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I have regular lower back pain (mostly mild, with severe episodes during which I generally stay home; there's nothing wrong with my spine, I just sit at a computer too much). I just started biking to work - it's just a couple of miles and pretty flat, but having my back arched still doesn't feel very good.

What biking position should I try for? Any particular adjustments to my bike I should consider?

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Since you just started biking, I would give it a month before making any big decisions, the back pain may go away with regular bike exercise. Bike frame seat post geometry can play a big part in back pain also. –  Moab Jun 27 '11 at 2:18
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4 Answers

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I am familiar with this problem and the efforts people go to in order to reduce back pain on the bike.

Far too frequently people go for expensive stems and bars that climb skywards. Next thing they come back wanting to try something else. The problem being that their hands are no longer taking any of their upper body weight, every bump agitates their spine.

It is possible to get an upright position where the weight balance is good, 'Dutch bikes' seem to manage it, retro-fitting a road bike or MTB is very tricky to get right. Have a look at other cyclists on the road and their posture, get your own idea of how to sit. Bars at seat height and close, i.e. short top tube and relaxed geometry, might be worth a try. This will not be optimum on big hills as you cannot do a lot out of the saddle, but for most roads this should be nice and comfy. Consider getting some old steel bike second hand that has this geometry style. Then you can adapt your proper bike if you like the 'old fashioned' setup.

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I think I know what you're talking about with Dutch bikes... I think I'm already emulating that somewhat by automatically trying to ride sitting up straight with my hands off the handlebar when I can do that safely (no-car roads). I'll try to adjust my bike to make that work a bit better... There are no big hills on my route, so I'm safe there. –  weronika Jun 18 '11 at 7:15
    
I'm not sure why this was the "accepted" answer. This answer seems to be either, "get a Dutch Bike" or "adapt your bike so that it's like a Dutch Bike." Although accepted, this may or may not be a solution. –  user313 Jun 20 '11 at 22:16
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@wdypdx - Keep it civil, please. "Your answer is totally stupid." -- There's no need to be nasty and insult Mathew. –  Neil Fein Jun 21 '11 at 9:19
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@Neil Fein, so you are supposed to lean forward by varying degrees and not support that weight with your hands? Basic physics. Then the idea of bike fit - roadie bike fit - for a couple mile jaunt to work? Regular comfort-bike fit will suffice. Most people that ride bikes in this world do not speak English as their first language don't ride roadie bikes or the latest MTBs but comfy commuter bikes. –  ʍǝɥʇɐɯ Jun 22 '11 at 22:51
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Almost all of my riding is on a fairly upright touring bike and a cruiser, with some on a folding road bike and a commuter bike. On every one of these, despite different postures for different bikes, I find supporting my weight using my stomach and legs is best to avoid hand and back pain. –  Neil Fein Jun 23 '11 at 3:21
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FWIW, I'm a programmer too; and also a biker (or bicyclist).

I learned about my lower back from learning Tai Chi: from an expert.

I learned to push my lower back outwards - more convex and less concave: but, I didn't learn that on a bike.

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Oh, interesting! Following your google link, I think I tend toward a sway-back posture too, so pushing my lower back out more may be a good idea... Do you find that biking helps with that? –  weronika Jun 17 '11 at 7:02
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@weronika - I don't or I no longer have a lower back problem that I'm aware of: so I can't say that biking helps with that. As I said, it was Tai Chi lessons (from a master) and practice that made me more concious of my skeleton, spine, posture, relaxation, etc. –  ChrisW Jun 17 '11 at 13:54
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I do find, though, that biking (commuting by bike) helps to keep me fit enough to withstand the rigours of sitting at a desk all day with a keyboard and monitor. –  ChrisW Jun 17 '11 at 14:06
    
That makes sense! It definitely feels better than taking the bus. –  weronika Jun 18 '11 at 7:13
    
@weronika - When I'm biking too I push my lower back out: on a bike my whole back is C-shaped, not S-shaped. –  ChrisW Jun 21 '11 at 2:40
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According to, Andy Pruitt's Complete Medical Guide for Cyclists. Incorrect bike fit is a frequent contributor, especially too much reach to the handlebar. Also, lack of "core" strength in the torso can cause fatigue and pain.

I'd go with taking a look at your bike fit first. If that doesn't help, you can definitely consider torso strength and flexibility as the root causes of the lower back issues.

Seriously, bike fit is the first place to start. Have you looked into this? A "dutch bike" may be the answer. But, maybe not? Things to try are: seat fore:aft, handlebar extension, handlebar height.

Second thing, is that your torso may be weak or inflexible or both. I don't know?

Folks are out there on road bikes, mountain bikes, hybrids, and just about any kind of bike with no pain.

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Looks like a very useful book, thank you! I'm glad I got a bike with an adjustable handlebar angle. I'll try playing around with that tomorrow. –  weronika Jun 18 '11 at 7:20
    
@weronika - ChrisW's answer regarding Tai Chi is quite good. Tai Chi, yoga, Pilates, good weight lifting routines, etc, all improve core torso strength. So, beyond correct bike fit, modalities that "improve" the core will very often resolve "lower-back" issues. –  user313 Jun 20 '11 at 18:41
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Others have mentioned good tips about position, but I thought I'd add a few things other than that which I find helpful to reduce lower back pain:

  1. I stopped carrying any sort of bag on my back (no matter how seemingly light!) and switched a rack with panniers
  2. I stretch after riding, focusing particularly on my lower back (obviously), but also my buttocks and hamstrings, since having these tight can lead to lower back pain.
  3. When I'm getting back into commuting after not riding for a while, I give myself more recovery time between rides to gain strength. In other words, don't start from zero biking days to biking every day and expect to not be in pain.

I've found that these steps have largely eliminated the problem for me.

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Very good point about the bag! I do carry a backpack. I should probably fix that problem sooner rather than later. –  weronika Jun 18 '11 at 7:14
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