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Backpain from cycling

One would expect someone in this type of job would know better, however sometimes small changes can cause big problems, especially when the distances ramp up. In a quest (it's been ongoing for 15 years) to get perfect on the bike, I am a micro-adjuster or as I say, tweaker. Knowing I'd be spending in excess of 200km per day on the bike for over 3 weeks, I started making some tweaks to get more comfortable on the bike over distance. Problem was I wasn't sure which direction to go in.

My road bike set up is perfect, done by a bike fitter a few years back, with my minor tweaks, of course (usually done on the rollers). My race across America is being done on my cyclocross bike as the handling is more sturdy and given I am carrying around 10kgs on the bike, I wanted non-twitching handling. I made a few adjustments to the handlebar/stem arrangement, rode it into work for a week and it definitely felt so much better than before. Off we went to do a 220km Audax out in the west country in February in the lashing rain, howling wind. Apart from being left behind on the climbs because I'd strapped on a few kilos in the saddle bag, the ride went well. Bike felt comfortable, mudguards kept me dry and warm.

That was until the following morning when I swung my leg over the top tube to pedal out the legs and I'd put my back out. This was the most painful ride I have ever done and it took me close to 3 weeks to stop the shooting pain in my back and about 6 weeks to returning from moving like the tin man.

So what went so horribly wrong? I spent a weekend marking up my road bike on the wall with a pencil, starting at the bottom bracket I marked up the hoods, saddle height and front and back of the saddle. Then did the same with the cross bike, lining up the bottom brake as the starting point. Low and behold, the cross bike handlebars were a cm lower and a cm further forward than the road bike. Once I changed the cross bike set up to match the road bike, comfort over 200km returned.

It is a complaint I get a lot in clinic, where clients come in with back pain after a long ride. It surprised me that my back did not complain on the day given how badly I overstretched and damaged the fascia (given it took almost 6 weeks to recover). Where back pain may not be so apparent over a shorter distance, when you are overreaching (either to low or too long) for such long periods, the fascial tissue which supports our lower backs in this bent over position will no longer be able to support the spine. Queue mega back pain. So my advice is to get a proper bike fit and don't be a the numpty who thinks they can ride a Pro position without doing the level of core training, flexibility and time in the saddle to be honoured with this privileged position. It's is one that is earned, not bought.

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