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I ride a bicycle to work every day for several months now. I use a bicycle sharing system that my city offers, and it's very convenient: I don't have to worry about locking the bike or maintenance, I can use the bike only one way etc.

However, recently I've started having back pains, and I think it has to do with the fact that the bikes in the sharing system don't have good shock absorbers, and I can feel every bump in the road giving me a strong jolt.

Is there a way I can reduce the damage to my back while still using the bike sharing system?

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How long is your commute? Back pain has many causes with very similar symptoms. You may not be able to change the bike much, but you should be able to fix back pain with some exercises. One of the biggest causes is poor core body strength. Cycling will not help build this strength, so consider doing exercise that target body core. –  mattnz Aug 27 '13 at 0:31
    
@mattnz - My commute is about 25 minutes each way. The exercises you mentioned seem like an interesting idea - can you suggest any sources where I can learn what sort of exercises target body core? –  Joe Aug 27 '13 at 6:00
    
In terms of exercises, simple sit-ups and "back extensions" are good. Unfortunately, it's hard to do the back extensions effectively without some gym equipment (though you can get some ideas here). –  Daniel R Hicks Aug 27 '13 at 11:05
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@Joe You can also do the "plank" (google.com/search?q=plank+exercise) or leg raises while lying on your back. –  lmjohns3 Aug 28 '13 at 7:16
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5 Answers 5

up vote 1 down vote accepted

By improving your technique. It is possible to have a very comforting ride on rough roads even with a rigid bike (no suspension at all).

So, whenever you are seeing roughness on the road ahead you need to do what I've described in http://bicycles.stackexchange.com/a/16315/908

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Very nice! I'll give it a try... –  Joe Aug 27 '13 at 6:10
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I seriously doubt that it's due to the lack of shocks, unless you have some really bad roads there -- many people ride bikes great distances with no shocks, skinny, stiff tires, and no real springs in the seat.

More likely your problem is with your posture -- seat too low, handlebar too low, handlebar too close or too far away, and/or pedals at the wrong angle to the seat.

Presumably you can adjust the seat height, so the first thing to try is to move it a bit higher. When the seat is at the proper height your knees should be nearly straight at the bottom of your stroke.

Next, see if you can adjust the seat forward/backwards. Being too far either direction can cause back problems, so try several positions.

You probably can't adjust handlebar height, but if you can, try raising it.

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I'm happy to hear that this is a problem I can probably fix :) I already adjust the seat height in the way you specified, and I don't think the seat can be adjusted forward/backwards, but I'll check again next time I use a bike. –  Joe Aug 27 '13 at 6:09
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I fixed a similar problem of mine(lower back pain after commute) by moving my seat forward, to a less efficient, but more comfortable upright position. –  Vorac Aug 27 '13 at 9:07
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To add to what others have said, I started getting bad upper-back pain on my commuter bike (probably similar to the bike share bikes) on both short and longer rides (a couple miles to 10 miles). I eventually saw a physical therapist who was able to help me to the point where the problem no longer occurs (even on days where I ride ~20 miles).

For me, the problem was my posture, both on the bike and at work in front of the computer. By hunching over, I was pinching the nerves on the back of my neck which caused transfer pain to my upper back. By trying to keep my back straight and my chin at a 90 degree angle, the problem has disappeared. I also adjusted my bike to have a more upright position so I don't have to crane my neck to look ahead, but I personally believe the most benefit came from improving my posture throughout the day at work so that the bike rides would no longer aggravate the problem. I also try to look up with my eyes rather than my whole head as much as possible.

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The upright position, typical of shared bikes, are bad for back pain. I doubt you will be able to get into the position shown on the link shared by cherouvim but I would try to transfer more of you weight to the pedals rather than your saddle. Basically try to stand up as much as you can. It will not be easy on those shared bikes but maybe trying will help just enough. I would recommend riding a more typical bike when possible as I am not sure this will be enough to relieve your back pain.

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That position is possible on any bike, unless you cannot bend your knees being standed (probably because the seat is way too high in which case the rider should lower it anyway). Example images of that stance on bikes with very high seat are leelikesbikes.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/… and ontariocycling.org/web_img/ew_img/XC_Prov_08_MB.jpg . In addition I already mention moving weight to the pedals (see 95%-5% "rule"). –  cherouvim Aug 26 '13 at 21:25
    
The bikes our city has are horrible and shouldn't be ridden too far. They basically say that on their site. The handle bars are around 12 inches higher than the seat and have a heavy front end. If you tried to ride them like that you would either hit the handle bar with your chest or fall over. I would agree any normal bike could be ridden like this but these are not normal. –  Mike P Aug 27 '13 at 2:16
    
I understand that these are not proper bikes but the concept of the posture I describe is that the rider needs to stop being rigid and glued on the bike (which would transmit every bump from the ground) but let the bike do its thing below, no matter in what condition it is. –  cherouvim Aug 27 '13 at 6:42
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This is one of the very rare instances where I might actually recommend a gel saddle cover. They have an elastic fitting and are very easy to put on and take off. If you're stuck with a bike from a share program that you cannot otherwise change, a padded seat cover might actually provide some benefit.

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