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I bought my first road bike (from a MTB) about a 2 weeks ago, and I’ve given it 200 kms so far. However, I’ve been experiencing lower back pain and weight on my hands that slowly creep up (sometimes with shoulder and neck pain), and is kind of ruining the fun on my new bike.

I’ve set the saddle at the correct height (heel is straight), and I’ve tried moving the saddle forward and a little higher to reduce reach which I believe is hurting my back, but that is just making my hands hurt more. I'm thinking of moving the saddle back which would relieve the pain from the hands, but it would make the back situation worse.

Another reason for the pain might be that my body needs time to get used to the forwards leaning position, and that it’d go away after my first 100KM ride with that bike. Does anyone might know why I feel this pain - or is it just a beginner’s sore?

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    if you can get a friend to assist and post a couple of photos of your position that would help us give better answers
    – Andy P
    Jun 24 at 19:53
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    Or position a camera on the side of the road (at hip height) and shoot some videos. If you go through it frame-by-frame you should be able to get some good shots from exactly a right angle which makes it easier to judge position.
    – Michael
    Jun 24 at 19:55
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    Welcome to Bike Exchange, expertz.
    – Ted Hohl
    Jun 24 at 20:30
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    Two years ago I was in the same boat, but with wrist, rather than back, pain (bicycles.stackexchange.com/q/68352/48599). Of the many helpful answers and comments, what helped the most was to be cautious about how far one can reasonably turn the handlebar (thanks, Nathan Knutson) and that working on core strength is a good way to avoid putting too much weight on the wrists (thanks, Andy P).
    – Sam
    Jun 24 at 23:08
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    Does the shop offer bike fitting?
    – Christine
    Jun 25 at 11:13

10 Answers 10

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Don’t try to correct reach with the saddle fore-aft position. Only use stem length for that.

Moving the saddle forward probably made it worse. Generally the more backwards your saddle is, the easier it gets to ride with your hands “hovering” above the handlebars i.e. the more weight you can take off from your hands, simply by pushing down with your legs.

Without good photos it’s hard to tell how good or bad your position actually is. But keep in mind that you’ll always need some time to adapt to a road bike position. Even experienced road cyclists can get sore neck muscles and butt pain after a winter break (on the very same bike they could ride >100km without issues before).

On a road bike you should spend most of your time on the hoods, but changing hand positions to the tops or drops occasionally can help.

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    I disagree that reach shouldn't be corrected by saddle fore-aft position. You should select stem length solely based on riding standing, not considering riding sitting at all. Then saddle fore-aft position sets the correct reach for riding sitting on the saddle.
    – juhist
    Jun 25 at 8:53
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    @juhist: A ton of positions work when you get out of the saddle. You can stand completely upright (like on a stepper) or extremely leaned forward (like the pros when they sprint with their hands on the drops). So I don’t think it helps to determine anything.
    – Michael
    Jun 25 at 9:02
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    @juhist That depends on your goal. For aero drag reduction, saddle goes forward so hips remain open when your torso is close to horizontal (smaller crankarms help here). For shifting weight balance, a more forward saddle position puts more weigh on hands and less on saddle, while moving the saddle back puts more weight on saddle and less on hands. You can then set the bar where desired by changing stack height and stem length and angle. Or, like you say, you can set the bar position based on where you want it to be when standing then set your saddle position. Depends on what's important to you Jun 25 at 15:59
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    @juhist why select stem length based on the rarest riding position? Even in races you'd be on the hoods more
    – Chris H
    Jun 25 at 18:37
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    @ChrisH this method made sense on old bars before the 90s. When you hold the bars in the drops, like a sprinter. You will then move the rider far enough back to have the centre of mass almost over the bottom bracket. Then adjust the saddle to get to that point. This sacrifices considerations about hip angle. But it was not much more non-sensical than all the other ill-advised methods of 'the good old days'.
    – gschenk
    Jun 27 at 12:32
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You can get great advice here from a talented and experienced group of cyclists. As was mentioned, without images and/or video of your positioning to inspect, it is challenging to make suggestions, but we are still able to do so. We can get you pretty close to optimum, with enough time and input/feedback.

That said, if we fail to be able to get you fit to your new road bike, there is another option. A bike fitting from your local bike shop or a bike fitter could go a long way to providing you the best comfort while at the same time setting you up to get maximum efficiency and power out of your new road bike. Remember, you are the engine, and the engine needs to be aligned correctly to optimize the ride, and minimize discomfort/injury. This is a subject where you can ask around your local area for recommendations on bike fitters/bike shops for this. There are good ones and not-so good ones out there.

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    I received helpful and counterintuitive advice from my first road bike fitting. My handlebars were lowered, so that when riding on the hoods, I would be bent forward enough to engage my glutes to support my upper body. This relieved weight from my hands. Where I had been putting pressure on my hands before, now I was engaging my core more. I'm glad I rode my bike a bit and then came back for the fitting.
    – SamA
    Jun 27 at 2:44
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My process for initial sizing a bike is to:

  1. set the saddle height to my preferred distance from the crank, which I remember as 85cm. This is high enough that the leg is almost but not quite straight when at the bottom of the stroke. And the seat post must still have enoknowugh length inside the frame.

  2. Most road bikes lack adjustment on the stem, instead requiring replacement. So all I change there is the angle of the handlebars to make the hoods feel "right"
    It is also possible to use an adjustable stem to find your preferred angle/length, and then buy exactly that one.

  3. Then I ride it for a while; at least 10 minutes of steady riding. Your 130 km is ample to decide if the setup is good.

Your description of lower back pain suggests you are hunched over too much, with a curved back. Raising the bars by one or more of

  • Rotate the bars in the stem
  • Raise the threadless stem on the steerer, which means rearranging spacers and hopefully steerer isn't cut too short, OR
  • Raise the quill stem by undoing the wedge bolt and raising. Be mindful of the "minimum insertion" lines.

Another thing to do is mentally "mock up" where you would prefer the handlebars to be. Stem length and angle interact, because your arm length and elbow angle are also part of the connection and your back does(should) not change in length but your shoulders will follow an arc.

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    Raising bars by rotating them is not a good solution. It changes the angle at three brake lever hoods, gets the curved part of drop bars in a not very useful position.
    – gschenk
    Jun 25 at 9:19
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    You can also raise the bars by using a stem with a different angle. If the stem is angled down, simply flipping it will raise the bars some. (I assume you know this, just making it clear for all) Jun 25 at 16:11
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    @gschenk true - but it's a free solution to gain a few millimetres, and test if a change is in the right direction. Ideally we'd like to buy the "right" stem once, and avoid interim ones.
    – Criggie
    Jun 26 at 0:36
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If that pain comes after a while off riding most likely there is too much load on your lower back and your arms.

Back

Lower back pain may come from a much lower position in the new bike. Things you may do against it:

  • Increase bar height by adding spacers and flipping stem.

  • Tilt your hip forward (anterior pelvic rotation) to avoid a rounded back. Tilting the saddle nose down helps doing that. Some saddles help with it too (Selle SMP).

  • Strengthen your back with exercises off the bike.

Another reason for back pain may be too little reach. To compensate the rider arches their back.

  • Check if you have to increase reach. A photo from the side will inform you. You might try to stretch out while riding in different positions.

Yet another reason is an overstretched neck. If your flexibility is not good enough you might have a compensatory pose that causes pain elsewhere.

Arms

Arm pain may be caused by too much weight on your arms. Ideally you'd be able to put all your weight through your legs and seat and cantilever your upper torso with your hip and shoulder muscles. At this point you should be able to completely unload your arms.

This requires you put a lot of power through your pedals to provide enough torque. Alternatively don't pedal, level cranks and almost stand on them. (Like attack position in MTB). Needs also a strong back. What is more, your centre of mass must not be too far forward of the bottom bracket (saddle position).

  • A weak back makes arm pain worse

  • A saddle that is too far forward increases arm load considerably.

  • Hunched shoulders cause all kinds of arm and shoulder pain and may cause chronic injury. Learn how to centre your shoulders (rhomboid muscles engagement). Reaching down to a bar that's too far away (wrong reach or stack) might also trigger this.

  • Weak arms will hurt however good your make your fit. Strengthen them with exercises off the bike.

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  • Arm excercise off the bike? That shouldn't be necessary just to ride a road bike. Surely there are exercises you can perform on the bike. (For me, climbing out of the saddle on my hardtail MTB and doing bunny hops etc. on my trials bike are the best arm excercises.) Jun 25 at 15:19
  • Specific arm exercises off the bike are probably excessive. Arms get an appropriate level of workout doing a 'standard' core strength routine with planks, side planks, push ups etc.
    – Andy P
    Jun 25 at 16:47
  • @AndyP the problem with planks (or riding for that matter) is that they are quite similar to push ups. This trains breast muscles. When they are too strong they pull shoulders forward. To offset that its necessary to train (and mobilise) antagonists of muscles you train while riding. That requires targeted strength or endurance training (eg swimming).
    – gschenk
    Jun 27 at 12:37
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Lower back pain can also be caused by impact without dampening. Because of higher tire pressure, stiffer and higher frames, no suspension and hard saddles, road bikes pass impacts through to the rider much more direct than other bikes. If that is the case consider a suspended saddle post and a saddle with springs, even if that's a bit anathema to a road bike where weight reduction is a prime design goal.

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    I think OP should begin by learning how to “float” over the terrain before pursuing technological solutions. On a road bike, you can’t (or at least shouldn’t) just sit down and smash through bumps like you could on a MTB.
    – MaplePanda
    Jun 26 at 7:50
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    @MaplePanda agree. (And IMO that actually holds for MTB as well – suspension is no excuse for not floating/hopping/pumping the bike yourself over the terrain as much as possible.) Jun 26 at 16:31
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A couple of decades ago I had a problem where my hands would get painful from leaning on the handlebar as I pedaled. Went around in circles for awhile and then I discovered a brand of bike glove with strips of rubber in the palm. The strips were about 1/8" diameter and close together. When you leaned on the bar while wearing the gloves the strips prevented blood flow in the palms from being stopped, making riding much more comfortable.

The gloves wore out so I tried another fix. I first wrapped the bar with a single layer of bar tape, then applied about 6 thin strips of silicone caulk to the bar (running parallel to the bar), then, after the caulk set, wrapped things in another layer of bar tape. This worked well and lasted a long time.

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Remember it is the first you ride a road bike,the riding position is very different from a MTB bike,road bike position put more pressure on back,you need time to get used to it use more often it should be ok.

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    The position doesn't necessarily have to be that much different. A lot of XC riders choose a position similar to what you might have on a road bike. pinkbike.com/news/…
    – Andy P
    Jun 25 at 15:20
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    @AndyP The people with such slammed XC setups represent a small minority of MTB riders. Unless we know the OP has such a MTB setup, statistically speaking, it’s probably safe to assume the MTB had a more upright seating position than the new road bike.
    – MaplePanda
    Jun 26 at 7:52
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Go to a professional bike fitter and get set up correctly. DIY bike fitting is like trying to give yourself a haircut.

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    Hi, welcome to bicycles. A professional fitting has already been suggested in another answer, and this doesn't really add anything else. Please don't post answers that just repeat information already provided.
    – DavidW
    Jul 2 at 13:41
  • Welcome to the site - could you extend this answer with an edit to add new info? If you've had a bike fitting of your own that would be useful and relevant new information. Personally I've never had a bike fit, locally they cost more than a new bike!
    – Criggie
    Jul 4 at 20:36
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You can adjust your distance to the handlebar by changing the way you hold it. You can vary between somewhat a base of your palm and about 2/3 of the length of your fingers. I think it is about 10 cm so quite noticeable. Changing the position allows longer ride before you get tired just from sitting on a bicycle. Of course, hold the handlebar properly where you need more careful steering.

I initially used this trick during my 30 minute ride, and it helped me. After few months of commuting daily I probably got somewhat stronger because I do not longer need to care.

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That's a too low handlebar!

Most road bikes are intended for athletic cyclists with very strong arms. Mere mortals cannot ride on them.

Look at the handlebar height. The top of the handlebar should be no more than 2 centimeters below the top of the saddle. If it's lower than that, you have too low handlebar (unless of course you are racing cyclist in which case lower handlebar is ok).

Most likely the bike doesn't even have enough stem spacers for raising the stem and the stock stem is probably 6 or 7 degrees. Thus, you need to purchase a new high-rise stem. Maybe 17 degrees turned up will do it, maybe you need 35 degrees. But before that, tilt the stem up and put all spacers below the stem, and look at the height of the handlebar now.

Raising handlebar height by a large amount might make the old length adjustment obsolete (if it was correct in the first place, probably wasn't) so you may need to not only buy a first stem with correct handlebar height, but also a second stem with both correct handlebar height and correct stem length (reach).

I know that for example a too long stem doesn't cause the problems that too low handlebar causes so the cause of your pain can't be too long stem unless it's off by a massive amount.

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