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Single speed, climbing, lower back discomfort

For those saying, duh, well stop doing that, maybe, but I'm stubborn and have some (I think) reasonably good reasons. I started riding an el cheapo single speed at the tail end of this lovely, lovely winter season, as it had done a number on my geared bike. I am pleased to say that I was able to pick up my cadence enough not to be too frustrated about my level riding speed. I haven't counted teeth, but by feel, maybe high 60s in the gear inches? It's less than ideal climbing back to squirrel hill. Scratch that. It actually worked quite nicely when the jail trail was a mess and I used the 5th avenue bike lane, but I'm not going to Oakland, and I don't like the idea of doing that generally (or riding sidewalk a place I'm going a decent pace). Climbing Greenfield is harder. I can do it, but the cadence is terrible and there's no flow to it anymore, it's just hard pushing. If that were that, I'd be ok. It's not that much time lost overall, really. And I don't mind working harder, in some ways I think that's good. My car is now, I believe, officially dead, and if I have a little extra ability to muscle into things on a geared bike playing the part of the family/stuff hauler, that's a serious plus. But doing it semi-regularly, I'm also starting to get a sore lower back. To date I've done a tiny bit of stretching, which makes things feel better, but only briefly. On one person's suggestion, I tried walking backwards (which works best in the street facing oncoming traffic... if you ever want to see some perplexed and slightly terrified reactions this is an excellent thing to try) and that felt pretty good, but again, not a lasting effect. Basically, nothing so far has stuck. But things are still potentially shitty, thinking of next winter, and just not wanting to be out with a more expensive bike much or wear on components... all of this has me wanting to push through. So, help. First thought is, maybe this is an impetus to go clipless, try and smooth out the stroke and mostly get out of the business of pulling down on the handlebars? Also, for sure time to be more careful about the eating and see if I can lighten the load, say, 10 pounds (that would get me to about my lightest). Other suggestions?
2014-02-26 23:01:18
Just some random thoughts on the subject: -try a different gear ratio. maybe higher if you like to climb out of the saddle, or lower if you prefer to stay seated -look up some youtube vids on climbing techniques. I learned a bit from this video, but there are probably better tutorials out there: -further to your stretching idea, my partner recommends hot yoga. I've never tried it, but she swears by it. Maybe some more in-depth stretching exercises could help you? -before next winter, build/acquire/buy an IGH. My 3-speed was my first winter bike and it worked great for me. Now I'm looking into putting an 8-speed IGH on my touring bike. YMMV. -Rule 5?
2014-02-26 23:38:45
I'd be curious to ride whatever IGH's people have built up they'd be willing to loan for a bit. I'm actually on the fence about the family hauler, whether that should be an IGH or not. 3 speed would be more than a bit unfriendly if I'm trying to, say, pull 100 pounds of crap from costco plus another 40 in the panniers up of the pitches on Saline street. Many of the other IGHs are pretty pricey but I am eyeing this fella: If I can ever find the time to actually learn how to do things like build a wheel, that is. Anyways, back to the topic of discussion. Maybe macho BS, but since it's tough but doable already I mainly feel like I should work on myself. Certainly the single speed isn't a platform I'd consider worth investing heavily into modding.
2014-02-27 08:14:00
Just keep riding, it'll go away. Your core strength is lacking.
2014-02-27 10:27:12
So long as nothing is already injured. I have a strained muscle in my thigh that apparently heals with rest. (As in toughing it out just makes it worse.)
2014-02-27 10:34:37
rice rocket wrote:Just keep riding, it’ll go away. Your core strength is lacking.
That^ You can train your core with relatively simple exercises. Stretching is also a must. You use what is know as a power position. Rules #20 would help to change where most load is going.
2014-02-27 11:00:31
Right, not sure how to know whether this is garden variety case where HTFU is all that's called for, if it's a case where more exercise/stretching AND HTFU is called for, if it's a case where more exercise/stretching is called for, some HTFU, but in alternation with use of the bus lane for recovery maybe once or twice a week until the greenfield climb becomes more natural (don't prefer to do bus lane much, certainly not long term), or if I'm just trying to do something a bit stupid, wearing down on my back instead of mechanical bits I can replace with my wallet. Leaning toward the second or third case, not sure if bus lane usage should be okey-dokey when I'm feeling iffy, just okay... but avoid when possible, or whether I should just plan it in, actually have, I don't know, a plan.
2014-02-27 11:03:54
The "power position" you mean the hips rolled forward, core engaged, shoulders back thing thing, right? I've tried to do that, but only a tiny bit. I can feel my legs slice through the downstroke a faster when I do it on a gentle uphill grade, so I think it's doing the job in terms of power, but I'm not as low so it doesn't help raw speeed on the flat, it feels really awkward and isn't real comfortable in the saddle. I will try it more, especially when out of the saddle. Looking at 20... my legs are just fine. Spinning fast I find that it's my breathing that's the limit... there's usually relatively little burn in the legs, they just don't listen to me anymore... similar to the feeling on cold days (oh wait, I guess today qualifies!). Pushing hard on the pedals, it's always my lower back. There's plenty of lower body muscle to push with, it's generally not burning too bad, I'm just wobbly and sore in the lower back after a depressingly short time so it doesn't work as well.
2014-02-27 11:23:41
If stretching is only temporary relief, then that is likely not enough. Core training may be the ticket but there are some muscles that need to be retrained rather than rested. If cycling long term is a priority, it would be best to take care of your spine sooner rather than later. I work at a physical therapy clinic in Squirrel Hill. Message me if you'd like.
2014-02-27 12:17:17
I think your intuition about some kind of foot fixing is correct too. Would certainly reduce the strain on your arm and back muscles. I would say try borrowing some pedals with footstraps before going to clip pedals. The combination of low speed climbing and pedal clips might result in some tip-overs.
2014-02-27 12:23:28
While I agree with the advice you have received so far, might I also suggest that you check the "fit" of your new single speed. A bad fitting bike can be loading muscles (even on the flats) that then become overloaded on your climb. It's amazing how a few centimeters of saddle/stem/bar change can affect your comfort.
2014-02-27 12:28:41
Marko82 wrote:It’s amazing how a few centimeters of saddle/stem/bar change can affect your comfort.
When fine tuning my seat height and tilt, I'm amazed by how a few millimeters of change can affect my comfort. Some times it's a 5mm difference between "feels good man" and "my knees feel weird" or "my quards are burning".
2014-02-27 12:42:41
Byogman, First impression is (as you pointed out in your opening statement) is "Duh". Second impression is: No knee pain? You have something to look forward to!
2014-02-27 14:07:51
The single speed I know is a little big for me. OK standover, but I'm short from the waist up. This is a short commute, and I don't plan to take this bike on any longer rides really so I don't think it's really so bad. I can trivially loosen the handlebars and rotate their position between upright, flat with a little swept back curve, or down slightly into moustache territory. Right now am in the middle. It's easy to take out the stem, not sure if you can just drop washers of the right size or what if I want to bring the front up at the same handlebar curve? Can also adjusting saddle up/down forward/backward nose up/down. It seems like this all together would give a lot of options, that something should work. Just not sure how to judge what experiments would be the most productive. Otherwise, dunno, took a swim today. That felt good. I've been meaning to do more of that anyway, it's just hard to find the time. Not sure if there are particular strokes that would be good to stretch/condition specifically what needs to be stretch/strengthened here?
2014-02-27 14:14:18
Yerg. Back went from loose, to ok, to eh, to... crap, need to get out of this chair. In the span of maybe an hour. Kneeling on a towel now in from of my desk and doing various silly looking twisting and shimmy maneuvers. Will be an interesting ride home.
2014-02-27 15:43:40
Strengthen your core. Use you legs more. Your form or fit may be off. Foot retention may help your form. You can change the stem by flipping it upside down to change the cockpit or even get a shorter one to tighten it up. I have had bikes that I was too stretched out on and it hurt my back. If all else fails, just eat up the back pain. I have a great fit and have put in thousands of miles on a fixie without knee pain. I had ACL reconstruction in late October and I have been commuting with the same bike flipped to single speed and have had no knee pain (since 7 weeks postop). I don't think that a singly geared bike necessarily will result in knee pain.
2014-02-27 21:36:41
one of the bigger things i found contributing to lower back pain is seat height / angle / position. As Benzo has stated, slight adjustments in these can make a noticeable difference. If you dont have a quick release, carry a multitool / or sized allen wrench. Make a minor adjustment of a few millimeters in height or position, ride for a while, and see if there is a difference. Don't move things too far, as you can possibly over-stress the inflamed area and make things worse.
2014-02-28 00:15:17
Agree w/ work on bike fit and core development. Foam roller and Tiger Balm Red to alleviate discomfort works for me.
2014-02-28 09:56:54
Which exercises for core development? Obviously there are many and probably most all are a good idea, but I really do hate them, so if I can just get the top one or two most likely to help here, that will make it easier to focus in on them in a no excuses sort of way.
2014-02-28 10:05:53
Agree with above, core exercises are the solution. A little work will make a huge difference. I've always found ab work boring and tedious, but the P90x Ab Ripper sequence is quick, not too boring, and incredibly effective. Here's a youtube video of some dude doing the routine if you don't feel like buying the videos or tracking down a bootleg copy:
2014-02-28 10:39:51
I like some entry-level yoga. Gets you to stretch your legs where they need it since I neglect that all the time, builds some core strength, works out some of my lower back pain due to some of the bends and twists, low impact, and can be done with minimal equipment. I've been doing classes at home from ($15/mo with 2 week free trial), but there are lots of resources out there.
2014-02-28 10:52:13
If you're looking for a "program", Supreme 90 Day is a poor man's version of P90X that I've seen for as low as US$5 at Ross and is widely available at Bed, Bath and Beyond for cheap with those widely available 20% off coupons.
2014-02-28 11:05:59
Have you tried moving your saddle closer to the handlebars (fore/aft adjustment)? I had the same thing riding an SS MTB and it turned out that the saddle was too far back. You can monkey with these things on your own and find relief, but it may be worth it to invest in a real fit. Matt Tinkey at Top Gear clued me in to the above fore/aft thing after years of being too stretched out. Also echoing the core strength exercises, particularly various forms of stomach crunches. Just what you wanted to hear, no doubt!
2014-03-06 17:49:55
byogman wrote:Which exercises for core development?
Depends - how fit is your core now? What do you do with your core? (Sit at a desk, walk, etc, etc) I would say, look at a bunch of them and just pick 2 or 3 that are least odious to you. Do them. For most people the three keys to overcoming back pain are abs exercises, stretching the hamstrings, and doing some walking.
2014-03-06 18:01:27
I haven't been riding this week since personal stuff kept me home, but I was feeling stir crazy. Did a little core work and stretching, but not really a whole lot. Alternated between laying down with pillows wedged underneath and kneeling while working. That's been nice. On the climb back to squirrel hill, traffic was light so I climbed greenfield in lane. A smoother roll and not having to do silly things with the path to get it did make this somewhat less odious. If I could just put out ~just~ a bit more force on average, it would make a highly non-linear difference in power since my cadence is terrible right now. I think "on average" is the keyword here realistically since I'm trying to not do tooo much pulling down on the handlebars to protect my back (though it is doing much better today than on prior attempts!) Cheap SPD Pedals are pretty easy to find. SPD shoes that wouldn't look ridiculous at work are harder.
2014-03-06 19:38:20
byogman wrote:Cheap SPD Pedals are pretty easy to find. SPD shoes that wouldn’t look ridiculous at work are harder.
Keep a set of dress shoes at the office and swap when you get there, unless walking into the office in cycling shoes is uncool.
2014-03-06 21:43:29
I could change shoes, but don't want to do ANYTHING that makes my trip end to end longer. Paradoxically because it's such a short trip. Just seems like a waste. I don't lock my bike in the badged area, I bike in my work clothes so I don't have to change (well... I change shoes when they're soggy from precip, and shirts in summer sometimes )... but seriously, half the time I'm too lazy to untuck my pant leg from my sock. OK, so maybe that last one makes the ridiculous look thing kind irrelevant. But only for now... I plan on solving the need to tuck in my pant leg problem with a chain case. I also hope at some point to stop pulling out my cell phone to record my ride and stop worrying about locking my bike in yet more scenarios... watching this kind of stuff: with serious interest.
2014-03-06 22:13:09