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I have a road bike that I commute to work on, just a 9km trip each way. I also have some tightness in my lower back, especially since I usually sit in front of a computer screen. My wife wants me to change my road bike set up so that I am no longer bent over when riding, but have a more upright posture. Can I change the stem and handle bars easily (and cheaply) for a flat bar configuration so as to turn my road bike into a commuter bike?

P.S. I am also planning on getting some panniers fitted, so as to take the weight of a backpack off me, but that will probably be another question.

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If you currently have drop bars you'll have to buy new shifters and brake levers to make the switch to a flat bar setup. I don't know what is "cheaply" for you, but it will be tough. –  Vache Nov 11 '10 at 14:02
    
Can you tell us more about the bike? Some racing bikes might not take to this well. –  Neil Fein Nov 11 '10 at 20:30
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6 Answers 6

up vote 18 down vote accepted

You can probably change the stem to something shorter with more rise and not have anything else to change. This may be enough to relieve the back pressure and the drop bars will give you more hand positions which I've always found easier on my carpal tunnel.

Changing the handle bars to flat bars will mean you have to get a set of shifters and brake levers to go with the new handle bar style.

I'd also recommend that you get a set of full wrap fenders so you can keep the road spray to a minimum.

I'm a designer and programmer so I understand the issues around sitting all day. A better investment may be in your chair at the office and your desk. You're spending way more time sitting there every day than you are on your bike. That is the place that you can most likely get the most benefit by setting it up for a proper ergonomic workspace.

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A big +1 for the last paragraph –  Vache Nov 11 '10 at 18:21
    
thanks. I know a good chair and a nice ergo keyboard was my best ergonomic investment this year. –  curtismchale Nov 12 '10 at 3:11
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+1 on the stem change suggestion -- cheapest way to decrease your reach and sit more upright. I'd give another +1 for the office suggestion if I could... –  darkcanuck Nov 12 '10 at 4:22
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You may find that you have some spacers on the steerer tube above your stem that you can move below it to raise the bar height for free.

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Also, a lot of bike stems can be flipped. This increases the height of your handle bars and should keep you from having to bend over as much. Remember that any changes you make to the stack and reach of your handle bars may require you to make other adjustments to your seat and seat post.

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I do not know how heavy your backpack is, but I would defo start by getting that off your back, If you carry your laptop round in it then its too heavy. Stick it in a saddle bag. It makes the whole trip more enjoyable, you are free to move around, your back gets relief and the bike carries the weight and you'll be quicker!.

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Panniers are a great idea. Having the weight off your back will give you more stability.

Flat bars are nice but not required. If your road setup has C-drops, just ride with your hands on the hoods.

Check into an adjustable stem. This will allow you to position it as you like. Since this will be a commuter, the extra weight of an adjustable stem is of less concern.

Check into bigger tires. This is pretty low cost and will add a) better traction and control and b) better wear protection from unknowns in the road or hopping a curb.

Reiterating other posters, core strength is key for many reasons. Shortening your distance from the saddle to the bars can help with back stiffness but getting your core fitness up is the best approach.

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+1 for mentioning tires. Get tires that can take a little abuse. –  LanceH Nov 14 '10 at 0:40
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Getting the weight of your back is a good idea.

Another thing to try is some back/core strengthening exercises. Much better than getting some hybrid good for nothing cycle!

I am hesitant to suggest exercises as I am not a doctor but there is a lot of body-weight stuff you can do easily enough.

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core strength overall is essential to keeping your back strong and injury free –  curtismchale Nov 13 '10 at 2:57
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