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bikingmom 04-22-16 11:42 AM

neck problem; looking for bike purchase ideas.
I'm 48 y/o female looking for a new bike for shorter-distance triathlons and possible 11-mile commute. I live in a very hilly city. I'm not a serious competitor, but triathlon is a fun motivator.

I have a cervical spine problem and I have recently recovered from a 3-level fusion. I now have limited range of motion in my neck and I want to avoid further damage.

Before the neck fusion, I bought (and had professionally fitted) a second-hand Cannondale Synapse to try out sprint triathlons. The neck position is now too extreme. I've adapted temporarily by raising the stem and lowering the seat, so one possibility is to try this for a while.

My 20+ year old hybrid has served me well for errands around town and off road trails (gravel rail-trails and easy non-paved city park trails) but it now feels too heavy to load into and out of a vehicle on a regular basis.

I'm looking into flat bar road bikes, some women's specific endurance road bikes, and lighter hybrids and I'm talking to my LBSs. A recumbent would require a special dispensation to use in triathlons and may be less visible in traffic (my teenagers think they look dorky, which could be a plus :)).

I'm wondering if anyone else has had similar problems and what has worked for them.

10 Wheels 04-22-16 11:48 AM

I see a trike in your future.

dim 04-22-16 12:42 PM

trek 7.9 fx hybrid .... full carbon, rides fast, is comfortable but it's not cheap

or you could get a good road bike and raise the handlebar stem so that you are more upright

Oldguyonoldbike 04-22-16 12:57 PM

As mentioned above, a lot of people like the Trek FX series. They make a number of models with Women's specific geometry, but only in aluminum. Otherwise something with a more relaxed "adventure" or touring geometry and a lot of spacers - Jamis Renegade, Salsa Vaya, Kona Sutra or many others. Another possibility would be to build up an older frame with a threaded steerer so you could use a tall stem like the Nitto Technomic.

BlazingPedals 04-22-16 01:38 PM

Nobody will let you into a tri with a recumbent; and actually if you get one with fairly upright seating, it won't be competitive anyway. For that matter, a more upright position in a UCI-legal bike won't be competitive either. I'm not sure where that leaves you.

canklecat 04-22-16 09:05 PM

Ditto, those cervical injuries. My C2 is splintered into three pieces from a car wreck 15 years ago. I'll never ride drops or handlebars lower than saddle height again. Even flat bars at saddle height are uncomfortable after a short distance.

I might eventually be able to handle aero bars, but I'll need to be in top notch condition before I'd gain any real advantage. For now, seven months into riding after a 30+ year hiatus, I'm still struggling to regain a fraction of my peak conditioning. But I think the aero bars might eventually be workable because I can lean my forearms across the grips of my upright bars to decrease my profile into the wind, and the stretched out position puts my neck at a less uncomfortable angle than drop bars. However I'd never ride this way in traffic -- my direct vision is limited to the road, and peripheral vision of the road ahead is severely limited.

I started out last year with a comfort hybrid with upright bars, several inches above saddle height. Over the past seven months I've gradually lowered the bars until they wouldn't go any lower. Fortunately the bike has a long quill stem, making it quick and easy to adjust without fussing with spacers.

When I reached the lowest limit, a few weeks ago I flopped and reversed the bars, which now resemble a cross between flopped and reversed North Road bars, and those early 20th century "racing" motorcycle bars.

I began with the grips below saddle height. That was incredibly painful almost immediately. I raised the bars until the grips were saddle height. This was tolerable -- barely -- for about 10 miles.

At the moment I have the bar adjusted so the grips are about an inch and a half above saddle height. This has been comfortable for a few 30 mile casual rides, with an average speed of 12 mph. Meanwhile, it feels more efficient into the wind and climbing hills than the former upright position. So for now I've probably reached a reasonable compromise between comfort and efficiency, given my physical limitations.

The rest is down to conditioning. I'll have to face the fact that to improve my average speed significantly I'll need to work on my overall aerobic conditioning, since that's where I have room for improvement. The neck limitation isn't gonna change.

Gresp15C 04-22-16 10:10 PM

While it's not as serious as your condition seems to be, I've had a couple of painful episodes within the past several years, that resulted in me being diagnosed with mild osteoarthritis in my neck. I'm 52, and the physical the****** told me that a lot of people have neck problems due to years of computer use. How I set up my bikes seems to be important for managing this condition. In addition, I find that swept handlebars are much more comfortable for my wrists. As a result, all of my bikes are set up for an upright riding posture with "north road" bars, despite the aerodynamic penalty.

Recently, I shopped for a new bike, to replace my old Trek that's just too big for me. I mainly considered models in the "flat bar road bike" category. For better or worse, the selections in this category are limited, and it might be possible to find a lighter bike by swapping the bars and controls on a mainstream road bike -- an expensive proposition, but possibly a better way to accommodate your needs if you plan on doing anything competitive.

One thing I learned from my experience is to start with a setup that's "too comfortable" and make several small adjustments, rather than drastic steps, towards an acceptable balance between comfort and performance. I'm not planning on competing, but faster is still more fun. Even if the hybrid isn't your ultimate bike, if it has an adjustable stem, you can use it to help refine your fit preferences. Your seat adjustment can also play a role.

When you mention putting your bike into your car, that was a tough challenge for me when I was recovering from the neck thing. (Physical therapy, stretching, and bike geometry, got the symptoms back under control in my case). Stooping into my car, to finagle the bike in and out, wasn't a good idea as it turns out. A car carrier might be a better option.

GravelMN 04-22-16 10:22 PM

There are lots of stems available. Look for one that will give you an appropriate amount of rise. A slightly shorter stem will also allow you to ride more upright. I assume you have already done whatever you could to put any available spacers under the stem and that wasn't enough. Lowering the seat is usually not a good idea as it can sap power and gets hard on the knees. You might be able to move the seat a cm or toward the front which will also give you a bit more upright position, but if it bothers your knees, go back to the original position.

As mentioned, your other alternative is a new bike with a more upright posture. Don't overlook flatbars, you can get bars with some rise and sweep to find your best position. I don't know if this will affect your ability to enter triathlons.

jgadamski 04-22-16 10:37 PM

[QUOTE=bikingmom;18710517]I'm 48 y/o female looking for a new bike for shorter-distance triathlons and possible 11-mile commute. I live in a very hilly city. I'm not a serious competitor, but triathlon is a fun motivator.

I have a cervical spine problem and I have recently recovered from a 3-level fusion. I now have limited range of motion in my neck and I want to avoid further damage.

1> have you had a conversation with a physical the****** regarding finding the right fit for you and your situation? Beyond fitting, a thorough understanding of body mechanics seem indicated
2> check out your goals and values. Is compromising health worth the payoff?

bikingmom 07-08-16 10:03 AM

Thanks for all the great feedback.

I had been inactive for nearly 6 months due to the injury and surgery, so I ended up training on a stationary bike at the gym and on my old reliable hybrid. I've gained some flexibility and upper body strength so my options are better than they were in the early spring. I got a bike rack for the car which helps a lot.

In terms of goals, I am really more of an "adult onset athlete." My original goals of "I don't want to develop the kind of health problems my sedentary parents had" and "I want to set an example of healthy living for my kids" aren't enough to get me off the sofa consistently. Having a tangible goal (like an upcoming triathlon that I have registered and paid for) keeps me interested and motivated. At this point I am happy just to *complete* the shortest distance event. I'm not going to be setting any records in the foreseeable future. I will most likely gain more speed by continuing to train and lose body fat. ON the other hand, I want to do the best I can, and it really is more fun to have a fast, responsive bike.

A mechanic at a local bike shop has suggested replacing the drop bars on my road bike with flat or touring-type handlebars. This would require changing the shifters and brakes. It is not cheap, but would cost less than buying an equivalent bike new.

My other option is a flat bar road bike. I have tried a few including the Trek FX and they seem promising, but the local shops don't have my exact size. I'm nervous about ordering something that I haven't been able to adequately test ride.

Kroil 07-08-16 10:21 AM

Check out the Specialized Vita Line of women specific flat bar bikes.

CrankyNeck 07-09-16 09:39 AM

I have been riding for many years (I'm 55). I had a bad bike crash in 1984 which left me with severe neck and head trauma (the woman who found me on the side of the road thought I had a broken neck, so did the EMTs). I didn't break my neck but it took quite some time to recover and I eventually needed C5-C6 fusion surgery in 1998 for a badly degenerated disc which was leaving me with numbness in arms, hands, legs, and feet. That left me with a titanium plate held by 4 screws in my neck. Arthritis in the neck now, but I manage. I think if you find a good and experienced fitter you can still ride a drop or bullhorn bar. It wouldn't be the most aero, but you could have it set up for you in a way that keeps stress off the neck and would limit how far back your head tilt was. Short periods on the drops would be OK, like a steep descent. Before I bought anything else, I'd talk to a good fitter and see what he/she has to say.

voor9 07-09-16 10:05 AM

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Hybrid bikes are always a compromise. They are heavier than road bikes. With a road frame a narrower tires can also be used, less resistance hence easier to drive. If not driving on dirt roads, a decent road bike is better option.

I've had some back problems every now and then. I've also had several accidents with cars. A triathlon bar is a good option for better driving position. I myself feel more relaxed and don't have to tense my neck and shoulders while driving long distances (like 2hrs or more, over 50 km). It also gives more flexibility to hold from the bar during the route. And it gives a better view to observe the traffic when you are not so low. It is good to change the holding position every now and then during the driving in the first place. Still it gives also good hold when driving uphill. Fits to different types of bars and there are many different models available, like the XLC model in the picture.

dwing 07-12-16 07:56 AM

Neck disc surgery here. Went from Trek FX (flat bar) to Spec Roubaix (dros). The FX was good to start but found the multi positions of the drop bar Roubaix alleviates pain from building up being in one position for too long as with a flat bar. I would suggest checking into endurance geometry road bikes that allow a lot different stem/bar positions so you can adjust as your recovery progresses.

You want "options" because you will progressively get better as you have the desire to ride and have a level of experience more than just casual. There are a lot of stem choices (for road bikes) out there and a good fitter should be able to get you set up in a comfortable position to start.. then adjust as flexibility and pain improves.

I got creative and taped a short length of 1" thick packing foam L/R of the stem to get me even more upright option. So, basically I have 5 positions now.. from the bottom drop, to hoods, to corner tops, tops, then on the 1" pads. That 1" feels significant in how much more upright it puts me. You might try something like that on your current Synapse. Good luck, keep pushing yourself.

Steverino 07-16-16 09:31 PM

I had a 4-level cervical fusion in 2009, C3-C7. Recovery was not pretty, I basically lost the use of my arms for 4 months. Two years of PT. Finally got onto a recumbent in 2010, and back onto my conventional frame road bike (Felt Z) a couple years later, but only after I raised the bars 2" to accommodate limited neck flexibility up and down. Even so, I can't get into the drops. Well I can, but when I do I can't see more than about 20' down the road. After 30 miles my neck hurts enough I'm ready to get off the bike.

So I'm looking at flat-bar bikes. I want something with an upright enough stance to keep the stress off my neck, but with components of road-bike quality. Looking at Specialized Sirrus, or perhaps a custom fitted.

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