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Earlier this year I bought a brand new (but 2006-frame) Condor Leggero and in many ways it's a brilliant bike. But I've had back problems with it ever since. My lower back hurts - sometimes more, sometimes less - after about 20 miles or so and it's really made me a worse cyclist. I'm much more comfortable on my old Langster which is a real shame as the Condor cost a hell of a lot of money.

I'm about 5'9" and it's a 52cm frame. I've tried making every adjustment possible but none seems to make much difference. The Langster is 54cm.

Has anyone else had a similar experience? Is my bike too small or is there something I can do to be able to cycle proper distances again?? Anyone had lower back pain that they've got over (without getting a new bike)?

cheers
Andy

26 comments

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dave atkinson [6201 posts] 6 years ago
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First off: 52cm does sound a bit small if you're 5'9". The simplest test is to measure the reach of the bike with your forearm: resting your elbow against the nose of your saddle with your arm and hand stretched out along the top tube, then place your other hand at a right angle flat across those outretched fingers, the rule of thumb is that the outside edge of your fingers should be about paralel with the middle of the fork steerer. If the bike is too short (or too long) it can be a cause of back pain. Obviously there's not much you can do to the frame, but you can fit a longer stem and/or push the saddle back on the rails a centimetre or so to get a bit more cockpit room. Small differences can have a surprising effect.

I suffer from lower back pain on test bikes all the time: ones that are just the right size, ones that are on the small side and ones that are too big (though they're rare!). I can get rid of it every time though, just by tilting the saddle very slightly down at the nose. I ride all my bikes with this setup now, certainly works for me. I've also heard people sing the praises of yoga/core strength work to improve flexibility and strength in the midriff as a way to beat the back pain.

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DaSy [687 posts] 6 years ago
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Another way of getting a rough idea of the right size is as a proportion of your inside leg measurement.

This article by Dave Moulton is quite informative regarding how he measures people for a bike, may help give an idea of the correct size for you.

Dave Moulton Bike Fit

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andrewfurlow [30 posts] 6 years ago
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Thanks both, that's really helpful

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DaSy [687 posts] 6 years ago
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The most likely problem with a small frame causing back problems tends to be the saddle to bar drop.

Usually, as the heatube is shorter, to scale the frame down for the samller rider, this can create quite a big drop, as you have to have the saddle at the correct height for your leg length.

Assuming the steerer tube has already been cut, you could correct, or improve this by getting a positive rise stem (often just flipping your current stem over will help)to reduce the drop and therefore reduce the amount you have to bend your lower back to reach the bars.

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cat1commuter [1420 posts] 6 years ago
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dave_atkinson wrote:

I suffer from lower back pain on test bikes all the time: ones that are just the right size, ones that are on the small side and ones that are too big (though they're rare!). I can get rid of it every time though, just by tilting the saddle very slightly down at the nose. I ride all my bikes with this setup now, certainly works for me.

I was wondering why the saddle was at a funny angle on your picture of the Kinesis test bike.

It is difficult to give advice about lower back pain, because everyone is different. Some people have spines which are too convex in the small of the back, which sounds like Dave. For others, like me, they are too concave. For me cycling helped cure the lower back pain I was suffering from sitting at a desk all day, and a horizontal saddle is comfortable. One of my colleagues has his saddle tilted so far down that I don't understand how he doesn't slide off the nose.

Andy, I would guess that the drop to your bars is too big. You see the pros riding with horizontal backs when on the drops, but I've heard that very long distance cyclists recommend having you back at 45 degrees.

How about getting someone to photograph you from the side when you're riding your Condor and your Langster, and comparing?

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dave atkinson [6201 posts] 6 years ago
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Quote:

I was wondering why the saddle was at a funny angle on your picture of the Kinesis test bike.

heh. guilty  1 i was fine on it for 65 miles on it though when I took it out for a spin before it went off for proper testing, despite the fact that if I was buying a KR510 I'd go a size bigger.

cat1commuter and DaSy are right - the drop to the bars is one of the most likely things to be a problem, and it's fairly easy to play about with that. Specialized do an excellent stem, the Comp Road, which uses three shims to allow a variety of different angles, both up and down. It might be worth investing in something like that (maybe get one that's a size longer than the one you're running now, too) and trying a few positions.

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Jon Burrage [998 posts] 6 years ago
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Everyone is different in geometry and comfort but as a guide I use a 51/52cm bike (depending on manufacturer) for time trial/tri riding when down on the aero bars but when riding a normal road bike I have a 56cm. Seems to fit me fine and Im 5ft 9"

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andrewfurlow [30 posts] 6 years ago
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Having adjusted my seat a little last night following dave_atkinson's sage advice, I can feel that that might well help. A long ride at the weekend will tell and I'll be adjusting my bars too so that I'm nearer a 45 degree angle.

Thanks again

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dave atkinson [6201 posts] 6 years ago
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let us know how you get on...

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andrewfurlow [30 posts] 6 years ago
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Rode 30 miles on Saturday and 50 yesterday and sadly adjusting the seat may improve things a little but after 20 or so miles I was pretty uncomfortable and hard-pushed to say I was enjoying riding. Some pilates is probably next on the to-try list...

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TheBigMong [212 posts] 4 years ago
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I can't comment on the bike sizing, but I can relate to the low back issues.

I've been battling low back pain for about a year now. My doc is kinda dismissive about most gripes, and when I asked him why all the sudden my back was hurting more and more, he said, "you're out of shape... work on your muscle tone." That was a little insulting considering I had been training my arse off for the previous 3 months and I was performing very well on the bike, but I digress.

After some more discussion (mostly me pleading my case about my fitness) he acknowledged that it wasn't that I was weak overall, but rather that I was imbalanced. He told me to get to a chiropractor who works with athletes, do some serious work on core strength, and get a professional bike fitment.

The chiropractic care has helped. Not just the manipulations, but my chiro insists that proper stretching and core strength exercises can mitigate most of my pains. He's adamant about it. I was skeptical at first, but after a few weeks of blind faith I really started to see improvement. I got lax about the stretching and core strength stuff as my pain subsided and sure enough the pain crept right back in. Got back on the routine and sure enough things got better. I'm convinced.

In particular, I find that a few sets of hip bridges and a solid 5 minutes of psoas muscle stretches after a ride (or an unfortunate day of sitting alot) leaves me feeling a lot better the next day. I also have a set of core strength exercises that help balance me out and keep my cycling (and sitting) from distorting my spine as easily.

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notfastenough [3665 posts] 4 years ago
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Take the bike to a local shop that will assess your fit.

Core stability work rules, and does genuinely benefit.

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Sadly Biggins [269 posts] 4 years ago
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Try checking the saddle height on the Condor vs the height on your Langster (factor in whether the cranks are the same length too). I get some lower back pain if saddle height is even a matter of a few millimetres higher than my usual set-up

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Cooks [490 posts] 4 years ago
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If you can, try a compression shirt, I found that really helped me. For a core exercise, try planks. Take minutes to do but are dead effective.
Dave, could you explain that elbow/hand thing again please? Thanks

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Alan Tullett [1566 posts] 4 years ago
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I'm 5' 8'' and a bit and I have a 56cm road frame and I don't have any problems although I sometimes think it's a fraction too big. Tried a 54cm and it seemed a bit small. Would prefer a 55cm but it wasn't available for the bike I wanted.

Could there be other factors such as vibration? Are the frames made of different materials? (I don't know anything about your brands but I assume the Langster is steel and the Condor is carbon.) I tried a Boardman carbon frame and found it rather harsh. I ride the cheapest Specialized Secteur (aluminium with carbon forks with those funny things in them) and find it pretty smooth even when riding on small Fenlad roads not renowned for their tarmac.

Had back problems in the past so I know the importance of sorting this out.

Tight hamstrings and hip flexors can also be a problem as they lead to more back rounding rather than holding a 'neutral' position. A study (Burnetta, A et al., (2004)Spinal kinematics and trunk muscle activity in cyclists: a comparison between healthy controls and non-specific chronic low back pain subjects - a pilot investigation. Manual Therapy: 9 211-219) found that cyclists who suffer from back pain tend to curl forwards more in their lower back.
[taken from 'Beating Back Pain' by Mark Alexander available from www.pponline.co.uk - this website has a lot of sports related info on a variety of subjects including cycling and core strength.] Flexibility and posture are as important as abs and there are various very small balance muscles that aren't affected by traditional core strength exercises that are better dealt with by Yoga, Alexander Technique, which is what I used when I had a back problem, and Pilates). It may well be that the smaller frame is leading to more back rounding and therefore back pain. Dave's saddle 'trick' may also have the effect of putting him in a more 'neutral' position.

If it's really a problem and the advice given here doesn't sort it out, bite the bullet and sell the Condor and get a 54/55cm frame instead. Your back is more important than your wallet.

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russyparkin [570 posts] 4 years ago
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sizing is a funny game i use 3 bikes one is a 90's 53cm with supper short head tube, a 54cm caad10 racing snake and a 56cm orbea aqua. and im 5' 9' . thing i found was finding a comfortable contact point zone and making everything fit to that so for example make sure your running the same bar/seat/pedals. then from you comfy bike measure top of stem to floor vertically, tip of seat to bar edge/hood. top of seat to centre of bottom bracket. then do what you can to make them match. this works to a point but other factors are steel/alu/carbon all behave differently. best ride for me over long distances is the steel bike, cannondale for sub 40 mile hammer time, or 40-70 miles on the orbea for a more relaxed ride with less weight than the steel. hope this helps a little

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Jack Osbourne snr [390 posts] 4 years ago
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russyparkin wrote:

sizing is a funny game i use 3 bikes one is a 90's 53cm with supper short head tube, a 54cm caad10 racing snake and a 56cm orbea aqua. and im 5' 9' . thing i found was finding a comfortable contact point zone and making everything fit to that so for example make sure your running the same bar/seat/pedals. then from you comfy bike measure top of stem to floor vertically, tip of seat to bar edge/hood. top of seat to centre of bottom bracket. then do what you can to make them match. this works to a point but other factors are steel/alu/carbon all behave differently. best ride for me over long distances is the steel bike, cannondale for sub 40 mile hammer time, or 40-70 miles on the orbea for a more relaxed ride with less weight than the steel. hope this helps a little

That's very similar to the method I use. I'm a long-of-body 6' and ride a steel Bianchi @ 57, a Zerofour Ti Audax @ 55 and an Alu Boardman Hybrid in Large (54???) All three have the same distances between the contact points at saddle top in line with seat post, bar and the crank bolt. I had a 53 alu carbon Bianchi and I found that (even with a 130 stem flipped up) to be THE most uncomfortable ride ever... my slightly leggier (but same height) mate loved it though!

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localsurfer [200 posts] 4 years ago
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Interesting thread - I'm 5'8" and my bike is a rather nice made to measure custom build, and it's 48" It's teeny, but (obviously) fits me perfectly.

Granted, I am a slightly strange shape (the frame builder asked me about 4 times if I was absolutly sure my measurements were correct, as they looked so weird), but my old bike was 52" and that was WAY too big.

I think whatever various peoples opinions on here might suggest, you are unique so it won't (necessarily) work for you. Get a bike fitting done, and if you're bike is the wrong size it's not worth hanging on to.

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Raleigh [1665 posts] 4 years ago
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I'm doing some chiropractic ATM too, and it seems to be helping.

Hamstring stretches also.  1

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fred12345 [2 posts] 6 months ago
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i tried that method on my bike and my fore arm alone went right past the head steerer by the time i had added my other hand it came to 530mm which was way past head steerer  39 my upper back burns after about 30 miles as i have tried every thing to get rid of it but it keeps coming back im 5.9 and my bike is 56 top tube recently changed the handle bar stem for shorter one as my back was sore stiff i have carbon frame as i thought it would be easier on my back i have aslo tried 53 top tube alloy frame but still got pain  39 39 and checked every thing out on the bike dynamics bike sizeing it says 56 is right for me not sure wether i need longer steerer head over 200mm or longer top tube or shorter

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fred12345 [2 posts] 6 months ago
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hi i get upper back pain and not sure how to get rid of it as i have tried every thing not sure were what to do confused with bike sizing methods

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Comrade [204 posts] 6 months ago
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Some very interesting points on here. I reckon the bike could be too small if it was you...

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BBB [344 posts] 6 months ago
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Try a 140mm stem and/or handlebars with longer reach to find out.

Most of people unknowingly ride frames one two sizes too small because no one told them how to seat properly on a bike (with their pelvis rotated forward)...

I'm 5'11 and with a typical setup - 3.5" drop, 100mm stem and 75mm compact bars I'd need 60cm TT to stretch comfortably.

P.S. I'm not built like an orangutan  3

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CXR94Di2 [1101 posts] 6 months ago
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Upper back problems could be many things eg

Handle bars too wide or too narrow
Kinking neck too much due to too low handlebars
Reaching too far forward

Then your body
Weak shoulders, triceps and poor core condition. All the above could contribute to discomfort.

Personally I am 6ft and use a 56 cm frame. I would of thought a 53/54 frame would be in the ball park for 5' 9". Then it's just a case of getting the reach and height just right with different parts.

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sergius [314 posts] 6 months ago
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I'm 5'9 and have two frames, one's a 54 (Cube Agree GTC) and the other a 56 (Rose Xeon CDX). The frame geometry makes a big difference, the 54 is a more racy (lower front) geometry and I ended up having to get narrower bars (42) and a shorter stem (90) to get comfortable. The 56 is more upright, I actually have a longer stem (100) and wider bars (44) on the Rose and it's just fine.

So for me at least, the frame layout makes a big difference.

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DaSy [687 posts] 6 months ago
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I imagine the OP has probably sorted the problem out after six years!