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Clydesdales/Athenas (200+ lb / 91+ kg) Looking to lose that spare tire? Ideal weight 200+? Frustrated being a large cyclist in a sport geared for the ultra-light? Learn about the bikes and parts that can take the abuse of a heavier cyclist, how to keep your body going while losing the weight, and get support from others who've been successful.

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Old 01-15-09, 06:50 AM   #1
Maverick_Rider
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Pain/Numbness while riding

I'm a guy (5'9" 215lbs) trying to get back into riding regularly once spring starts. Last year I noticed that when I ride my Specialized Allez Sport (05) for longer than 20 minutes, I start getting some numbness in my hands. I ride on top of the drops as riding in the drops is awkward for me, and I am not an Uber rider anyway. I also get saddlesore.

Are these things common, or should I be concerned? I did not get a specialty fit when I bought the bike, as an extra $150 wasn't in the budget. As it was I got a deal on the bike because it was a previous year's model. My goal is to follow through on the initial reason I purchased the bike in the summer of 06 and get more fit. I also want to ride in some longer event rides later this year.

I'm hoping I didn't make a huge mistake in buying this particular bike, because if I did the likelyhood of me getting a new one this year is slim to none with the way the economy has impacted my job.

Hints and suggestions are appreciated.

Thanks.
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Old 01-15-09, 07:00 AM   #2
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Some numbness is normal. Does it go away when you readjust your hand positions? If you can adjust your seat and handlebar stem so that you are more balanced on the seat, not to much weight forward, elbows slightly bent, that helps too.
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Old 01-15-09, 07:05 AM   #3
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Your problems are common.
Your body needs to adjust to the bike.
Use bike shorts with chamois and some type of creme.
Your hands, arms, elbows will get stronger the more you ride.
You could add more padding on your bars.
Air up your tires before each ride. Less PSI will give you a softer ride,
700 x 25's and 28's give a softer ride.
Your bike may not take 28's.
The Drops seem to work best for small riders when they head into the wind.
If you have a large stomach it will get in the way when you go to the drops.
Learn how to stand up and pedal. increases blood flow to your back and butt.
Take off one day a week to rest.
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Old 01-15-09, 07:06 AM   #4
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Hard to say without seeing you. The old school way of dealing with this is to keep the bars and the seat close to the same level. You also may need to strengthen your back and core.

Raise Dat Stem!

by Bob Gordon

A flat back is one of the hallmarks of an experienced cyclist, particularly a racer, and over the years I have seen the prevailing attitudes towards rider positioning devolve to the point where if you don't cycle with your back parallel to the ground, you're cast off as a beginner.

But like many other concepts recreational riders adopt, the low back originated in the professional ranks after extensive research in aerodynamics proved this would help the fast go faster. Competitive athletes routinely sacrifice both their short and long term health for the express purpose of winning, but you may have a different agenda.

Lower back disc problems peak the ages of 30 and 50. There are many causes, but if your back pain is exacerbated by riding, it's a good bet the cause is bouncing around on your bike while your lower spine is extensively flexed (loss of lower back arch). A low, forward torso causes the inner portion of the disc (the nucleus purposes) to press back against the outer restraining fibers (the annulus fibroses). This pressure eventually causes the disc to bulge or herniate. The nearby nerves get squeezed, and the next thing you know, someone like me is telling you you have sciatica.

Cycling mitigates some of the problems of a habitually flexed lumbar spine because of the "bridge effect" that's created by resting some of your weight on your hands. But the lumbar region and its soft tissues are still at risk just by being continuously hyper flexed, and if you sit all day at your job, the danger is compounded.

On the flip side, cycling entirely upright does not solve the problem either. True, the inter-vertebral discs and spinal ligaments are in a more neutral position and absorb shock better, but the load is now transmitted axially, which is fatiguing and jarring. Also, in a bolt-upright position you can't use your gluteus or hamstrings to great advantage, which means your thighs (quadriceps) get overworked, you lose a lot of power, the unused hamstrings and gluteal muscles go flabby, and you catch all that wind. It's hard to be happy about all that, racer or no.

There is, however, a position that allows good performance while minimizing risk of lower back injury. I like a stem height and length that puts your back about 50 degrees from horizontal, while your arms and legs bend slightly at the elbows, as shown in figure 2 up there. To achieve this, you'll probably have to raise your bars, and assuming you want to keep the same bar style (as opposed to riding with stingray bars or something), that usually means getting another stem, one with a taller quill or a steep rise to it. If you hit the sweet spot, a photo of you from the side will reveal a nice pyramid composed of top tube, torso and arms.'
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Old 01-15-09, 07:10 AM   #5
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You did not mention your feet.
If your feet are not hurting you are not riding long enought.
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Old 01-15-09, 07:37 AM   #6
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I disagree with curbtender, less with 10 Wheels. Numbness is common, but it shouldn't be "normal". If you're going numb (anywhere) it means that something's happenning that shouldn't be (somewhere). Numbness in cycling generally has one of three causes; presure/vibration on a nerve, pressure/vibration on a blood vessel restricting flow, or both.

Those issues in turn come from less than ideal bike fitting and/or less than ideal technique. Fitting a bike so that it is comfrotable and efficient is as much an art as a science, because it has to take into account not only your body dimensions, but how you ride, your fitness level, an even your personality. Formulas can get you into the ball park, but getting it "just right" takes some experimentation. Technique problems are easier to identify.

In your case, numbness in your hands could be from a few factors, and I'd need to ride with you in order to tell which is going on in your case. But a few questions can eliminate the most common causes:

Are your wrists "neutral" when you ride (neither flexed in or back)? Flexion in (uncommon) or flexion back (very common) both put pressure on nerves and constrict blood vesels. Your wrist can assume those positions, but it wasn't meant to hold them for long periods, or under pressure.

Are your elbows locked? Same situation as for wrists, except there should be a slight bend at the elbows.

Where are your handlebars in realtion to your saddle height? Unless you are racing or very fit, the top bar should be about level with the saddle as a starting point, and you may want them higher. Cyclists who ride comfortably with their handlebars below the saddle height are either very fit (and carrying the weight through their lower back to their legs), time trialists to track cyclists (who are both very fit and don't have to endure that position for long), or just masochists.

Do you have neck and shoulder discomfort as well? (Not numbness, just discomfort.) Your handlebars may be too low (forcing you to crane your neck back to see where you're going), or you may have a spinal alignment problem. (This turned out to be my issue and getting that taken care of finally completely resolved my hand/shoulder/arm issues.)

I hope that helps a bit. Feel free to either reply here or PM me if I can help further.

Last edited by Kotts; 01-15-09 at 07:38 AM. Reason: typo fix
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Old 01-15-09, 08:15 AM   #7
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No, it's not normal. You should not accept numbness in your hands (or anywhere else) after riding only 20 minutes... and especially not if you intend to ride longer. It's not going to get any better.

You probably have some position problems, and maybe some riding technique problems too. You are almost certainly putting too much weight on your hands somehow, maybe because your seat is too forward, and/or maybe because your bars are too low for the kind of riding you are doing. There are so many factors to explain that I've given up on doing that on the internet. You should get a good, base position that is suited to your style of riding by paying for a proper bike fit. Once you have that, mark it up, and then you can fine tune it while still being able to return to the base position at any time.

Whatever you do, when you go for the fit, put away the testosterone and have them fit you for your real riding, not to race in the Tour de France. Many people start taking on airs of experience and ability they don't have when they are being fitted, and it ends up not working for them once they are back in reality. Most people who care not about racing but do love road riding should probably consider themselves to be cyclotourists at the more leisurely end of the spectrum, and audax/brevet riders at the more performance end of it. Anything more aggressive is just asking for trouble.
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Old 01-15-09, 08:24 AM   #8
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I figured that some discomfort would be expected, especially in regard to the seat issue. When I was a teenager and had gotten my first 10 speed bike, it took me a week or so for my butt to toughen up--and that's a week of riding my bike everywhere, not just getting on it for a half hour each day. So I kinda expected that. The thing with my hands though, I didn't expect that. When I ride, my hands are on the hoods, with much of my weight on the thumb bone or tissue between thumb and forefinger, or a combination of the two. The numbness does dissipate when I adjust positions a bit, but being as this is the only riding position I use, there is only so much hand adjustment I can do.

I do not have any pain in my neck or shoulders when I ride. It may very well be that my handlebar-to-seat height position needs adjusting and I will check into that. Looking back, I am also wondering if the bike sales guy was more concerned about selling me a bike and less concerned about fit. He did have me do the "stand over the bike and eyeball the top bar" routine. I didn't even know their company did professional fitting until a month later when I was in their other local store on the other side of town. And honestly my experience with their service department has been lackluster. Last year I had them put on a set of Armadillo tires, and they put on the wrong size tires, which were too big and rubbed! I didn't realize this until after I had gone on a 10 mile ride and was wondering why it seemed like such a hard ride.(boy doesn't that statement scream AMATEUR!)

I'll try to work on the handlebar/seat height thing, and if that doesn't work, maybe I'll go in for a professional fitting at their other store. I just hope that if I do they don't end up telling me I'm riding the wrong size/fit of bike. Then I will get angry. But one thing at a time. Thanks for the good advice everyone!






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Old 01-15-09, 08:33 AM   #9
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Check your saddle. It should be level (or start with the nose perfectly level and make adjustments later). If it's tilting down, you use your hands and arms to support too much of your weight.
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Old 01-15-09, 08:49 AM   #10
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Set it up like this for starters, and go from there. Short, rather steep stem to get the bars up and a little back. That will rotate your sitbones back onto the saddle to help support you. A little bend in the lower back will give you the "bridge suspension" explained above. No need for a straight spine, which will sag on a longer ride eventually. I use a Brooks saddle. Many do because of discomfort with other types. Saddles are a trial and error thing, but the height and position should be about where mine is set in the pic. If you go with a "modern" synthetic type, you might set it more level to start.

So:
Step 1) Set the saddle height so your legs are almost straight at the bottom of the stroke.
Step 2) Set the bars so they are slightly above the saddle peak.
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Old 01-15-09, 10:58 AM   #11
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Numbness is not normal. I'm about your size and I can ride 50-60 miles without any numbness. Sounds like you're having issues with your fit, or maybe issues with fitness. Find a bike shop you trust and get them to help you with fit. Taking random advice off the Internet probably won't help! Everybody is different and what works for me may or may not work for you...

Realize that you may need to buy a different saddle before your butt is completely comfortable. I rode for years and tried a bunch of different saddles before I found the one that I use now (Selle SMP Extra, $110 @ Performance Bike). It's great! All-day comfort and no need for that disgusting chamois creme, though I do wear decent bike shorts (Pearl Izumi Slice Ultrasensor).

Finally, you are going to have to learn to vary your had position. I ride on the hoods probably 80% of the time, but the other 20% of the time I'm varying my hand position. You don't have to use the alternate positions for hours at a time, but a few minutes here and there will give your hands a bit of a rest.
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Old 01-15-09, 11:02 AM   #12
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You did not mention your feet.
If your feet are not hurting you are not riding long enought.
That's about as true as the claim that "it doesn't count as exercise until you start throwing up."
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Old 01-15-09, 01:11 PM   #13
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As others pointed out good adjustment is critical.

First, Don't buy into the whole idea that your handlebars need to be lower than your seat for best performance. Though that may be true, that will NOT make for an easy way to get your body used to riding. At the very least have you handlebars be LEVEL or higher than your seat.

Secondly you will have to concertrate on keeping your weight off your arms. This is not something that will happen over night, but I catch my self doing it still after nearly 2 years of riding daily. This is not a problem on a short commute, but on a long ride that becomes a serious problem. Part of this is also the hold onto the bar lightly. Do not use a death grip, that just makes things worse.

Thirdly, start working on strengthing your core. Some crunches and pushups three times a week will realy help you strengthen the muscles you use to keep your weight off your arms. I've been slacking and can tell the difference on longer rides.

Happy riding,
André
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Old 01-15-09, 03:52 PM   #14
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Many of the posters write a lot of common sense, BUT I tried everything in the book to alleviate/eliminate numbness in the hands, pains in the shoulders (due to osteo-arthritis), saddle numbness, etc. Nothing worked for me, and I reluctantly gave up cycling completely. A desire to return though still niggled and I eventually purchased a recumbent. It was the answer to my pain problems, but proved difficult in my hilly area. My next purchase was a 'bent trike, and that is a winner on all counts.

I reached the conclusion that my body had had enough of conventional bikes and their riding positions. Nothing can make a DF comfortable for me, only slightly less painful and uncomfortable, and it may be so for you too. Good luck in your quest to find a way of making your bike ridable.
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Old 01-15-09, 07:38 PM   #15
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Unfortunately, recumbents often go un-tried by folks with fit or physical issues. I agree that they are a great alternative.
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Old 01-15-09, 09:19 PM   #16
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Hey Maverick, I'm not sure of your age but it's ok to be a little numb and readjust to make it go away. That IS normal. If it's something that would bring you to the point of pain, or it worries you that it happens, ask your doctor what he thinks. Anyone that says that riding doesn't have it's aches, pain, numbness, has never pushed himself for a better ride next time out. Alignment really helps with a comfortable ride. Try some different angles and height adjustments. Don't give up, it pays off.
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Old 01-15-09, 09:53 PM   #17
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I'll just direct you to Sheldon Brown
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Old 01-15-09, 10:23 PM   #18
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Hey Maverick, I'm not sure of your age but it's ok to be a little numb and readjust to make it go away. That IS normal. If it's something that would bring you to the point of pain, or it worries you that it happens, ask your doctor what he thinks. Anyone that says that riding doesn't have it's aches, pain, numbness, has never pushed himself for a better ride next time out. Alignment really helps with a comfortable ride. Try some different angles and height adjustments. Don't give up, it pays off.
So true. The long range comfort I now enjoy didn't happen overnite. And, it's not as a result of "just get used to it" either. I don't buy that at all. It's a process, like any other. Trial and error. On this forum you get to shorten that process, but it's still your zone to find.
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