    – coteyr
    Mar 23, 2017 at 15:28

9 Answers 9


More than likely it is normal and frankly your legs probably aren't used to it. 17 miles is a long way for a beginner so I would pat yourself on the back for that.

You may also benefit from a proper fit from a bike shop. As a lot of beginners either have their seat too high or too low which can limit your power and actually cause you to tire quicker, although a fit takes a lot more into consideration that just that. Either way it would probably be worthwhile to at least look up a good guide and check your posture, it can make a big difference.

Regarding your age, I am 32, and know several people in their 60's that could leave me behind going up hill (or anywhere) with ease.

I am in okay shape, and have been riding off and on for several years and still have to stop from time to time. It does get better though.

You may also take a look at your diet and pre-ride foods, it is also important that if you are going on a long ride you take some snacks for along the way so that your body has some fuel to burn. Eating 30 minutes to 1 hour before a ride vs not eating at all can make a monumental difference.

Bottom line you have made a healthy choice and a fun one to improve your own health and way of life! Keep at it and don't give up or feel bad if you need to stop and catch your breath from time to time, the most important thing is you are out riding!

  • 13
    Hydration is also important. A 20 miles ride will take more than an hour, this is for most cyclists too long without drinking water.
    – gschenk
    Mar 22, 2017 at 22:35

In addition to the answer by @Nate, I also commend you for putting in 17 miles after a 24 miles ride. Don't beat yourself up over struggling a little.

Be sure you allow plenty of recovery time. You do not get fit exercising, you get fit recovering from exercise. If you do not allow time to fully recover, you will struggle to get fitter. Two days after a big effort is not enough recovery time for someone our age who is not used to riding. (I survived that kind of abuse when I was 20-something, but not now, so answering a part of your question - yes, part of it is you are no longer 20). I suggest after a big day like your 24 miles, do no more than half that distance at easy pace two days later. (feel free to ask a new question on this)

Another common problem for beginners is riding to too high gear. If you watch cyclists racing, you will see the pedals typically spin at about 80-90rpm - (Cadence). Many beginners pedal at lower cadence, as it feels more like walking speeds. Low cadence requires more power in each pedal stroke - and results in a fast burnout of the large leg muscles. Learning to pedal at faster cadence requires practice and concentration, but is worth the effort if you plan to keep cycling. If you are regularly in the lowest gear and pedaling slowly, it is possible to change your bikes gearing to give you lower gears.

In summary

  • don't over do it - slowly slowly is important
  • listen to your body, short easy days are as important as big effort days.
  • make sure you bike is setup right
  • it will take time in the saddle to feel better
  • 2
    "You do not get fit exercising, you get fit recovering from exercise." This! So important! Mar 23, 2017 at 18:31
  • “I survived that kind of abuse when I was 20-something” not to be pedantic but as somebody who’s 20-something: Yes you survive it, but it’s far from enjoyable. I think older people just don’t remember the discomfort and pain and think everything used to be easy when they were younger. Otherwise I agree with everything you’ve said ;)
    – Michael
    Mar 25, 2017 at 12:12
  • The cadence thing is important, and it took me way too long to realize just how important. Spin, don't mash.
    – Jim Kiley
    Apr 18, 2017 at 16:15

Is it normal to stop so much because of thighs burning?

Are you using gears?

The "cadence" means (it's defined as) the number of times per minute you do a full revolution of the pedals. A good cadence if you're not wearing bike shoes is maybe 60 rpm?

When you go up-hill, your cadence shouldn't really change. Instead you change to a lower gear, and keep on with your regular cadence: use your gears so that it's constant cadence, constant force on the pedals (not pushing harder), therefore constant effort (energy output), just a variable bike speed (because of the gears); it shouldn't be much harder for you on a hill (just slower).

If you're "pushing" too hard (exerting too much force on the pedals) then again, switch to a lower gear: so the bike will slow down but, again, you keep your cadence constant.

In the extreme (if the gear it too low) you can be "spinning" up-hill: in the lowest gear, barely any effort to turn the pedals, the usual cadence, and (because you're in the lowest gear) travelling at around walking speed.

I notice your bike has only 16 speeds, maybe a road/racing bike. Don't be afraid to use a lower gear on hills, that's what they're for!

I think (I'm not an expert, this is only personal experience) it is unusual for thighs to burn. When I'm exhausted my legs just become kind of like jelly: not painful (burning), but nerveless, I can't push them anymore. And for what it's worth, before I became fitter my lungs gave out before my legs did. If the hill is sufficiently long and steep then I'm panting and eventually stop "to catch my breath" rather than because my legs are sore. I think I have 27 gears, and I use my lowest gears on steep hills (e.g. a gradient of more than 10%).

Those "compact" gears you have might be intended for "hard men" and masochists and so on (or, well, for regular racers).

Here's an estimate of some numbers by the way (YMMV of course):

First-time climbers might find hills with a 5% gradient challenging at first, but after a bit of training it will likely take a much higher gradient to create the same sort of challenge. That said, here’s a rough guide to how various gradients might feel:

  • 0%: A flat road
  • 1-3%: Slightly uphill but not particularly challenging. A bit like riding into the wind.
  • 4-6%: A manageable gradient that can cause fatigue over long periods.
  • 7-9%: Starting to become uncomfortable for seasoned riders, and very challenging for new climbers.
  • 10%-15%: A painful gradient, especially if maintained for any length of time
  • 16%+: Very challenging for riders of all abilities. Maintaining this sort of incline for any length of time is very painful.

Is it because I'm new to cycling, and my age?

Yes it's obviously because you're new to cycling, but maybe something else as well: a medical condition, maybe what you're drinking, or how you using your bike.

I'm about your age and so are others, so it can't be just your age.

Maybe I'm doing too much?


I became fitter with an 18 km commute: 18 km each way (36 km total), 5 days a week. 36 km is about 22 miles. When I started it wasn't just an effort but an unaccustomed strain, and I couldn't or wouldn't do it every day. One day of work and one day of rest (or one day of work and two days of rest) might be a good beginning. Even then I had hours of rest including lunch in the office, between each half of my daily journey.

It took me several months before I could do that every day.

The point of rest (including whole days of rest) is that apparently the work wrecks your body, and the rest (and nutrition) rebuilds the body stronger than it was before.

Now I can run longer and more often, but "24 miles, rest, 17 miles" is a significant run for a beginner.

I don't think your thighs should be burning though: I don't think I remember my thighs doing that.


This is a very good question and I will attempt to answer but there are a few things that you just don't specify.

First and foremost, DO NOT IGNORE YOUR BODY!!!

Butt Hurt

You mention your butt hurts. This is almost surly the result of a bad fit to your bike seat. It's very different for men and women, but for men, that pain could be the start of hemorrhoids, it could be damage to you "sensitive areas", it could be damage to your anus or something prostate related. It could result in serious side effects in areas where side effects are something to be avoided. Most importantly, it shouldn't be happening at all.

Very quickly, when standing still that cross bar across the top of a road bike should almost, but not quite touch your "lower hanging regions". It should not make contact, but it should be pretty close. When in the saddle (sitting on the seat) your leg should almost fully extend, but not enough to let your knee lock when your foot is on the pedal and the pedal is furthest from you. When the pedal is at the top of its stroke your legs should come up, and not stick out. You should not (probably) be able to reach the ground from your seat.

The seat itself is very important. Often times people make the mistake that the larger padded seat is better. But, again focusing on us guys, that is often not the case.

The "butt part" of the saddle should make padded contact with your "butt bones", while your "hangy down bits" should not be restricted by the front part of the saddle, but should instead be "supported".

http://www.outsidesports.co.nz/buyers-guides/biking/bike-saddles.htm Explains it a bit better, but the important part is that your "butt bones" support your weight and not your "hangy down bits". If you're putting pressure on your junk, then you're going to be in for a very bad time later on. Butt, takes the weight, junk is just along for the ride.

There are other important parts to fitting a bike. Length, handle bar width, tire height, are all very important. But the saddle, shape, angle, and height are things that could easily results in "butt hurt" and can be remedied quickly.

Burning Thighs

You need to pay attention to this. It's not as serious as "butt hurt" but important all the same. Bike riding is more cardio then anything else, and while a little "burning" is ok, most of the time you shouldn't be feeling it at all.

You're probably just going too far. Try starting with a smaller route. 1–2 miles. Then expand on that, a little at a time. When you get up to 5 miles. Hold that distance for a while. Maybe a week. See how far you get. Are you tired, when your done? Did you feel like you pushed yourself? Were you able to sustain that distance every day, that week, or did you need a break?

At the end of a trip, after your first week or two, you should feel like you have more energy, not less. You should not feel tired. You should feel refreshed.

Biking is great exercise. Mostly because, unlike some others, you don't actually feel like your exercising. Your heart rate rises, you sweat, you may even breathe heavy on an uphill, but in the end, you don't feel like you've exercised. You should feel like you have more energy then before you went for your ride.

Last Note

Don't forget to stretch. That can help with the burning feeling.

  • 1
    It seems unlikely that the asker would say that their butt hurt if they meant that their testicles hurt. (Also, I'm not sure why you're happy to say "anus" but not "testicles" but each to his own.) Mar 23, 2017 at 19:55

It's hard to say.

First, you need to be sure that your bike fits you reasonably well. Doesn't have to be perfect (and what's "perfect" changes anyway as you get into better shape), but you should not need to contort your body to ride.

In particular, the handlebar should be a comfortable distance away from the seat so that you neither have to scrunch up your body nor reach a long distance. And just as importantly, your seat should be raised above the pedals such that your legs are nearly all the way extended at the bottom of your pedal stroke. (It's a common mistake to put the seat too low, and this puts extra strain on the thighs and knees, possibly leading to knee injury.) But you also don't want the seat too high, as this causes you to "rock" on the seat, contributing to that burning sensation.

As to the seat burn, that's mostly a matter of getting "conditioned", but it can be assisted to a degree by -- to put it plainly -- shaving your butt. The hairs right around the opening there tend to get all tangled together and tug on each other until they are pulled out by the roots (which is how you "condition" the area). Shaving (I use an electric beard trimmer) can help immensely. (You don't need to shave around the family jewels -- just the part that contacts the seat.)

As to the thigh pain you're experiencing, that could be just lack of training, it could be having the seat too low, it could be that you're pedaling in too difficult of a gear, or you could have some medical condition.

Having the seat too low I've already addressed. Pedaling in too difficult a gear is a common novice mistake. Except when cycling casually or when briefly climbing a short, steep hill you should seek to maintain a "cadence" (pedal RPM) above about 60 turns per minute, and possibly as high as 80-90 (real cycling nerds do 110 at times). Or a rule I like to use is that your rate of pedaling should be at least as fast as your rate of breathing, perhaps twice as fast. (This rule adjusts nicely across a range of levels of exertion.) Using too slow of a cadence leads to muscle pain and can cause knee damage.

There are several medical conditions that could cause your symptoms, though you generally would have had some hint of them earlier, since the common ones are genetic (though they often do tend to get worse with age).

One is McArdle's disease, a muscle condition you will tend to experience more if you pedal slowly in too difficult of a gear. The pain from this condition tends to occur immediately, and can often be excruciating. If it gets bad, stopping and working the legs without weight on them, or massaging them, will usually provide significant relief.

A second is Myoadenylate Deaminase Deficiency (MADD), a condition whose symptoms are provoked due to overall exhaustion of a group of muscles over a period of minutes or hours, vs a sudden problem when climbing a hill or whatever. The pain from this condition usually doesn't get bad until about 36 hours after exercise, and then it feels like a "pulled muscle".

Notably, with both these conditions you will often note that there is a rust-like sediment in your urine, or that your urine is unusually "tea colored". If you notice this symptom you should talk to a neurologist (yes, a neurologist) ASAP.

Otherwise you can Google the conditions and check the symptoms against yours.

There is also "compartment syndrome" (usually more a problem with the calves) and several different types of vascular disease which could cause leg pain.

One more point:

At age 57 you are likely to have been recently placed on statin drugs for high cholesterol. A fairly common side-effect of these drugs is muscle pain, and in some cases it can be severe (and symptomatic of ongoing muscle damage). These symptoms tend to come on gradually, after between 3 and 12 months of statin therapy, and will generally dissipate within a month or two of discontinuing the drug.

If you have severe muscle cramps or dark-colored urine while on statins you should discontinue the drug immediately (per the Mayo Clinic). If the symptoms don't quite reach that level you should still have a discussion with your doctor.

  • 3
    Pretty sure that was butt muscles. Thanks for an image I did not want.
    – paparazzo
    Mar 23, 2017 at 0:16
  • I also thought of tissue damage an not, umm, the other thing. But I suppose it's valid.
    – coteyr
    Mar 23, 2017 at 15:30

Saddle burn could be clothing - those soft lined lycra pants are sold for a reason - or it could be an unsuitable saddle - a friendly bike shop should let you explore alternatives. A good quality leather saddle (like the legendary Brooks B17) wears in to fit you over several thousand miles, so if that's what you're using, don't give up on it yet.

And finally, you do have to get used to the saddle too. When I went touring, long distances after everyday riding, the start of the second and third days was agony, things got better by the fourth...

Others have covered gearing and simply getting used to the exercise well, but there hasn't been enough mention of saddle height. If you haven't had the bicycle fitted to you properly, the saddle may be several inches too low!

Try walking around the house with your thighs almost horizontal ... or Cossack dancing ... it's damn hard work! You'll respect those Cossack soldiers after that! It's the same riding a bicycle with the saddle too low.

As a rough guide, if you're sitting on the saddle, with your heel on a pedal at the bottom of its stroke (in line with the seatpost) your leg should be straight.

That's too high to reach the ground when you're still in the saddle. The trick is to use the forward pedal as a step when starting - your full weight on it gets you moving nicely too. But it's a much more efficient riding position.

Then experiment with quarter inch changes around that position to find what works best for you.

Fore and aft position matter too, ditto handlebar position, but build them all around the correct seat height. That's where the power is - between the seat and the pedals.

  • "As a rough guide, if you're sitting on the saddle, with your heel on a pedal at the bottom of its stroke (in line with the seatpost) your leg should be straight " thats how i set my saddle. * the lemond method comes out at 66.225cm, mine is 64cm * %109 formula comes out at 81.75cm, mine is 82cm the lemond method would suggest my saddle should go up 2cm. which may bring my heel of the peddle. and the %109 is about what it is now.
    – Martin
    Mar 25, 2017 at 16:57

A soft, wide saddle at the wrong height and orientation is a good way to get burning thighs. That's already been mentioned above.

Apart from that, check your clothing. Does your skin get wet inside the clothing? Does the clothing rub against your skin? It might be such a minimal movement against your skin that you don't notice it by itself until it's too late. Now, no need to buy these special biking clothes which make any sofa potato look exactly like a sofa potato in super-skinny clothes. Just pay some attention on the clothed/body interaction during cycling and you'll probably find out if there's something wrong with your choice of clothing.

  • Bicycle fit
    Have your bike fit by a shop or a knowledgeable rider
  • Bicycle efficiency
    Chain lubed. Proper tire pressure. ....
  • Form
    I am going to assume a road bike. Can climb in the saddle or out. Alternate. A longer climb you will spend more time in the saddle. Out of the saddle hands on the drops. In the saddle hands on the top.
  • Cadence
    You will have a faster cadence in the saddle - like 60 but 40 may work for you. Less than 40 then get to a lower gear. For a strong rider it would be faster like 80-100. Even out of the saddle you should be above 40. Find what works for you but from your general description I suspect your cadence is much lower than it should be.

  • Gearing
    You may need to get lower gearing on your bike to get your cadence up. 34 / 30 is pretty low but you could swap it out for 34 or bigger cassette. It would probably require a new derailleur.



Many excellent answers here, but no-one talked about gearing???

I ride a flat bar road bike. 34 small chainring / 30 large rear cog.

This type of gearing will be hard for a beginner. Remember, the idea is not to push too hard on the pedals (which isn't good for your legs) but to spin at a good cadence (like 90rpm).

Now, your minimum gear is 34/30, and with the usual wheel circumference of a race bike, at a 90rpm cadence you will go at 13.5 km/h.

On a slope of 6% this speed will require 170W mechanical power, which is above what a beginner can do over a extended period of time.

Therefore, you will spin slower, but harder, and tire quickly: short breath, high heart rate, and burning muscles due to lactic acid.

I suggest you borrow a mountain bike with a tiny granny gear (like 24 or 26 chainring, and 32 or 34 teeth rear cog) and attempt the same hills again, as a test. Go as slow as you need. This isn't a race. You're a beginner. Don't over-exert yourself, don't hurt yourself... you know, be cool. It's supposed to be fun, not a chore.

Now, after doing this test, you will know if an easier gearing is what you need.

  • the only mountain bike i could try has 28 chain ring,and 28 rear cog. i assume you meen the small rings.
    – Martin
    Mar 25, 2017 at 16:55
  • Hmm, 28/28 would only be a small change. When you stop because your muscles burn, are you also short of breath with very high heart rate?
    – bobflux
    Mar 25, 2017 at 17:29
  • Not always. It's usually the muscle burn that stops me. I have stopped on one occasion because of lack of breath, but the hill was pretty extreme (had to stand up to peddle)
    – Martin
    Mar 25, 2017 at 19:14

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