As I get around by bike, I thought it was time I checked out the various newsgroups devoted to cycling. The most established are forums like rec.bicycles.misc, rec.bicycles.off- road and rec.bicycles.rides. There are also national bike groups set up by cycling surfers in places such as Australia.

I was hoping to pick up some tips on interesting routes or places to get deals on cycle gear. But some of the busiest discussions were on medical matters.

"How to prevent haemorrhoidal discomfort?" was the first posting I came across. The anonymous American writer sounded desperate. "Please give me some suggestions on how to gain relief from this problem. I am in my twenties, single, male and had no prior problems until I started to race competitively. Thanks for the help; I wear some of the best cycling shorts available and I have a Vetta saddle. I mainly road-race." But he had yet to get a response.

"Does anyone have any experience with cycling while suffering from sciatica?" Tim wanted to know. This obviously touched a nerve (couldn't resist that one), as riders suffering with the condition wrote in from all over the world.

"I have a touch of it now and again but relate it to a fall from a bicycle a couple of years ago," replied a doctor from Ireland. "Most very localised sciaticas (in a particular part of the leg) are due to slipped disc," he continued. "Whether you should or should not cycle with this is impossible to say. The chances are statistically that it will settle down eventually. Exercise is recommended but if it's making it worse then maybe you should try a substitute for a while, like walking or swimming."

Ray from Australia agreed with the doctor's advice, but added his own. "I wonder if you have tried 'hanging'. (No, not by the neck ... although this would probably alleviate the symptoms!)" He suggested fixing brackets on to the wall, from which you suspend yourself, resting on your elbows. "OK ... so it sounds crazy. But I personally have 'fixed' my back when I have had similar symptoms to those described."

Henry from Glasgow had found yet another technique for dealing with his sciatica. It sounded difficult. "What I had to do was lie face down on the floor and raise my shoulders off the ground, keeping my pelvis in contact with the floor. I had to do this for 30 seconds about 12 times a day."

Where else but the newsgroups can you get such a variety of detailed advice for free? But after all that sciatica, I couldn't face the request from an American woman for advice on something she called "Pelvis Tilt".

To be fair, the cycle forums are not all about medical complaints.

In addition to the many equipment questions and cycle campaign news, there was also an alarming discussion on the growing threat cyclists face from muggers. One cycle route in Wales has become notorious for such incidents.

A British cyclist visiting South Africa reported that he had been robbed by four youths when he wheeled his bike across a pavement in Johannesburg. It brought home how vulnerable cyclists are when they are not actually pedalling.

But a South African writer was not sympathetic. "You are extremely lucky and, dare I say it, a bit foolhardy ... I wouldn't recommend anyone taking a cycling holiday in South Africa - unless in a very large group. Mugging is a certainty"n

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