When you start to experience back pain, it can feel like the end of the world.
If you have suffered a herniated disc or another back injury, your definition of “healed” might be different from that of doctors that assure you they’ve done all they can.
You should always follow your doctor’s advice, but don’t be afraid to get onto a bike because of back pain. While the causes of your pain may vary from others, many people have found that cycling can improve their flexibility, strength, back pain, and overall health.
Different bikes, however, will have different effects on your back pain. Some bikes will give you relief while riding and for hours afterward. Others may exacerbate the pain, so you want to make smart choices when selecting what you’ll use for cycling.
It’s possible to cycle, even if you suffer from back pain. We’ll first start by discussing the three bike types that we’ve found to be most adaptable to those dealing with back pain. Then we’ll break down the top 5 best bikes for a bad back so you can avoid future pain!
Overview Of 3 Bike Styles For Bad Backs
When you’re already suffering from a bad back, you’ll want to consider what type of bike you ride before cycling. Some types are better than others for cyclists with bad backs.
While traditional upright positions are often put on the “no” list for those with back injuries, comfort bikes use an upright position to your advantage. These bikes are often referred to as “cruisers” and are made to be used on easy, flat terrain.
Standard bikes — like a mountain bike — could be bad for back injuries because there is little support for the back, and you have to shift your weight constantly in a way that can put additional pressure on the back. They also tend to lean you forward slightly, which can increase the pressure on your lower back.
These bikes also feature an upright position, but seat shocks offer additional energy absorption that can relieve pain. The seat is also lower with higher handlebars to give more stability which helps to prevent jerky movement or shocks to your back.
They sit you upright so the pressure is decreased.
When searching for a good bike for bad backs, one type you will see come up very often is a recumbent bike.
These bikes are great for relieving and preventing back pain because of the position they hold your body in. Orthopedic surgeons have indicated that keeping your back in a relaxed, neutral position while exercising is key to preventing additional pain.
This type of position causes your abdominal muscles to engage without putting additional pressure on the lower back. When using a recumbent bike, your body will slide into this protective, semi-reclined position thanks to bucket seat design.
But recumbent bikes aren’t all good. As great as they might be for some people with back problems, they have two huge cons.
First, they are very low to the ground, which can be uncomfortable to get used to and potentially dangerous if you were to get into an accident.
Second, you have lower visibility when using a recumbent bike, which also puts you at higher accident risk while using it.
Recumbent bikes often feature high price tags but are still a great option for anyone who will be regularly cycling in the gym.
Crank-Forward, Semi-Recumbent Bikes
For some people, recumbent bikes will never be the answer for the cycling need because of their low position and unique design. There’s another type of bike called a semi-recumbent that blends the design of a beach cruiser with that of the recumbent bike.
On a semi-recumbent bike, pedals are placed in a more forward position. They are much easier to get used to using compared to a recumbent bike and are also much safer.
Most semi-recumbent bikes feature a wide seat and often have a backrest, both of which will help prevent back pain from developing. These bikes can be difficult to find online.
Two Top Options
Let’s start this review of the top 6 best bikes for a bad back with two excellent upright bike models that help rotate you into an upwards position that can help alleviate pressure points.
The Schwinn Suburban
The first bike up for review is the Schwinn Suburban.
This one features 7-speed shifters that are quick and easy to use with just a twist of the wrist, which cyclists love. These gears and the brakes on the Schwinn Suburban are solid and will stand up to a lot of wear. The included seat saddle and handlebar positioning make for a position that won’t stress your back. Many users appreciated that this bike is easy-to-assemble and durable without being too heavy.
It’s worth noting that this bike is that some users needed to make slight adjustments to the derailleur, brakes, and handlebars to make the bike a better ride when they first received it. This should not be considered a deal breaker; most bikes will need minor adjustments to fit your needs when you first receive them in addition to assembling the handlebars, the seat and the pedals.
To adjust the derailleur or other aspects of your bike for the first time, you can use simple Youtube tutorial videos like this one.
This bike can have a rear rack, fenders, child carrier, and other basic add-ons attached to it without issue. It is not made for off-road use, but you could change the tires to use it as an off-road bike for short periods of time.
While the height of this bike is great for the average rider, it might be too small for cyclists over 6 foot tall.
The Vilano C1
Another great option is the Vilano C1.
The C1 is a practical bike for many cyclists that comes nearly fully assembled; you just need to attach the handlebars, front wheel, and seat. Some users have commented that the assembly is a bit confusing. To attach the handlebars, this tutorial will come in handy.
This bike has a 19” frame, so it is suitable for riders up to 6’ tall. This hybrid bike is super lightweight, and many riders appreciate just how smooth of a ride it offers with good suspension, a comfortable seat, and easy gear changes between the 21 speeds offered.
The brake and shifter are ready-to-use with very little adjustment after the bike is assembled, so this bike can be used within the hour of receiving it if you’d like. While the assembly can be confusing as previously mentioned, the bike is a durable and great choice that will run well once you have it put together.
Top Two Recumbent Bike Options
The next two bikes for the top 6 best bikes for bad backs are recumbent bike options.
Trailmate Fun Cycle Adult Recumbent Tricycle
The Trailmate Fun Cycle Adult Recumbent Tricycle is a recumbent bike that aims to make your experience riding it easier through unique add-on features.
The seat on the Fun Cycle pivots to make getting onto the bike easier. The seat is also weather resistant, and it will last for a long time. There are built in locations for safety flags that will help make you more visible while on the bike.
The bike is very durable as it is made of a heavy steel frame and will not be damaged easily. The handlebars keep the bike stable while going straight, and you can steer it with your body weight.
The Trailmate Fun Cycle also has a front carrying handle, which users say makes it very easy to move and transport this bike. Other recumbent bikes can be quite difficult to move, so this is a great feature to have.
Still, there are a few issues you should be aware of with the Trailmate Fun Cycle. Like other recumbent bikes, there is a learning curve with how to ride and steer this bike that may be offputting for some cyclists who simply want to buy and ride. It also has a height limit of just over 6 feet and a weight limit of 220 pounds, so it might not be the best choice for all riders.
The seat cannot be adjusted, and it is a single speed bike. There are front coaster brakes on the bike.
(Note, this bike can be challenging to assemble. You might have it shipped to your local bike shop for initial assembly. In my experience that should run around $125)
Mobo Triton Ultimate Three Wheeled Cruiser
The Mobo Triton Ultimate Three Wheeled Cruiser is another lightweight option that will help reduce the stress put on your upper and lower back while cycling. It comes with safety flags that are standard on recumbent bikes to help increase visibility.
The frame of the Mobo Triton is made out of durable steel that should last for years; parts should not need to be frequently replaced.
This single speed bike is great for some people and awful for others. It all depends on what you are looking for in a bike.If you plan on riding long distances or need to do hills, you’ll find this bike to be extremely limiting and would be better off buying the trailmate.
If you can’t ride a normal bike because of the nature of your back injury, this is a solid choice for riding on flat land and giving you an excellent workout with some cycling experience.
If, however, you’re looking to use this bike for transport or to go fast, keep in mind that it is a single speed bike that pedals slowly and struggles with even small inclines.
This is purely an around-the-block let’s-workout-where-it-is-flat machine.
While this cruiser is adjustable, it is not appropriate for all sizes. It’s made to fit those who are between 3’5″ and 5’5”, so it is an excellent choice for those who are shorter or for younger riders who can grow into the bike over time.
A Semi-Recumbent Bike Option Like No Other
Finally, let’s explore a crank forward, semi-recumbent bike option for those that want the plushness of a recumbent bike in a more typical design for cycling. Among the top 5 best bikes for a bad back, this style might be the hardest to find online.
Fito Marina Aluminum Alloy 3-Speed Beach Cruiser Bike
This 3-Speed Beach Cruiser features a crank-forward design and has a frame made of a durable, anti-rust aluminum alloy. This lightweight frame makes it easy to carry and resistant to weather.
The shifter and derailleur system includes an integrated rear brake that users find works very well and is does not wear out too quickly. The bike can climb hills with ease, and regulating speed is easy to do with the gears and brakes.
This bike is made to carry up to 200 pounds and weight about 31 pounds. It is recommended that this bike is assembled by professionals, but it’s possible to assemble it on your own with the included instructions and a few tools.
The seat is good quality, super soft leather which reduces chafing and helps relieve pressure on the back in tandem with the twin suspension, which helps to absorb the extra shock caused by bumpy terrain.
This bike and brand are not as popular as some other brands, but that should not remove it from any lists of the best bikes for a bad back. The semi-recumbent, wide seat and suspension system work together with the crank-forward technology to make this a fantastic choice for those who are worried about managing their back pain.
Decrease Your Back Pain With A Bike?
I had a friend who always walked with a cane. He had an old back injury that severely limited his mobility. There was nothing the doctors could do, except help him limit the pain.
One day, on a whim, he bought a bike at a pawn shop. He started riding on the bike paths around Kansas City. He noticed that his back did not hurt excessively while riding and that he felt better afterward. Plus, he was finally losing weight.
After 6 months of riding, he found that he was able to decrease his pain medication and walk without a cane. To this day, that gentleman commonly rides over 5,000 miles every year.
The bicycle gave him freedom.
This story is anecdotal and is only indicative of one person’s condition. Your case will be different, and you must speak with your doctor before initiating a workout.
Bike Fit Is Key
In addition to making sure you choose the right bike, you will want to make sure that it is properly fitted to your body. Each bike company has a sizing chart (or you can read our sizing guide).
Adjusting the seat height, the angle of the saddle, the handlebar height, and more can give you great form while riding. It can also help decrease back pain.
It can be complicated to figure this all out on your own. Visiting a local bike shop with your bike for a fitting can help you get the setup right to relieve your back pain while you ride.
This video can give you some great pointers on achieving a pain-free bike fit.
Once you have the right bike and the right fit, you’ll find that cycling can help to relieve your back pain, not make it worse as you might be worried. Get back on that bike, even if you have back pain!