back pain from bike riding
April 16, 2020 10:35 AM   Subscribe

Since the rona shutdown, I have been riding my bike a lot lately. More than I would have if the gym were open. It is a Cannondale hybrid. I ride mainly on the streets.

When I bought the bike a few years ago, I took it to a guy who specializes in fitting people for bikes. He puts you through some tests at his shop, including measuring your gait, your body type, etc. He is a mechanical engineer btw.

After it is over he then makes bike recommendations if you are looking to buy. After you get one, you can take it to him to have it fitted. Which is what I did. But again , that was several years ago.

I noticed if I ride more than an hour or two, the next day my lower back will be in a fair amount of pain. It goes away if I don't ride for a few days. The great google seems to think adjusting the seat lower would help. The problem is definitely with my geometry v the bike's.

I am asking here because I would really like to be able to ride, and the guy is closed like everything else for the duration.

So, ideas? Seat up? Down? Handlebar up? down?
posted by jtexman1 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I forgot to add that I have for years been doing ab work. Like crunches, planks, etc. So I think the abs are pretty strong.
posted by jtexman1 at 10:38 AM on April 16, 2020

I have stayed away from hybrid bikes for this very reason; This is personal preference, but I find that mountain bike handlebars are really uncomfortable for everything except mountain biking. I have a cool-to-me-but-somewhat-uncomfortable single speed bike (that I will never part with because it is mah-baby, and a fuck-ton of fun to ride) and a larger cargo bike grocery getter. Despite being almost three times as heavy (more with cargo) the cargo bike is much more comfortable for in-city-distance riding, because the posture is more upright. If I do distance on the road bike, my back aches in the same ways, despite the bike being fit really well to my size. The cargo bike has handlebars that are swept back towards the rider more, and the general geometry of it has the rider sit much more upright; the cargo bike is relatively fixed in terms of geometry; the only changes to be made are seat height and it is not 'perfect' geometry for my body, but is more comfortable nonetheless.

Lots of bike fitting voodoo, despite background, intentions and qualifications are just that; kinda mystical.

I'd get the handlebars up higher if you can, and if you can score them, handlebars that are swept back, even a little bit can help for posture. Minor adjustments can make a big difference, so I'd just fuck around with seat height one week, handlebar height the next....we got time.
posted by furnace.heart at 10:54 AM on April 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

When I have this problem, I try to reposition my handlebars so that my posture is closer to "sitting upright" than "leaning forward like I'm racing." Are you able to adjust your bars to test this out?

On the other hands, since you mention that you're riding much more frequently now, might this also be soreness from the strain your lower back muscles are getting now that they haven't been getting regularly? I know that's not the only way to get pain that resolves in a few days, but the bright side of this might simply be that the more you ride, the less you'll feel sore.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 10:55 AM on April 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Recumbent bicycles are designed to fit the person, rather than the person having to prune themselves to fit the bike the way you do with upright bicycles. I have been riding various recumbents since 2005 and have never experienced back pain or wrist pain from riding a recumbent bike.
posted by aniola at 11:27 AM on April 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Cannondale's are (generally) long bikes front to back and suit people with a longer torso. If you are too stretched out on a bike with your weight in front of your hips you can't use your abs to stabilize your torso and it'll stress your lower back or that's how it was explained to me which made sense. So first thing: you might want to try moving your handlebars back closer to the seat but keep them at the same level and see if that helps. Second thing I'd try is higher and closer to the seat. You can typically rotate the bars just to get an idea and if it seems to help get a new riser or spacers or a new bar itself in a different shape.
posted by fshgrl at 11:27 AM on April 16, 2020

I have a completely different take on this than the folks upthread. I think this is a matter of 1. being too upright, and 2. acclimation.

Being too upright means any shocks are transmitted straight up your spine. Most inexperienced cyclists shy away from being in a bent-over position because it seems less comfortable. And initially, it is. But you get used to it.

By all means, play around with your position (mark your current position with a sharpie first), but I wouldn't assume that being more upright will help. If your saddle height is correct now (your knee should be almost but not quite fully extended at the bottom of the pedal stroke), lowering it will make pedaling more work and more painful. You can also play around with the saddle's fore/aft position. And if you know the clamping diameter of your handlebars, you can fit a different stem to change positions, although experimenting with that gets expensive.
posted by adamrice at 12:59 PM on April 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

Fit can't be solved without understanding the rider's fitness and flexibility. It's possible that you already have a great fit for when you are at peak biking fitness, but you currently aren't there. Especially if you went from not riding much to all kinds of riding. So if we are talking about rides more than an hour or two. I might say keep time on the bike below an hour, and don't go up by more than 10% a week.

I'm a year round cyclist, but in the Minnesota winter, I ride less and I ride a more upright bike, so in the spring, I have to ease into my summer bikes. I can't do two hours on my road bike right away, even if my fit is still dialed in.
posted by advicepig at 1:27 PM on April 16, 2020

Are you stretching after your rides? If you are out on your bike for a significant amount of time and doing a ride that challenges you in any way, then you should stretch.

Just rolling up and down your spine, doing some cat/cow pose, doing a little child's pose, and other gentle stretching could help ease your post-ride pain.
posted by brookeb at 4:05 PM on April 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Are you perhaps using your *computer* more during These Times, also? A few years ago I started getting wicked shoulder and back pain that made riding my (hybrid) bike a lot less fun. I fussed with the fit for a long time with no relief... and then I switched to a standing desk at work. Instant relief, even though I could only stand for an hour at a time to begin with.

Even if a standing desk isn't feasible or of interest, getting your monitor height dialed in can still make a big difference. My wife sits but uses this laptop stand, plus a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, and loves it.
posted by McBearclaw at 5:15 PM on April 16, 2020

I forgot to add that I have for years been doing ab work. Like crunches, planks, etc. So I think the abs are pretty strong.

That's good - get a foam roller too.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:08 PM on April 16, 2020

I wonder if the bike itself is the right size.

I bought a bike, had it fitted, thought it was great, rode it for a month and returned it because my upper back and shoulders were always sore. Side note: I've been bike-commuting for ~15 years, and this was never a problem with my previous bike.

I traded it for a different bike - marginally smaller, and a different brand so echoes of fshgrl's comment above - maybe the first one was too long for me and I was stretching out too much to reach the bars - and wow, magic. The new bike, though it appears to be almost exactly the same as the original bike, was comfortable from the start, and I can take long or short rides with no problems.
posted by lulu68 at 8:28 PM on April 16, 2020

I have some chronic psoas pain from bike riding. Sitting in an office chair also exacerbates it. And (pre-COVID) driving for long stretches. It's the compression that hurts.

For me, after years of off and on PT, I'm supposed to try to sit upright more on the bike (moved my handlebars), stand as much as I can at my desk area. I also have a lot of post-ride stretches that I complete. It has helped a lot.
posted by anya32 at 8:13 PM on April 17, 2020

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