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Home » Cycling » Road Bike Myth #6,472: Cycling Will Cause Back Pain

Road Bike Myth #6,472: Cycling Will Cause Back Pain

November 2013

I used to have back problems.  The origins were questionable but I’ve never had a major accident that would “cause” the pain.  Like many, when I started getting into bike riding, I thought that mountain biking was the way to go because you sit more upright on the bike.  It did help though it didn’t end the pain completely – I went from an Aleve or two once or twice a week to once every other week.  When I bought that mountain bike I was certain that I’d found exactly what I wanted, that I’d need go no further.  I had my dirt tires and a set of road tires and all was well so I was prepared for whatever type of riding that I might want to take part in.  About three weeks into using the road tires I was gearing out going down small hills (less than 2% grades).  A week or two after that and I started gearing out on the flats.  I knew it wasn’t going to be long before I wouldn’t be able to grow in the new sport that I was coming to enjoy very much.  It was time to embrace the horror and look into road bikes.  At this point, all I knew about road biking revolved around old Schwinn ten-speeds but I was worried about how I would deal with the back pain that would surely come with riding a road bike – I mean look at them, with the seat higher than the handlebar!  How can that be comfortable?

It was at that point I met and started talking to the owner of our local bike shop and I, unlike many noobs, asked him about my concerns in purchasing a road bike rather than relying on what I knew.

What he said surprised me…  As can be expected, I got the normal, “you should consult with your doctor, I’m not a doctor” stuff (and consider this my reiteration of the same), but after that he said that he’s heard from many cyclists that riding a road bike helps relieve many back pain issues.  I had no clue how this could be possible but that was enough to get my interest piqued…  I’d come to find out that I really liked the speed and if cycling lessened my back problems, that would be a bonus.  My first two bikes had a decent drop to them and over the last couple of years my once moderate back pain faded considerably after riding them.

My new Venge has a more pronounced drop than my old Trek, a respectable 4-3/4″ (more than 12cm) drop from the nose of my saddle to the top of the handlebar.  I purposely chose a smaller bike so I could get a better drop (56 cm seat tube in lieu of the recommended 59 cm) and sport a longer stem (110 mm in lieu of 80 or 90 mm).  In other words, I went out of my way to make sure that when I ride I can do so as aerodynamically as possible while considering my flexibility, which isn’t all that great – I can’t touch my toes without bending my knees a little bit.  Now, one very important thing to add to this equation is that I don’t have a gut to work around.  With a paunch I’d have a much tougher time breathing when I ride so I’d have had to opt for a larger bike with less drop.  Know this:  I have been working very closely with my shop owner on how I feel riding my bikes – he knew before I ever bought my new bike that I could handle a steeper drop than average.  My Venge is incredibly comfortable (according to Matt he could have fit me on a 54 cm frame but we agreed that wasn’t necessary because I plan on riding this bike well into my 50’s – I felt that a 54 would have been too much of a good thing).  My 56 cm Venge is so comfortable in fact, that I still have a tough time believing how nice it is to ride a race bike set up the way mine is.

When I picked the Venge as my new bike, I picked it because I found it to be absolutely one of the most beautiful bikes on the market in my price range.  I chose a race bike and I wanted it to look like a race bike when I was riding it.

With the explanation out of the way, my experience has been that my back problems are nearly a thing of the past.  I still hit the bottle of Aleve once or twice a month but I only ever need one to completely knock out the pain.  If I had to go out on a limb and guess, riding road bikes has built up my core and back muscles which did away with the pain.  I have never, in the last 25 years, been so pain-free.  Sure my muscles hurt from the effort every now and again but that’s to be expected.  My initial ideas of how road bikes affect the back were completely wrong – not only is that position comfortable, what used to be a fairly painful existence has been made enjoyable.

Don’t write off the road bike because of misperception – it’s not as bad as you might think.  Just make sure to check with your doctor first because I’m not one.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  You should check with an experienced bike fitter to make sure that you’re within your realm of possibility…  Trying to ride in a pro’s position when you can’t possibly bend that far cannot be wise.  On the other hand, don’t be afraid to challenge yourself (or your fitter) to get what you want.


  1. mytravelmateblog says:

    I went the other way. I tried road bikes, but i just couldn’t get comfy. My current bike is a Fuji 29er and i have never been happier.

    Different strokes for different folks. Have to admit that my aches and pains pre bike have gone.

    Thank you for your posts 🙂

  2. I found the road bike better on my back once fitted properly. I plan to get fitted for my Trek DS 8.3 in the spring as I have some back issues on that one.

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