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I've ridden bikes all my life. Now nearing 50, for the past year or two I've noticed that when I ride over 20km or so, my lower back gets extremely painful - enough to make it not possible to ride. The bike is the same one I've already had, so it's not a bike-fit issue.

Because the bike is breaking down, I need to replace it. I'm worried about getting a bike that I won't be able to ride for anything other than short commutes because of back pain...and not finding this out until the first 20km+ ride. A short test ride of a new bike isn't going to be enough to determine whether it will trigger pain. Knowing that it's the lower back, what style of bike should I consider? I currently have a mountain bike and am thinking either of a touring bike or hybrid. I probably don't have storage space for a recumbent.

Oh, and current bike is a mountain bike. In the past I did heaps of touring on it, with no issues. Now I use it for commuting, and sub-20km rides.

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    You might be advised to get your back checked out. Probably a doc first, and then a physical therapist, to learn some back stretches and exercises. As we get older our muscles get weaker (and lazier) and it takes more effort to keep them properly toned. – Daniel R Hicks May 3 '15 at 13:24
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I have a touring bike and I find it quite comfortable. But them again, I don't have back issues. It's a bit more upright than most road bikes, and possibly more upright than some hybrids I've seen, as long as I'm riding on the hoods. Try to find a place that rents bikes or will let you have an extended trial ride in order to determine if it would help fix your issues. Spending $100 renting a few different models for a few hours at a time could save you a lot of money and help you find a bike that's comfortable for you.

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There are multiple causes of back pain; it's the most common human ailment, and the solution is unlikely to be simply given in an Internet forum answer.

Just because you've ridden the same bike for years does not mean it fits you. For example a slightly incorrect fit could be causing the problem. And your body can change over time; perhaps you've gained some weight, or lost some flexibly. So what used to fit may not fit now.

So I would definitely recommend a professional bike fitting.

Another cause of back pain is low core strength. Do look into this one.

The third thing to consider is gearing. Perhaps you're trying to pedal too hard, especially before you're thoroughly warmed up. Perhaps you're trying to be too quick on those short rides. This is easily overcome by using a higher cadence, or to look at it another way, use a lower gear.

Get a sports medicine person involved, such as a physiotherapist. Some of them can do the bike fit as well as diagnose causes and treat symptoms.

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    +1: I will be going the 'wrong' side of fifty in a few months. I now spend more time than ever on flexibility and core strength, and would suggest these as a first point of attention. – mattnz May 3 '15 at 5:21
  • I would certainly try to see a physiotherapist as you may have a back injury caused when you were off the bike and unrelated to cycling eg lifting a heavy weight – inbike May 3 '15 at 7:22
  • @matt Yeah time only goes one way ... 59 next month. I find the main thing is to keep riding. If I loose fitness or get an injury it takes a looooong while to get to the same level. At least I know what actions cause what symptoms in my own body; it's valuable knowledge to have. – andy256 May 3 '15 at 10:10
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I have two suggestions:

  1. It sounds obvious but look at the angle of your back in your normal riding position and consider going more vertical. Proper fit for a time trial racer and vs. somebody who wants to get around town and get some exercise will give vastly different angles.
  2. Try a recumbent. These put you in an aero position and the seatback lets you push hard against the pedals yet it's very easy on the back. I was lucky enough to demo one for three weeks and really enjoyed the change. At the time I was looking for an urban bike and a recumbent wasn't ideal for slicing between traffic and parked cars or hopping curbs when needed.

Years ago I went from a pretty aggressive riding position on a drop bar bike to a more level flat bar road bike and the stiff necks I used to have completely went away. Totally worth it. Since then many manufacturers have come out with more relaxed, "endurance" geometries.

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  • + 1 for the recumbent suggestion. It does not suit all but for those that it suit, 'bent riding it often a good solution. Completely different way of seating. Best if you can get a selection of different 'bent bikes to test. There are as many different of those than there are of upright ones. – Willeke May 3 '15 at 8:17

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