So I’ve been down this road before. When I got my first Shadow handle, I used the bent T curved down for my handle bar setup, left full length. This seems to be as close to a bike-like position as it gets.
However, back then I got really bad lower back pain and ended up flipping the T to get a more upright position, and the pain went away.
In the meantime I began riding road bikes as well. I’ve ridden a century, and have a 60 miler that I regularly do with a 4700 ft. climb. On descents, many times I’ll get in a tuck, putting my chest on the seat. Throughout these rides, the only time I’ve experienced a lot of pain was on the tail end of my century, which was to be expected.
So, thinking I was cured, I started with my Guni handle bars in the same position, flipped down. I went out for a 20 minute ride around the block yesterday and could already feel the twinges beginning.
Today my lower back feels like it’s 50. What gives? I’ve seen people riding in similar positions (I believe I saw a pic of John Foss’s 36er with the handle bars the same way), is it something you work up to? I’ve already flipped them up, and am 99% sure that will fix the issue. And in all honesty I’ll probably just keep them that way, but if I was a racer I’d want a lower riding position I think.
Biking uses different muscles, when you are forward on the bars you can put a lot of weight on your arms, you don’t have to balance your body for and aft. On a unicycle when you are forward in the similar position but you can’t weight the bars the same because you have to maintain balance on one wheel. I’d imagine balancing in the aero position is using muscles that you haven’t developed, resulting in your back hurting.
I get the same pain in my low back (but I am almost 50 ) I’ve recently started to really work on strengthening my low back and core, it’s only been a couple of weeks but I sense a change happening.
oh… and my back definitely hurts more since I put handlebars on my 36.
Hip Flexors and/or Psoas
Most of my experience has been in strength sports (i.e. take this with a grain of salt), but judging from the appearance of the aero position, your problem could be tight or twisted hips. If that’s the case, a small soccer ball and a foam roller could probably correct the problem.
Do you currently do any type of soft tissue work?
I personally have no experience riding low/aero on a unicycle (I’ve had my 36er less than a year and took my T-bar off as I also do offroad).
But a quick comment based on lots of sports would be: it can be a ton of different things like a pre-existing problem with your back or discs, but the most likely is that your muscles are just not used to the position and so quickly “overwhelmed” so the job of supporting your weight goes to your spine, which then aggravates your discs and such. Thus, I agree with the comments thus far: that you have to train these muscles that are just not used to this kind of work.
As already mentioned, bicycling is different because you can rest more weight on the bars. But aero bicylcing is also different (and bad for your back) b/c you do almost no active work/movement of the back and thus do not train the back/side muscles.
Unicycling is different in that you must use lots of back/stomach/side muscles just to ride (that’s why for me unicycling is so good for my back).
Another comparison I can think of is distance inline skatig, where it is VERY important to be as low as possible and you have have to crotch way forward with your back almost flat, while balancing your leg movement below your core. Unless you’re in realy great shape from sports requiring lots of back/stomach then you will hurt bad if you suddenly do a 5+ hour speed skate in an aero tuck (actually, I’d day most people would have to quite after 10 minutes). But if you train the muscles then most racers can do it for hours with no problems: i.e. they have strengthened the muscles.
Thus, my suggestion would be that you need to gradually ease into it to build up the muscles. I forgot the rule of thumb, but something like increasing duration by 20% a week or so: i.e. do 20 minutes the first week, 24 minutes the next, etc. if you have pain then reduce or take a break.
I used to weight lift a lot back in high school. Pretty much every other day for 5 years. I haven’t done much since other than riding 2-3 times a week, but I would have thought my lower back had built sufficient strength. Of course, if my form lapsed I could have done more damage than good.
Either way, I think I’m going to just live with my bars flipped up. It’s comfortable and I don’t have to work up to longer rides that way.
Thanks for the replies BTW. Very interesting.