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As much fun as it is, riding a motorcycle can be hard on your back, specially if you had some back issues before you started riding. Here’s a few tips on how to avoid back pain while riding a motorcycle before, during and after your trip.
Riding a motorcycle is an exhilarating experience for many people (why else would we do it?), but it can also lead to some problems, such as neck, shoulder, and back pain if you don’t pay close attention to how you ride.
Having neck and back pain kick in while you’re on a long trip can creep up on you and make you miserable. Neck pain in particular, because it can often trigger nasty headaches that can make one mile feel like a hundred.
Generally speaking, somewhere around 31 million Americans deal with back pain at any given time and I’m one of them.
A few years ago I was involved in a vehicle collision and I haven’t been quite the same since.
Occasionally I don’t pay attention to what my body is trying to tell me during a ride and I wind up paying for it later. For me, doing stretches both before and after while on a trip has really helped.
Sometimes riding can be a two edged sword;
On the one hand as motorcycle riders we get the adrenaline release and awesome feeling of freedom when we ride. But at the end of a days ride relaxing in the hotel, we feel like we got our butts kicked!
As we get older of course, this tends to get worse – or at least feel worse!
A couple of tricks I’ve learned over the years:
- Watch my back posture while I’m riding. Crappy posture can lead to neck and back pain.
- Take breaks more often – When you have a motorcycle that’s comfy to ride, you tend to want to just keep going and going.
I’ve found that it’s best to get off of the motorcycle about every hour to hour and a half. Taking breaks can help both you and your passenger.
How to Avoid Back Pain While Riding A Motorcycle: 7 Tips
If your back is giving you trouble both on and off your motorcycle there are a few simple things that you can do to avoid discomfort.
- Stretching Exercises… Simple stretches before, during and after your ride can go a long way to keeping your neck, arms and back muscles loose. When we ride, we tend to tense up and stay in the same position for long periods of time which can cause muscle aches and pains. Stretching helps to keep you loose and relaxed.
- Motorcycle Seat Pad… If you want to keep your back and butt comfortable for long rides, consider getting a comfy motorcycle seat pad. Uncomfortable motorcycle seats will cause the rider to get fidgety trying to find a spot where their butt doesn’t hurt and can turn into a distraction. Plus with all the moving around, you may tweak your back during the ride. It’s happened to me and it isn’t fun.
- Use Back Brace… Some riders find it helpful to wear a back brace to help minimize pain and help reduce fatigue while riding. Back braces can help protect your back by reducing a lot of the road vibration and helps to keep your back stabilized. There are a lot of great options available to riders and of course many of them can be hidden underneath your jacket.
- Motorcycle Kidney Belt… A kidney belt supports your guts and lower back. Usually, dirt bikers opt for it for dirt bike racing but they can be adapted to other riding styles. Just like the back brace using a kidney belt will help with muscle fatigue in your back so you can ride longer.
- Relax During Your Ride… Riders tend to tense up during rides (I know I do). Whether its fighting wind, traffic or just motoring down the road we tend to get just a bit tense as we ride. Of course riding tense will contribute to muscle fatigue and soreness and make you super tired at the end of a day’s ride. Being tense can play havoc on your neck and back muscles. Remember, we’re out here to have fun and enjoy the zen of the open road.
- Improve Riding Position… Be mindful of your riding position. Are slumping over or hunched? I’ve caught myself doing it and it definitely contributes to my back being sore if I don’t watch my riding posture. Keep your head up and back straight. Keep your handlebar grip firm but not white knuckled and your legs should be just in front of your shoulders (for touring or v twin motorcycles).
Take a Break… How often should you take a breaks during a long ride? The answer is going to be a little different for everyone, depending on how the feel and the comfort level of their motorcycle. As a Goldwing rider, I can go a good two hours or so in the saddle before I have to take a break. I’ve started taking breaks about every 45 minutes to an hour even if I just pull off the road to a safe area. It’s good to get off of the bike and stretch.
Which Exercises Reduce Back Pain From Motorcycle Riding?
There is a variety of exercises you can do to make your back stop hurting whether you’re on or off of your motorcycle. Here are just a few simple exercises you can do to keep your muscles loose. None of these are new, but a reminder of stuff your already know.
Quick disclaimer: If these stretches cause your severe pain, don’t push it! Consult your doctor if you have any doubt as to whether or not you can perform these stretches.
Simple lower back stretch
To get your lower back stretched out, a simple side to side stretch will help keep you loosened up.
Grab the left handlebar with your left hand and then face right and put your right hand on the back seat.
Switch it up and then do the other side, then repeat the stretch as often as you think you need to.
This one of my personal favorite on the road stretches because it really helps relax my back. It falls under the ‘Hurts so good’ category for me.
Simply move your head in the direct of your shoulder, hold it for a second or two and breathe out. You’re probably going to feel a bit of crunching as your vertebrae realign themselves.
It’s a great stretch that helps you get stretched out and strengthen your neck muscles.
Toe Touches for the lower back
Some motorcyclists will do a lot of ‘toe touching’ to help stretch out their lower back to help reduce muscle ache and tension. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with it, just know that toe touches can put some stress on your lower back discs.
If you get too carried away, you can overstretch your lower back muscles and wind up aggravating the pain making you more miserable.
A good general rule with any of these or other exercises is to not push too hard and listen to what your body is telling you. If you experience a weird feeling or pain stop what you’re doing.
This website has a lot of other good tips and tricks to help you stay relaxed during you ride.
Consider Purchasing A Motorcycle Seat Cushion
Let’s face it;
Most stock motorcycle seats aren’t really all that comfortable. The seat on my motorcycle wasn’t bad, but I still wound up purchasing a seat pad.
Once you start taking long distance motorcycle trips your butt will let you know right away whether or not it likes your stock seat!
The problem is this;
Replacing a stock motorcycle seat with a Mustang, Corbin (or any other custom seat) can be an expensive purchase. A purchase that you may not want to make right away.
Picking yourself up a nice motorcycle seat cushion until you feel like you can spend the big money on a custom seat.
There are a lot of different types of motorcycle seat cushions, but here are the three basic types:
Air Motorcycle Seat Cushion… Air seat cushions have individual cells that contain air that helps with the pressure points on your rear and in turn helps with your neck and back. The Airhawk is an example of this type of seat. I own this cushion and I really like it – Read my full Airhawk Seat cushion review here.
Gel Seat Pad… Gel seat pads are another great alternative that you can use to soften up your motorcycle seat. The attach to the bike easy and secure but can be removed if your riding local and don’t want it or need it on your bike.
Beaded Seat Pad… Beaded seat pads keep you cool with air flowing underneath you. They can be a good solution when it comes to price and comfort. Beaded pads have a harder feel that air or gel – Think beaded car seat pads adapted to a motorcycle.
Here’s a quick list of the best motorcycle seat pad for long rides if your looking for other alternatives.
Get A Motorcycle Back Brace/Protector
Motorcycle protector/back braces give an extra level of protection over and above just wearing jacket.
A lot of riders will wear these in addition to their motorcycle jacket if their jacket doesn’t have spinal protection built into it.
Of course the added benefit with getting yourself a back protector is that it helps keep your back braced during your ride and may even help with your posture.
Back protectors generally have a 2 later impact protection and air mesh system that allow for ventilation and makes the ride comfortable.
The trick here is to wear the back brace securely without getting too tight so that you sweat like crazy underneath it. Find one that’s comfortable and lightweight that you can wear under your clothing.
Motorcycle back protectors of note are:
- Alpine Stars
- Joe Rocket
Motorcycle Kidney Belts
Kidney belts are designed to support your lower back, keep your upper body stable and help you have a bit more leverage with your bike.
If you’ve got a posture problem (as most riders do) kidney belt have the added benefit of making you sit in a more upright riding position (just like a back brace). As we’ve already discussed, riding with better posture can help you fight off fatigue both during and after a long ride.
The nice thing is that you put them on underneath your clothing and it doesn’t need to be real obvious that you’re wearing one.
A downside is that if you’re riding in warm or hot weather, it’s probably going to make you more sweaty in your back area that you normally get. The best way to counter that is by wearing a cool vest.
Using a kidney belt is a less expensive alternative to buying a back brace.
How To Relax While Riding A Motorcycle
Why do we love to ride?
When we ride, we know that we should RELAX on our bike and enjoy the moment (or the ‘zen’ of the ride) but it can be hard to do sometimes.
Relaxing while you ride doesn’t mean letting your guard down mentally and not be aware of your surroundings.
On the contrary;
Motorcycle riders are constantly thinking about a million things at once to keep themselves and a passenger safe at all times, which is why it can be a bit stressful.
So what can cause a motorcycle rider to ride tense for hours and not relax? Here’s a short list:
- How is my speed? Am I too fast or too slow? (specially in corners)
- Did that driver see me and are they going to pull out in front of me?
- Should I be leaning this far?
- Is there loose gravel, oil or other debris on the roadway?
- The car behind me is right on my tail – will he hit me if I have to stop suddenly?
- just thinking too much in general.
… the list can go on.
This can cause a rider to grip the handlebar hard and tense up their body for hours. The perceived danger may be long gone, but the rider simply forgets to relax.
Every now and again when you’re riding you need to remind yourself to chill out. So what can you do to help you relax?
Here’s a few ideas:
- Loosen your grip on the handlebars… That death grip is causing tension throughout your whole body.
- Take a deep breath
- Shake your arms out – you’ve been riding for miles while a harcore grip, you need to shake some of the tension out of your arms and get feeling back into your fingers.
- Tell yourself to relax! it sounds kind of silly but actually say it to yourself. Don’t worry no one will know and I won’t tell.
Did you have a close call? Once you get yourself put together take a moment and relax.
Improving Your Riding Position
Motorcycle riding and your posture while you ride can exert stress on your back. There are several factors that go into your riding posture that you should be aware of. The bottom line is whether your’re riding your motorcycle or lifting it off of the ground (drops happen right?) start remembering to keep your back straight.
What type of motorcycle you ride
There are three basic types for motorcycles and they each have their own body position, hand placement, adjustments and foot position.
- Sport bike
What Affects Motorcycle Riding Position
No matter where your riding, different things will affect how much back pain you may or may not wind up dealing with. In addition to the type of motorcycle you’re riding, consider the following:
- Parts of The Motorcycle… The components of almost all models of motorcycles are assembled in different positions to produce the desired performance. The placement of handlebars, footrests, and seat can affect not only the feel of the bike, but how you feel when your done riding it.
- Body Measurements… It is important to choose a motorcycle that fits your height and size. These measurements can have a big effect on how your sitting on your bike and the intensity of strain you wind up putting on your back.
One of most ergonomically correct bikes I’ve owned was a VTX 1300r. Everything lined up great for me, even a little better than the GL1800 I’m riding now.
It had the best ratio (for me) of seat to handlebar to foot controls.
How Many Hours Can You Ride A Motorcycle
That’s really only a question that each rider can answer for themselves. 300 miles a day (about 6 hours in the saddle) might work for me, but not for you.
If you’ve never taken a long ride, you may not want to start off trying to do that amount of mileage right away. I always recommend people take some shorter trips, see how their bike and their body does before racking up some serious road time.
You will get fatigued; Again, listen to your body and when your tired you tired. stop and get rest.
How you avoid back pain when your riding a motorcycle depends a little on where your at in the process.
Do you have your motorcycle already, or are you looking to purchase?
If you already have a bike, then things like the motorcycle parts and ergonomics aren’t a big help to you. You’ve purchased a bike your past all that.
The best way to avoid back pain is to relax, and not ride for hours putting tension on your muscles by gripping the the handlebars like your going to bend them.
Take breaks, and stretch out. It’s a hard lesson I’ve had to learn, but just doing those two things has helped me avoid back and neck pain when I’m on a long motorcycle trip.
Remember that exercises and stretches can help alleviate pain. If you don’t have a simple exercise routine, you may want to consider doing one.
If you’re really struggling with your back, get in touch with a doctor or chiropractor and get their professional advice.