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  1. #1
    Senior Member Ruby13's Avatar
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    Road bike fit for a Bad Back

    Soon to turn 63 and due to my bad back, it has taken me off the golf course and back onto my bikes (Cannondale H400 & Specialized Stumpjumper).
    I have looked into a road bike that have much more relaxed and upright geometry and test ridden a Cannondale Synapse (felt really comfortable) and looking for a Specialized Roubaix to try. Both offer a more relaxed riding position.

    Can anyone recommend any other brands/models they know of or have had success with. I am going to be fitted because of my situation but would look to a LBS that carries a line that offers these types of bikes.

    Background: In '02 the first of my back operations began and has put me on long term disability. I can walk or stand for about 10 minutes and have to sit down to relieve the lower back pain. However, the strange thing is my surgeon told me to get back on my bike since it would be less stress on my lower back. I can now ride up to 20 miles on my hybrid. Just different stress on my lower back.

    thanks in advance really enjoying these forums.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Paul01's Avatar
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    All backs are different but for mine, cycling, especially on the drops where the lower back muscles get a bit of a workout, has been very helpful.

    Walking, leaving the cane at the bottom of the stairs and forcing myself to walk normally, not swinging my legs to the side, is also important.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Soma Roark's Avatar
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    Ever thought of recumbents? Otherwise old style bikes like Pashley come to mind.

  4. #4
    Senior Member digibud's Avatar
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    The Roubaix is what I got a year ago (just turned 60 and just did a 130 miles with serious hills). In my case I was just between a 56 and 58cm so I got the larger size which would have the stem higher in relation to the seat. I put on a shorter stem and it was perfect. Normally one wants the smaller size, all things being equal, but for a slightly more upright ride choose the larger size as long as a stem can compensate and still give you the right fit. I can go to the drops for shorter rides up to about 50 miles but I'll end up with a sore back toward the end if I spend much time on the drops which I usually do. On longer rides I simply don't go to the drops...unless really bad wind forces me to do so. I finished my 130 miles without a sore back partly by staying off the drops, part from training, part from the Roubaix. Exercise for your back is obviously important. If you do start going to the drops, do it carefully and for short periods. Also note some seats are better for riding on the drops and others more suited to more upright riding. They can make a huge difference. Be prepared to try/buy a few seats and note that your "best" seat will change over time as you get more butt-broken-in.

  5. #5
    Senior Member 009jim's Avatar
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    Personally I would do your own research and not rely on the LBS to fit you properly. I bought a 55 cm flat bar road bike about 3 years ago and due to some back pain am looking for something with lower seat and higher bars. I went back to the same shop and the guy there said he couldn't understand why they sold me a 55 because a 58 was correct fit for me. On the 55 cm frame my seat is adjusted up full max.

  6. #6
    Time for a change. stapfam's Avatar
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    Do not be fooled by Material or set up to make a bike comfortable to ride.

    True enough that Some aluminium frames are so stiff that it jars my fillings just by looking at them and C.F has a reputation for a compliant ride. But this is not always the case. I bought a C.F. bike and had a heck of a job stopping it from bouncing all over the road. That Frame was stiff and when coupled with some very stiff wheels- it was a bad ride. Cured it with a modification that most do not realise and that was a set of wheels that gave me an easier time. My favourite ride is a Race geometry Aluminium frame that seems to take the Harshness out of the ride and that does have very stiff wheels and tyres that are run at 120psi.

    Then position on the bike. Some back problems enjoy being stretched out on a long low position.

    My first road bike after years of MTB's and I had back ache come in. I was not used to riding with my head between my knees so I fitted a riser bar to bring the bars up level with the saddle. Cured it a bit but training was needed to ride in the drop position for long. So I practiced going into the low position and although it did take a bit of time- I was able to ride in the drops for going downhills- into headwinds or on the rare occasions when I do want to put on more speed.

    B3.jpg B2.jpg

    The pics show my first two bikes and you can see the difference on the ride position. The black OCR was the first bike with the bars set up to saddle height. Boreas is the 2nd one with the Race geometry frame that gave me a longer top tube and lower bars. The OCR was never really comfortable but Boreas is pefect- even with the bars 4" below the saddle.

    I also have a C.F.Bike that as I said did take some sorting and that is shown in three configurations below.

    B8.jpg B7.jpg B1.jpg

    Saddle height is the same in each pic but with the black tyres is as it arrived with the stiff wheels. That was too stiff. The blue tyres are on a std set of wheels that were reset by my wheel builder and is a compromise position to "Supposedly" give me an easier time on the back. It works but the one with red tyres on a handbuilt set of wheels that are stiff and compliant is the way it works for me. This is how I have found I like to ride the bike for efficiency and comfort.

    So set up of the bike- and the components- are just as important on bike comfort. Material is not important but there are certain models of bikes that WILL give a better ride than some others. One of which is Roubaix. Geometry on this bike is not to the full race spec and it does have a frame that is more compliant than others. It has proved to be a favourite on this form too so dare say others will give their views on it,

    But back problems amongst here are not uncommon. Bike set up to cope with that back are varied but for some of us- that long low ride position of a well set up road bike works
    How long was I in the army? Five foot seven.


    Spike Milligan

  7. #7
    Senior Member CrankyFranky's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stapfam View Post
    But back problems amongst here are not uncommon. Bike set up to cope with that back are varied but for some of us- that long low ride position of a well set up road bike works
    I have both lumbar (L5) and cervical spine issues. No surgery yet, but after a series of physical therapy sessions with an astute therapist, I've been given a regimen of core stretching/strengthening and head/neck range of motion stretches. I'm on a 30 year old road bike built for me, and one suggestion for my neck issue was to raise the bars to keep my neck/head from bending too far back while riding.
    It's wise to seek help from a therapist who has some knowledge of sports medicine - even better if the therapist can see your fit on the bike.
    Good luck!
    69 Raleigh Sports, '7 Atala Record, '82 Stan Pike

  8. #8
    Starting over CraigB's Avatar
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    If you like the Synapse, you shouldn't have trouble finding others to compare it to. Most other manufacturers have similarly-designed frames. Ask for "endurance" type models. Some call them "comfort" frames, but be careful with that term, as it can also mean cruiser types, which you don't want. Trek has models with their H2 and H3 designations (meaning taller head tubes than their H1 frames), Jamis has their Xenith Endura and their Ventura lines, Felt has their "Z" models. There are many to choose from. Scott, Raleigh, Giant, even Bianchi. I just got a Synapse Alloy 5 for the same reasons.
    Craig in Indy

  9. #9
    Senior Member Paul01's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Soma Roark View Post
    Ever thought of recumbents? Otherwise old style bikes like Pashley come to mind.
    No. Riding in that position for ten minutes would leave me crippled, in bed, flat on my back,for a week.

    Ditto for a comfort bike riding position where all the weight would be on my lower back.

  10. #10
    Gone DnvrFox's Avatar
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    Prior to my L4-L5 fusion in October, 2010, the only bike I could ride comfortably was my road bike in a moderate position. That stretching out was just what my back needed, and I rode it until the day of the fusion, keeping myself in great shape prior to the surgery.

    For a period of time after the fusion, I was restricted to a mtn bike so that things could heal properly. Now I can ride anything.

    I do a lot of core exercises now just to keep things in shape.

    Good luck. It seems every back problem is different and requires a different solution. I am always amazed at the various responses to what may seem to be similar problems.
    Gone >> Gone >> Gone >> Gone >> Gone >> Gone >> Gone

  11. #11
    Oldie but Newbie duceditor's Avatar
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    I had a severe back injury back in `94 that laid me up for 3 months. The hell was that my wife had just bought me my dream motorcycle as a 25th anniversary gift - a Ducati 900SS sport bike with relatively low bars and rearset pegs. God! What if I couldn't ride it???

    My physical therapist was himself an avid bicyclist and he kindly came to my home to look at the bike's riding position. To my amazement he said "Its perfect for you" and explained that the moderately low bars and rear set footpegs created what in PT/Sports medicine is considered a "bridge position." He was right. Once I was well enough along in therapy to ride anything (or even sit up for a time without bad pain) I could ride that bike for hours on end.

    But in time I learned there was a catch: The "bridge position" worked in theory because the weight of the torso was supported in large part by the arms. And that is NOT the way a sport motorcycle is meant to be ridden. If adds unwanted input to the steering and the sensitivity of the front end is lost. No, the correct way requires the torso muscles to do the work and the arms and hand to be very gentle on the bars and grips -- so much so that you should be able to slip a business card between your hand and the grip with just a little resistance.

    In the end there was an answer: Slowly build up those muscles to do their job and to do stretching exercises so that tension was not put onto the spine.

    This worked. It took time. But now on the rare occasion I ride a motorcycle I can ride whether bent forward or fully erect with no real back discomfort. And I find that my `69 Raleigh bicycle is perfectly comfortable with the bars set a bit lower than is typical.

    My advice: If you have a good therapist listen to him/her and be diligent with your exercises. If you are, as long as there is not actual deterioration in your spine, you'll likely in time be able to be comfortable on whatever style of bike you would otherwise choose.

    Me? I so love the standard, semi-upright, British classical riding position. Especially in an urban setting where the ability to swivel one's neck and look around is a god send. But admittedly, that's what I grew up with so maybe my love for it is natural.

    -don
    Last edited by duceditor; 08-14-11 at 07:36 AM.
    `69 Raleigh Sprite

    Italian motorcycles, an Italian car, an Italian wife and... a British bicycle. How weird is that?

  12. #12
    Roadkill byte_speed's Avatar
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    Stapfam

    You mention changing wheels to get a better ride, but I have found tires (and most important, the correct tire pressure) can makes at least as much difference as the wheels. Slightly wider tires are reported to improve the ride as well. You probably know this, I mention it for the new guy.

    I put some lighter wheels on my Litespeed that were much stiffer and made for a rough ride. By changing from Vittoria Rubino Pros to Michelin Lithion and watching my inflation pressure carefully, now the ride is better than ever, even with the stiff wheels (new wheels are Easton EA90 SLX, the old wheels were 32 spoke Open Pros).

    What tires and wheels were/are you running? I can't tell from the pictures.

  13. #13
    Time for a change. stapfam's Avatar
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    All the tyres are Michelin in 23's and the red and black are PR3's and the blue are Lithions.

    On the wheels On the Giant TCR-C- The Black tyred ones are Mavic Aksiums that are stiff. Too stiff for the Stiff TCR-C frame. The blue tyres are on a Stock Giant wheel that were Detensioned and Trued before I Fitted them and are 28spoke radial front and 36 rear. The Red tyred ones are Handbuilt 105 hubs- 36 Double butted spokes Laced with a X2 cross pattern to Mavic CXP33 rims. They are stiff but do have just a bit of give in them vertically. It is the cross lacing that does this.

    All the tyres are run at 120psi and I have never used a wider tyre than a 26. I use the 23's because I am a lightweight at 150lbs and never had to consider a wider tyre for comfort.

    Now those wheels on Boreas are Ultegras with 16 spokes on the front and 20 rear. They are stiff- and I do mean stiff. Yet they suit the frame and do not give me a hard ride.
    How long was I in the army? Five foot seven.


    Spike Milligan

  14. #14
    just keep riding BluesDawg's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stapfam View Post
    All the tyres are run at 120psi and I have never used a wider tyre than a 26. I use the 23's because I am a lightweight at 150lbs and never had to consider a wider tyre for comfort.
    At your weight, you have plenty of room to experiment with lower air pressure to overcome wheel stiffness without causing pinch flats or lower performance due to rolling resistance. I am 20 lbs. heavier than you and rarely if ever run more than 100 psi rear and 95 psi front.
    The more you ride your bike, the less your ass will hurt.

  15. #15
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    The spine is a complicated thing where even small things can make a huge difference. Listen to your surgeon and, most importantly, a Physical Therapist in whom you have confidence, preferably one who also rides.

    While it may be interesting and May even give you some ideas, in the end, from my recent experience, it all depends on you and there doesn't seem to be any shortcut on finding an individual's personal solution.

  16. #16
    Time for a change. stapfam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BluesDawg View Post
    At your weight, you have plenty of room to experiment with lower air pressure to overcome wheel stiffness without causing pinch flats or lower performance due to rolling resistance. I am 20 lbs. heavier than you and rarely if ever run more than 100 psi rear and 95 psi front.
    Yep-Tried it and if you remember 4 years ago when I was trying to get the TCR to handle- I tried all types of tyres- pressure and finally wheels. The hand builts finally sorted the bike and still finished up with 23s at 120PSI. Its what I like and what I am used to. Lower pressures and I feel drag and Higher and I can't feel any difference. And the stiff wheels only NOT work on the TCR. Boreas and the OCR (Before I sold it) and they were fine. The Aksiums are now with the Son-in-law on his FCR and they are fine at 120psi and his 190lbs weight. He notices drag every 3 days on his commute when TP has dropped tp 90PSI.
    How long was I in the army? Five foot seven.


    Spike Milligan

  17. #17
    Senior Member Looigi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul01 View Post
    All backs are different but for mine, cycling, especially on the drops where the lower back muscles get a bit of a workout, has been very helpful.
    Me too. I've gone lower with the bars, to what some describe as an aggressive position. I describe it as a comfortable position. Tops of my bars are 10cm below the top of saddle, and I often ride in the drops.

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