Monday, March 21, 2011

Hittin' the Bars!

Nah, not THOSE bars. I've been experiencing a lot of lower back strain and pain on my longer mtb rides lately. It's something that usually comes on during the end of the rides, which usually happens to contain the most climbing.

I've tried quite a few things to remedy the situation, including a proper bike fit, longer stems, higher bars, higher saddle, lower bars, lower name it, I tried it. Almost.

It all started during the final laps of the six hour race I did at the end of last season. While the course didn't contain a ton of climbing, there were a few short and punchy climbs. Also, the loop was full of exposed roots and rocks (typical east coastness) that jarred me around like crazy on my aluminum hardtail. Being that this was the longest amount of straight time I'd spent on the mtb at one time, I figured the pain HAD to be a result of the jarring of a hardtailed alum bike (not to mention the fact that I ran my tires-with tubes-at 50psi! Suuuper rookie mistake! I've since changed both my bikes over to a tubeless setup).

I was dumbfounded. I started thinking of everything it could be: The hardtail; the rock hard tires; the bike fit; pushing too hard a gear on the climbs causing me to torque my back; Anything!

Then, last night, after another back aching ride (this time on my full carbon Sette Serum Elite hardtail), I realized something. Before I'd gotten both the aluminum hardtail I raced on and the Sette carbon bike this winter, I was riding an old Gary Fisher Aluminum hardtail 29er with riser bars...that's right, RISER BARS! Never once did I have any back issues, and I'd ridden that bike as a singlespeed for several rides of 5 hours. So, the "too big a gear" theory was blown out of the water because of the fact I had to strain my ass off to get up some hills-still, never a sore back.

As I thought more and more, I analyzed the setups of all the bikes, finding the biggest difference between the 29er and the others (besides the 26/29 inch wheels), as the damned handlebars! Since switching over to my 26inch wheels, I've been riding flat bars. No reason, really, other than the fact that they came with the bikes and perhaps subconciously, they also look cool and more aggressive, which may also have played a part in the decision-we all know that looks make the bike 20% faster!:)

So, after all that thought, I think I've solved the lower back issue. I swapped out my flat bars on the Sette for the same riser bar I had on my 29er. I'm hoping that some aspect of the risers will have me riding in such a way that won't compromise my back, and make it more comfortable to ride long-really, really long. There's nothing more frustrating than having your back give out before your legs and lungs.

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