A cycling question from a blog reader

AC asks us,

Cycling question for you, if you don’t mind.

I’ve always enjoyed riding my bike, but I’ve never had a real road bike nor tried any long-distance stuff. My favorite spin class at the gym tends to approach the whole thing more like a bike ride, with hill climbs and flat sprints, so I think of it a bit like indoor training for the someday I get back outside on a real bike.

However, I always adjust the handlebars so that I can sit as much upright as possible, which also helps when we’re standing up and “jogging,” since my arms barely reach at that point. Whenever I’ve tried to lower the handlebars, I really feel it in my lower back after a short period of time.

My question to you is, how did you get used to leaning over all the time? What can I do to get comfortable with it?

I replied: “Probably the gym spin bikes aren’t a good fit. You shouldn’t have to stretch at all to reach. Can you move the seat forward?”

But what do the rest of you have to add? Tracy, Catherine, Sharon, Eaton? Blog readers? We’re a big group. I figure together we can help!

8 thoughts on “A cycling question from a blog reader

  1. AC needs to look into increasing her core strength. Sadly cycling’s tripod position, where your weight is supported by your seat, the pedals and the handlebars depends on core strength but does not build it. “Jogging” in spin class is very dependent on core strength. When you jog, you should only be using the handlebars for balance not as part of your support, which takes great core strength – but does not build it. Same with low back pain from the leaning over position in a bike. Requires core strength, but not built by biking. So, cross training featuring core strength will greatly help you. Not a fast fix but a fix nonetheless.

  2. From a bike fitting perspective, it is a matter of time to get used to a certain position. Many people are reluctant to take on a “road bike” position but when they are out on the road, they soon realise that it has advantages (comfort, performance)

    as for spin bikes, they are a terrible benchmark for what people’s comfort on real bikes. the saddle is too wide, fore-aft position is messed up. Just about every measurement on a spin bike makes it a poor tool to gauge a person’s overall fitness and flexibility.

    hope that helps, it’s hard to convince someone in that fashion. It’s a matter of faith and committing to the road bike position and learning to adapt to it.

  3. I was worried about this when I started riding. It actually hasn’t turned out to be such a problem – even when I’ve ridden for 40 miles, as I’ve managed to do a couple of times. I think that riding on the road and riding in spin class may be quite different. In spin class you are focused on exercise. When you are riding you are focused on riding. I think one result of this difference is that you tend to change positions more. Which is not to say that I don’t sometimes get a stiff neck or lower back, but if I feel it happening I just get more conscious about changing something about the way I am riding – I shift in my seat, change my hand position (there are lots of different places you can put your hands on the bars), sit up for a while, even stand up for a bit and stretch. So far it seems to work.

  4. I didn’t really give it much thought since I figured that, as long as I want to ride a road bike, I’ve just got to be in that position. I find it pretty comfortable, actually. I definitely recommend having the bike properly fitted. And then just getting out and riding. It’s not really uncomfortable. I don’t feel it in my lower back at all. In fact, it’s my neck and upper back that mostly needs stretching out from time to time. I think for me it’s from an old injury and not anything typical of the bike posture. When I do need to stretch out, I just sit upright and do a bit of stretching. It’s easy. My commuting bike is more upright and I find that it is not nearly as comfortable for longer rides as my road bike.

  5. Yeah, fit can be an issue.
    More importantly, I think, is weight distribution. On the stationary bike you are either seated or standing. Your weight it primarily on your butt or your feet ; your hands are used for balance.
    On a road bike, those three points of contact share the burden of your weight equally…or just about so.
    If you sit ‘full on’ on a road bike as you do on a stationary bike, you will feel a remarkable stretch in your torso.
    Instead, share the weight between your butt and feet, lean forward, grab the handlebars, and feel the center of gravity around your abdomen – not your butt/ upper thighs.
    What you’ve done, in effect, is arch your whole body over the bike, rather than sitting in one position and reaching forward.
    This makes a big difference.

  6. I agree with previous posters– spin bikes serve the purpose of gym exercise and do provide cardio training, but their geometry makes them really uncomfortable for lots of people (I hate the too-wide saddles too!). The great thing about a road bike is that it is designed for a custom fit. The downside (but a temporary one) is that it may take a while when you first start riding a particular bike to get it dialed in. Also, getting the fit right costs money, both in terms of replaced parts (e.g. the saddle they sold you with the bike is not great, but there are dozens of different designs for dozens of different types of riders) and getting a customized bike fit from an expert.

    After rotator cuff surgery in 2009, I paid $150 for a custom bike refitting to deal with my neck and shoulder needs. It was the best money I ever spent. I got a different set of handlebars and a slight riser stem (you might find these useful as it raises you up a bit more and makes your platform very stable). Those cost less than $100. I already use a specific saddle for all my bikes (specialized avatar gel) that costs around $100. But the good news is that, with the right bike, the right fitting, and some practice riding on the road in different terrain, you can get your bike to fit you like a glove. Mine does (and it’s a low-end road bike), so this is possible. Let us know how it goes!

  7. to add to what I said earlier and to take in some of what others have said. In general most people find spinning on a bike becomes more of a hassle and are more painful, while the same cannot be said on a road bike outdoors. this has a lot to do with the prefrontal cortex that acts as a filter for information of lower importance. so when you are outdoors, your brain is trying to process everything that’s going on around you (cars, riders and traffic) and it blocks out all the stuff that you would feel while on a spin bike (this seat hurts my ass, there is a pastrami sandwich at home)

    spin bike is to keep your fitness level to within the same magnitude of your summer fitness level and should not be considered a carbon copy of what’s going on on a road bike.

  8. I avoid spin indoor bikes : they don’t fit me at all. It hurts my body! I am 5’1″ and petite/narrow. …Unless you take your own road bike and buy indoor rollers. I haven’t tried latter… I am car-free and have been for over 2 decades, so I’m always outdoors on bike. Cycling is not just for fitness (no matter how short distance in very cold winter days ie. -15 degrees C to -20 degrees C.) but for work, shopping and errands.

    And I am abit more upright. I don’t have drop down handlebars. And I go on touring bike rides for multiple days –50-100 km. per day of cycling. Bike fit is important.

    If you have no choice but to ride indoors, then consider getting rollers and put your outdoor bike on them.

    Above all, don’t feel you HAVE to have dropped down handlebars just to cycle for several hours. I cannot but stress, it must be at your body comfort level because in the end, it’s being comfortable, natural and to feel in love in cycling always..for many years to come. Think of it like long-term love of your favourite exercise Make it that your goal.

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