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Old 07-05-10, 09:37 AM   #1
Justin J
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Riders with bad back and upright bikes

I chose my Navaro Fusion partly because it's got a semi-upright sitting position which is easier on my back - I've got two herniated discs, one cervical and one lumbar. I can't do drop bars because leaning over and looking up while riding is horrible for my neck. The jury is still out on whether or not the Fusion is going to work for the long term. I still have to maintain a somewhat forward-leaning posture, and I've noticed a slight increase in pain and numbness in my arms.

But enough about me, my question is: Upright sitting bikes like the Trek Navigator are supposed to be better for people with bad backs. However, I've watched some videos of people right bikes like that, and I noticed that they really have to shift their pelvis from side to side when pedaling. I'm worried this type of movement would be bad for my lumbar. In fact, upright sitting bikes in general seem like they put all the pressure on your tailbone (and lower spine) without enough assistance from your upper body.

Can anybody with bad back share their experiences trying to find the right bike for the sitting position? The Trek Navigator seems to be popular for people who are getting back into biking later in life, or people who want a bike to just toddle along with their kids to the park. Anybody use the Trek Navigator for a daily commute of more than 5 miles?
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Old 07-05-10, 09:55 AM   #2
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I'm working on it. My problem is the neck, not my lower back, but it imposes similar restrictions. Fortunately my main bike is an Atlantis, which was designed to put the bars level with the saddle or slightly higher. Raising them to the max mark on my (old-style quill) stem helped a lot (I rarely use the drops anyway). If that's not enough, I'm going to install a set of swept back three-speed style handlebars from Rivendell (; other places carry them, too).
Have you considered either a recumbent or, as a halfway measure, a "foot forward" (or whatever they're called) design like an Electra? A friend of mine who's ridden hard for 30 years recently bought one of those and loves it.
Rocking at the hips is sometimes a sign that the saddle's too high, so the rider's legs can't reach the bottom of the stroke. If that's a problem, you might try lowering the seat. Even if it costs you some efficency, it might be worth doing if it keeps you on the bike.
Finally, how about a saddle change? Brooks doesn't work for everybody (I hear), but my butt problems went completely away when I switched to a B-17. I have three of them now, and they all work great.

Last edited by Velo Dog; 07-05-10 at 09:59 AM.
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Old 07-05-10, 10:29 AM   #3
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This is the most upright bike I have. It's more upright than my hybrid, which puts me in a leaning-forward rather than leaning back. And sometimes back rests are a good thing to have! Pardon the sleeveless jersey, it was 106F that day.

RANS makes a line-up of bikes which they refer to as "crank forward." Electras are OK, but RANS is higher quality.
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Old 07-05-10, 12:27 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Justin J View Post
I've watched some videos of people right bikes like that, and I noticed that they really have to shift their pelvis from side to side when pedaling. I'm worried this type of movement would be bad for my lumbar.
Sounds like the bike may not be set up or fitted correctly. Time to return to the bike shop for fitting.
The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. - Psalm 103:8
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Old 07-05-10, 01:14 PM   #5
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I've had 4 back surgeries, so I didn't want a bike that would put me to upright but also didn't want the way-forward lean of a road bike so I test rode quite a few different style bikes and found that the bikes that felt the best on my back were the Hybrids/fit type framed bikes, most manufactures have them. On the more up right so called comfort bikes it seemed like they would tend to transfer the jars strait up into my lower back and after a short ride my back would be sore and my legs would have a tingle to them. It seemed like the hybrids tended to give enough forward lean to place some of my body wieght on the front wheel so when I hit a bump or hole with the back wheel it would tend to rock my body foward as well as push my butt upward.
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Old 07-05-10, 07:41 PM   #6
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If someone is shifting his or her pelvis from side to side, the saddle is too high. Some people are under the delusion your leg should be straight when the pedal is at the 6:00 position.
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Old 07-05-10, 08:57 PM   #7
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I have a totally ruptured L4-L5. Can't sit in chairs nor car or airline seats. An upright bicycle would leave my left side numb and in pain: all bumps would be transmitted directly up my spine. I ride a Roubaix road bike with bars nearly level with the saddle and lean forward 40-45 degs, I think. Do multiple centuries in a row with this setup. Lower bars wouldn't make the disk problem worse. I just don't have the flexibility anymore for lower bars.
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