Upper Back Pain? Here's Why

Guest Post by Rhian Roxburgh 2 x ETU Age Group Champion

In this series of articles, we look at some of the most common bike fit problems that affect us women. In the last article, we looked at how to overcome saddle soreness and discomfort. Today, we’ll look at the overreached rider.

Problem #2 Reach.

Fact: most road bikes are designed for men. Even some women’s bikes are men’s with a different paint job and handlebar tape – bike manufacturers still seem to think that pink is the de facto colour for women. Yet, on average women have longer legs and shorter torsos than men. This means that frames designed for the average man are not going to fit the average woman, let alone most women avoid pink (secretly, I think I’d love one!).

To achieve a correct saddle height, many women end up with a frame that’s too long. This makes riding uncomfortable and results in discomfort in the triceps and the back; it also means an affected rider is unbalanced on the bike and this can affect handling and stability.

Obviously, a proper bike fit should resolve any problems with bike length. Professional fitters use a variety of techniques to determine correct reach, such as torso angles, arm angles, and good old experience. Unfortunately, a bike fit, although a good investment, is not cheap. The good news is that you can test your bike’s length simply at home using a tried and tested old-school technique; here’s how:

  1. Jump on your bike (it’s much easier to have someone hold your bike) and put your hands in their usual riding position – normally with hands around the hoods.

  2. Relax and look straight down through the handlebar towards the ground.

  3. Assess: if the handlebar obscures your view of the front wheel’s hub, your reach is fine. If, on the other hand, you can see the hub clearly between you and the handlebar, the reach is too long. Conversely, if the hub is forward of the handlebar, your reach is too short.

If you found that your reach was incorrect, you’ll need to change the stem (the metal bit that connects your handlebar to the top of the fork) of your bike. Stems are relatively cheap components and are designed to be changed to suit the needs of riders. They are available in lengths from zero to 150 mm (occasionally more) in 10 mm increments. On a road bike, the stem should be between 60 mm and 130 mm. If you require a stem that is shorter or longer, you have a frame that is either too short or too long.

Changing the stem is not a big job, but it is vital that it is done correctly because if performed incorrectly it can lead to a loss of steering whilst riding! Good bike shops will have a range of stems in stock and will happily changes yours for you, perhaps for a small charge - perhaps for free if you’re a regular customer.

Now that you have the correct reach on your bike, you should find that riding is more comfortable, and you have more control when descending. Next time, we’ll take a look at how riders with smaller hands can get to grips with their brakes.


Rhian Roxburgh

Rhian Roxburgh is two times ETU European Age Group Champion, a level three British Triathlon coach, and founder of TriRox Training that helps develop and improve athletes in a fun, positive environment.




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