Angry Robot

Get an Upright Bike

About two years ago I started having back problems that turned out to be a dreaded old man disease: sciatica. At one point I couldn’t sit or stand without great pain – I spent a week lying on the floor. Fun!

It gradually got better, and once recovered, I was never happier to just walk around. But chronic aftereffects remain, and I have had to adjust a lot of things in my life, from work to posture to one of the best things in life: cycling.

My physiotherapist simply said, get an upright bike. I had never thought about relative uprightness of different bike frames before. There was a lot going on there.

Here are four different bike types:

Mountain bike

This is what I always used to buy. I would spend very little money on them and I would brag about it. My logic was that with Toronto streets not being shy with the potholes, having some tread on your tires is probably a good thing. But really it’s designed for offroading. It’s missing a lot of things that might be handy for what I do 99% of the time, which is ride around the city. I used to just not ride if it was raining, for example, as the lack of fenders meant I’d get extra soaked by water flying off the tires. It’s also not great for troubled backs.

Road bike

I never rode these, as I once saw someone riding one hit a pebble and wipe out. Now I know that many other factors may have been at play, including tire thickness. And when I look up bike taxonomy things get confusing: what is the exact definition of a road bike? I most associate road bikes with the drop handlebars, I suppose. And I think of these models as the fastest. They are also the bikes that require the most hunched-over riding position, which makes them a no-go for Old Man Back.


OK, no one rides this anymore, but isn’t it awesome?

Dutch Bike

When I was looking at possible new back-friendly bikes, I talked to my sister, who had just spent a year with her family in the Netherlands. She told me all about Dutch bike infrastructure, culture, and the actual bikes themselves. They are very different from mountain and road bikes. They ride upright, and the emphasis is on utility, durability and style over speed or sportiness. You can make out in this pic a few features lacking in the other bikes:

Clearly, the Dutch had spent a lot more time thinking about biking than I had. More in the next post.