Go Back  Bike Forums > Bike Forums > Road Cycling
Reload this Page >

What's worse for lower back pain - stem too long or bars too low?

Notices
Road Cycling “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.” -- Ernest Hemingway

What's worse for lower back pain - stem too long or bars too low?

Old 12-29-17, 12:05 AM
  #1  
Senior Member
Thread Starter
 
Join Date: Mar 2017
Location: Sydney, Australia
Posts: 853
Mentioned: 2 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 473 Post(s)
Liked 4 Times in 4 Posts
What's worse for lower back pain - stem too long or bars too low?

I've set up my two bikes (Giant TCX and Specialised Roubaix) to have very similar fit dimensions to aid consistency.

However, I've found that I tend to get some lower back pain when riding the Giant (in a Medium frame - approx 54cm) compared to the Roubaix (in 56cm).

I have a 120mm stem on the Giant in order to get a similar saddle to bar reach, but I think the bars are slightly lower (about 1cm) and the hoods are a little further away due to the shape of the brifters (SRAM vs Shimano) - also about 1cm.

I'm now thinking that I'm either a little bit too stretched out, or have a bit too much saddle-to-bar drop.

I'm wondering whether I should go back to a 110mm or 100mm stem (flipped up), but realise that the shorter stem will also be lower (100mm stem @8 degrees upwards, with 71.5 degree HTA is about 9mm lower than the 120mm stem)

My question is whether my back pain is likely to be better with a shorter (but lower stem), or whether I should keep the height with the current 120mm stem, and just work on my core strength to allow me to stretch out more?

Thanks for any advice!
johngwheeler is offline  
Old 12-29-17, 12:22 AM
  #2  
Senior Member
 
79pmooney's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2014
Location: Portland, OR
Posts: 12,963

Bikes: (2) ti TiCycles, 2007 w/ triple and 2011 fixed, 1979 Peter Mooney, ~1983 Trek 420 now fixed and ~1973 Raleigh Carlton Competition gravel grinder

Mentioned: 129 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 4852 Post(s)
Liked 3,990 Times in 2,589 Posts
I came up with an observation years ago that I can move my handlebar along a line angled 30 degrees from horizontal and not appreciably change either my arm bend or shoulder location so my back bend did not change. In simpler terms, I can move the handlebar 2 cm horizontally forward and up 1 cm along the steerer and not change my position. So, all I really have to do is decide what line height I like. So if a reach is too long, I just raise the stem a little. More reach? Slide it down.

Now almost all my bikes have quill stems (and soon all will). I love quills because of the wide variation of position made so easily. (Also that they look so much better. For me, those two pluses way outweigh the weight and ease of changing stems/bars.)

Ben
79pmooney is offline  
Old 12-29-17, 02:24 AM
  #3  
Senior Member
 
San Pedro's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2015
Location: Kota, Aichi, Japan
Posts: 1,277

Bikes: 2011 Giant Seek R3, 2015 Specialized Allez Elite, 2017 Giant TCR Advanced 2

Mentioned: 2 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 344 Post(s)
Liked 3 Times in 3 Posts
I get the most pain when my bars are too close and my back has to be hunched.

I'd flip the stem before trying a shorter one.
San Pedro is offline  
Old 12-29-17, 04:56 AM
  #4  
Senior Member
 
exmechanic89's Avatar
 
Join Date: May 2015
Location: Richmond VA area
Posts: 2,618

Bikes: '00 Koga Miyata Full Pro Oval Road bike.

Mentioned: 17 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 475 Post(s)
Likes: 0
Liked 8 Times in 7 Posts
I use a lot of saddle to bar drop, and like to ride stretched out as well. That said, imo stem length is more likely to cause lower back pain than stem height.
exmechanic89 is offline  
Old 12-29-17, 07:32 AM
  #5  
Senior Member
 
topflightpro's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 7,571
Mentioned: 54 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 1853 Post(s)
Liked 680 Times in 431 Posts
In my experience, increasing the reach has helped reduce back issues. By extending the reach, I was better able to elongate my back and rotate my hips, instead of arcing at my lower back.

Drop can be an issue if you lack flexibility in your hamstrings, which will pull on the hips and lower back, making it harder to rotate the hips forward. So, with a long a low reach, you end up arcing the back even more.
topflightpro is offline  
Old 12-29-17, 07:42 AM
  #6  
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Jan 2011
Location: Lewisburg, TN
Posts: 1,356

Bikes: Mikkelsen custom steel, Santa Cruz Chameleon SS, old trek trainer bike

Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 70 Post(s)
Likes: 0
Liked 6 Times in 4 Posts
I think I am odd fit-wise, at least based on preferences, but I HATE being stretched out. Most would look at my bikes and think I am a bit scrunched up, but I have had back pain from stretching out. Drop has never had much impact, I can get used to pretty much anything, and I like a fair amount. But based on other people's responses, looks like I am in the minority, to YMMV.
garciawork is offline  
Old 12-29-17, 07:50 AM
  #7  
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Sep 2017
Location: Center of Central CA
Posts: 1,582
Mentioned: 16 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 897 Post(s)
Likes: 0
Liked 9 Times in 8 Posts
OP, I'm assuming, and everyone else in this thread also seems to be assuming, that you are talking about muscle pain. Not joint pain, bone pain, or pain from some previous injury.

From my experience, muscle pain in the back is pretty much unavoidable if you are riding hard, along with quad pain, butt pain, foot pain, arm pain, and hand pain. For me, climbing really causes a lot of back muscle pain, because those muscles get used a lot on long seated climbs. Pretty much goes with the territory, and stopping and stretching is about the only cure.

If you wanna know if your stem length is in the ballpark or not, for your size, get down in the drops and look down. You want the tops of your handlebars to line up with, and block out your view of the front axle. That's sort of a baseline, though some people prefer a more stretched out position, some less.

Pro riders who spend 8 hours a day in the saddle tend to like being stretched out, which is achieved by long stems and seat rails set further back. I think this is probably the solution depending on how long you spend on the bike. A stretched-out position is kind of impractical for short rides, and takes a while to get used to, but I think that's probably your solution in the long term, barring back injury, or a degree of obesity that makes it difficult to adopt such a position.
Colnago Mixte is offline  
Old 12-29-17, 09:13 AM
  #8  
Advocatus Diaboli
 
Sy Reene's Avatar
 
Join Date: Feb 2015
Location: Wherever I am
Posts: 8,664

Bikes: Merlin Cyrene, Nashbar steel CX

Mentioned: 14 Post(s)
Tagged: 1 Thread(s)
Quoted: 4760 Post(s)
Liked 1,542 Times in 1,011 Posts
Originally Posted by johngwheeler
I've set up my two bikes (Giant TCX and Specialised Roubaix) to have very similar fit dimensions to aid consistency.

However, I've found that I tend to get some lower back pain when riding the Giant (in a Medium frame - approx 54cm) compared to the Roubaix (in 56cm).

I have a 120mm stem on the Giant in order to get a similar saddle to bar reach, but I think the bars are slightly lower (about 1cm) and the hoods are a little further away due to the shape of the brifters (SRAM vs Shimano) - also about 1cm.

I'm now thinking that I'm either a little bit too stretched out, or have a bit too much saddle-to-bar drop.

I'm wondering whether I should go back to a 110mm or 100mm stem (flipped up), but realise that the shorter stem will also be lower (100mm stem @8 degrees upwards, with 71.5 degree HTA is about 9mm lower than the 120mm stem)

My question is whether my back pain is likely to be better with a shorter (but lower stem), or whether I should keep the height with the current 120mm stem, and just work on my core strength to allow me to stretch out more?

Thanks for any advice!
A couple of things:
1. Obvious question is why don't you just match the Giant to the Roubaix? Sounds like you need a 1cm spacer and bars with 1cm shorter reach.
2. I'm not seeing how a bar on stem flipped up (a 100mm) would be lower than your 120mm with the flipped down stem? Or is your current 120mm flipped up too? If so, to get what you'd want with a stem, you'd be shopping for a +10 degree 110mm stem.
Sy Reene is offline  
Old 12-29-17, 11:10 AM
  #9  
just another gosling
 
Carbonfiberboy's Avatar
 
Join Date: Feb 2007
Location: Everett, WA
Posts: 19,587

Bikes: CoMo Speedster 2003, Trek 5200, CAAD 9, Fred 2004

Mentioned: 115 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 3915 Post(s)
Liked 1,967 Times in 1,403 Posts
Just my usual comment: neither. Stiffness and muscle weakness are the usual causes of back pain while cycling. Stiffness, because it doesn't allow you to assume a pain-free position with hips rolled forward and straight back. Weakness, because cycling involves the whole posterior chain which has its upper end just below the shoulder blades. There's a good book about cycling and core strength: Core Advantage.

For some reason, I think vanity, ab exercise has become what people think of as "core work." Wrong. Back work 5X what you do for ab work.

All that said, IME a more stretched out position is less likely to produce back pain. Given a sound and strong rider, bar height doesn't matter all that much. Extremes seem more likely to cause problems: getting close to a horizontal back and back angles of less than 45° seem more problematic.
__________________
Results matter
Carbonfiberboy is offline  
Old 12-29-17, 11:28 AM
  #10  
Senior Member
 
Join Date: Nov 2007
Location: Central Florida
Posts: 343
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 45 Post(s)
Likes: 0
Liked 6 Times in 2 Posts
Originally Posted by topflightpro
In my experience, increasing the reach has helped reduce back issues. By extending the reach, I was better able to elongate my back and rotate my hips, instead of arcing at my lower back.

Drop can be an issue if you lack flexibility in your hamstrings, which will pull on the hips and lower back, making it harder to rotate the hips forward. So, with a long a low reach, you end up arcing the back even more.
Completely agree with this and what carbonfiberboy said.

Had miserable upper back issues until I learned to rotate my hips and stretch out. When you rotate your hips properly, your back, counterintuitively, is in a neutral position. I think the key to establishing this position and avoid your back from arching, and thereby compressing your spinal disks, is stretching those hammies and glutes religiously.
inspclouseau is offline  
Old 12-29-17, 11:36 AM
  #11  
Senior Member
 
Join Date: May 2010
Location: Bristol, R. I.
Posts: 4,340

Bikes: Specialized Secteur, old Peugeot

Mentioned: 20 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 663 Post(s)
Liked 496 Times in 299 Posts
As a long time back sufferer I have to agree with Carbonfiberboy's assessment. What works best for my back issue, first, is good back practices such as lifting correctly. Second is exercises that strengthen the core and there are a bunch of them shown on You Tube. Muscles are part of a kinetic chain with an origin at the core in one way or the other. Muscles are anchored at either end to bone. One of those ends is connected, perhaps indirectly, to the pelvis and loads are transmitted as necessary to withstand that load If the muscles are strong enough.
berner is offline  
Old 12-30-17, 10:53 PM
  #12  
Senior Member
Thread Starter
 
Join Date: Mar 2017
Location: Sydney, Australia
Posts: 853
Mentioned: 2 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 473 Post(s)
Liked 4 Times in 4 Posts
Originally Posted by Sy Reene
A couple of things:
1. Obvious question is why don't you just match the Giant to the Roubaix? Sounds like you need a 1cm spacer and bars with 1cm shorter reach.
2. I'm not seeing how a bar on stem flipped up (a 100mm) would be lower than your 120mm with the flipped down stem? Or is your current 120mm flipped up too? If so, to get what you'd want with a stem, you'd be shopping for a +10 degree 110mm stem.
1. Yes - I should probably have measured the actual reach to the hoods, instead of the more usual “center of the tops”. Unfortunately, I have no room to move on the spacers: I have removed all the spacers on the Roubaix (and use the “0 mm top cap” specific to the Future Shock head-set) and have added *all* the spacer to the Giant - it’s still 1cm lower! This shows the fundamental difference in bike size & geometry between the 2 bikes

2. As you guessed, the 120mm stem is also flipped up - part of the reason for the choice of length is to get more height; the longer stem is higher. I did experiment with a 105mm +30 degree stem, which was OK for height, but a bit compromised in other areas (steering felt weird, and the reach was a bit short). I probably want a 100mm, +15, but these are hard to find in the Giant 1-1/4” steerer tube size (which greatly reduces choice).
johngwheeler is offline  
Old 12-30-17, 10:54 PM
  #13  
Senior Member
Thread Starter
 
Join Date: Mar 2017
Location: Sydney, Australia
Posts: 853
Mentioned: 2 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 473 Post(s)
Liked 4 Times in 4 Posts
Originally Posted by Carbonfiberboy
Just my usual comment: neither. Stiffness and muscle weakness are the usual causes of back pain while cycling. Stiffness, because it doesn't allow you to assume a pain-free position with hips rolled forward and straight back. Weakness, because cycling involves the whole posterior chain which has its upper end just below the shoulder blades. There's a good book about cycling and core strength: Core Advantage.

For some reason, I think vanity, ab exercise has become what people think of as "core work." Wrong. Back work 5X what you do for ab work.

All that said, IME a more stretched out position is less likely to produce back pain. Given a sound and strong rider, bar height doesn't matter all that much. Extremes seem more likely to cause problems: getting close to a horizontal back and back angles of less than 45° seem more problematic.
Sounds like a good suggestion to do more exercise :-). This might end up being the best answer for me.
johngwheeler is offline  
Related Topics
Thread
Thread Starter
Forum
Replies
Last Post
Psychocycles
Fitting Your Bike
10
05-09-18 10:13 AM
ATPAH
Fitting Your Bike
8
11-10-17 11:04 PM
klepto1
Fitting Your Bike
6
03-29-16 09:52 PM
klepto1
Fitting Your Bike
12
08-31-14 09:29 PM
Dcmkx2000
Road Cycling
19
06-03-12 12:11 PM

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are Off


Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Terms of Service -

Copyright © 2024 MH Sub I, LLC dba Internet Brands. All rights reserved. Use of this site indicates your consent to the Terms of Use.