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Old 02-16-12, 01:58 PM   #1
edsterra
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Handlebars and Riding Positions

Hi,

I'm about to turn 60. Last year I returned to bicycling after a decade long layoff purchasing a Salsa Fargo which has proven ideal for both my size (6'4 /285 lbs) and the kind of riding I like to do which can be described as decent roads away from traffic such as rail trails and rural dirt roads.

While last season I routinely did rides of up to 30 miles without being wrecked, I did have some back issues and hand pain and numbness issues. I found that I rarely used the drops on the Woodchipper bars preferring to ride the hoods and flats, probably 70/30. I do wear both gel gloves and the bars have a double layer of gel tape, but I often found myself having to shake my hands to try to relieve the onset of both pain and numbness.

This coming season I'm hoping to stretch the miles and I would like to be more comfortable. I'm willing to put some money into the bike in terms of a new handlebar, saddle if needed, and so forth. I have been doing my online homework, but I would greatly appreciate hearing from folks like me who have had to deal with this and managed to improve their situation.

Thanks
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Old 02-16-12, 02:20 PM   #2
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Like yourself, I use gloves and have my bars double taped. A little numbness is not out of the ordinary on a long ride. I think in my case it is that I sometimes tend to ride with my hands only partially on the hoods, and that position does not keep my wrists straight. I've got my bars about a n inch lower than the saddle.
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Old 02-16-12, 02:31 PM   #3
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Hand pain is common, and happened to me too. It was mitigated by having a pro fit done on me and one of my bikes. Just little tweaks here and they made a world of difference in comfort. I'm just guessing here, but I think most hand pain/numbness is caused by our weight balance being too far forward, resulting in the hands supporting our upper torso more than it should be.

The little things that can "fix" this is such as raising the front of the seat slightly, going with a longer, (or shorter), length stem, raising or lowering the seatpost, moving the seat either forward slightly or backward. Just little stuff. When it gets expensive is if you have to swap out your crankset for a shorter or longer crank arm. Thankfully, unless you built up the frame yourself, it probably came with the appropriate length crank.

If you have several shops around, investigate which ones do a pro fit. Not all are the same. Figure on spending somewhere around $150 for a fit. They will change your rear quick release lever so thay can put your bike on a trainer. Then you'll spend about five minutes warming up, and while doing so, the fit tech will watch your form. He, (or she), will take some measurements, ask you how you feel, if you have pain here or there, than make little adjustments. You'll ride some more, and so on, back and forth. After about an hour or two, you'll leave the shop with your bike "fitted" to your physical physique.

It really does make a world of difference. No more butt pain ... nor more hand pain ... arms don't ache several hours after your ride. etc. It's kinda expensive, and there is controversy here about it being a waste of money, but in my opinion, it is money well spent that will increase your enjoyment of cycling immensely.

- - -

p.s. If you do get a fit, when you get home, take a tape measure to your bike. Then, when you get a different bike, or fiddle with your existing bike, you'll know where to adjust everything so that it will mimic the fit you had done. I wish I had done this before messing around with my bikes. Now, I have to go back and have it done all over again. My existing fit is close, but there are still things that need to be changed to allow me to ride most efficiently and comfortably.
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Last edited by volosong; 02-16-12 at 02:36 PM. Reason: grammar
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Old 02-16-12, 03:10 PM   #4
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Thanks Volosong for the information about pro fittings. The lbs around here has a fancy laser unit that they charge $250 for. When I talked to them, they seemed to find the idea of a fat old bald guy wanting to do semi-serious riding pretty amusing which did put me off. I was left with the impression that after the fit, I'd be well set up for the Tour de France, but I'm not sure that proper fit is that independent of the type of riding I'd be doing.

In fact, comments about that would be appreciated. Is there only one 'correct' fit regardless of if you're going to race, tour, or amble? After all that's a fair hunk of change to invest with folks who don't seem too attuned to my specific needs unless they really don't matter and a fit is a fit regardless.

There are a few other shops in the area and perhaps I should make more of an attempt to find on that is more simpatico.

Fit aside, what sort of bar do you use? As I mentioned, I'm not thrilled with the Woodchipper and have seen good comments about various sorts of upright and backswept bars that hint of being useful in my circumstances. Confusing myself with various online reviews it might seem that a bar such as the On One Mary or Nitto Albatross could, in conjunction with a proper fit improve my situation.

For various reasons, including <sigh> some health related, I've made a personal commitment to ride at least 3 times a week, so investing in making my bike as comfortable as possible would be money well spent.
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Old 02-16-12, 03:12 PM   #5
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Don't have thick tape on the bars and My gloves used to be MTB type with very little padding. Shortly after starting road riding I had a similar problem and passed a shop that I knew had a good array of different gloves and my hands were hurting. Every glove type has the padding in a different position so I started with the cheap gloves and went up the price range till I Found a pair that had the padding exactly where I needed it. They only just stopped short of """HOW MUCH""???? But I rode home with them on and very little hand pain.

So find the shop with plenty of gloves and tell the assistant to go away for an hour while you try the gloves on. You will know when you find the right pair.

I still get a bit of numbness come in and it is like butt pain- Take the weight off before it gets to be a problem just to get circulation going again and do it often.
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Old 02-16-12, 03:19 PM   #6
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Best gloves I ever had were the Spenco gel gloves, with a crocheted back for that classic (retro?) look. But that was back in the 80's and I think Spenco got out of the bicycle accessories a long time ago. Right now I'm Using a pair of Specialized gloves with some smaller gel pads in strategic places. They are starting to look tired and I expect to wear them out this year. I do have a modest collection of other gloves that I didn't like as much.
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Old 02-16-12, 03:19 PM   #7
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I find bar and glove padding to be counterproductive, especially with respect to numbness.
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Old 02-16-12, 03:22 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by volosong View Post
Hand pain is common, and happened to me too. It was mitigated by having a pro fit done on me and one of my bikes. Just little tweaks here and they made a world of difference in comfort. I'm just guessing here, but I think most hand pain/numbness is caused by our weight balance being too far forward, resulting in the hands supporting our upper torso more than it should be..
This. Many people move the saddle forwards thinking that it will help with their hand problems but it makes them worse. You want your center of gravity to be close to the bottom bracket, rather than far in front of it. Ideally you should be able to take your hands off the bars while riding and support your upper body without too much effort.

Volosongs comments on getting a fitting are right on too. If the shop you went to didn't make you feel comfortable try another one. Some olde school bike shoppe owners are good at doing a fitting "by eye". 20 or 30 years spent looking at people on bikes can do that.
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Old 02-16-12, 03:38 PM   #9
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Hand numbness often results from your position on the bike causing too much weight to be supported by the hands. Most people assume the solution is to raise and/or move back the handlebars and slide the seat forward, but that can often make the problem worse, not better. Moving the saddle back may offer more relief. I play around with my positioning on a new bike until I find the sweet spot where I can raise my hands off the grips while riding without falling forward. That tells me I am balanced.

I have been lusting heavily for a Salsa Fargo for a while and it is at the top of the list as my probable next N+1. FWIW, the Fargo is a drop bar MTB, not a traditional road bike. Unlike road bikes with regular drop bars where most time is spent with the hands on the hoods, the Fargo with Woodchippers is designed to be set up so that the most comfortable position is with the hands in the hooks of the drop. The frame has a higher head tube and shorter top tube than most MTBs to accomodate that position. some shallow drop, short reach road drop handlebars might work better if you want to ride the hoods. If you change to an uppright or flat type bar, you may want a longer stem to compensate for the shorter top tube.

Last edited by BluesDawg; 02-16-12 at 03:42 PM.
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Old 02-16-12, 03:52 PM   #10
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is important to remember to change the hand positions as you ride. Just as you couldn't spend hours sitting on your feet curled up in a chair without numbness, you can't do that on a bike either. Proper fit plus remembering to change hand positions is really the key. at least was the key for me.
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Old 02-16-12, 03:54 PM   #11
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One of the very first questions a fitter should ask you is what type of riding do you want to do. What are your goals in riding? He should ask how long your typical ride will be. How often a week you'll be riding. How fast do you like to go, or how much you want to push it. For example, if you want to just do time trials, he will fit you to a much more aggressive position than if you were to tell him that your goal was to ride four centuries in the coming year. From your answers to these initial questions, he will have a baseline and will know where to start.

To answer one of your questions, I have traditional shaped drop bars on my bikes. They are set up in a semi-aggressive position, meaning that the seat is about three, maybe four inches higher than the handlebars. When I ride, a typical ride is somewhere between 20-40 miles on open landscape desert roads, (minimal traffic and stop signs/lights). Usually, I ride in a mode that works my heart more than burns fat, (I like to set personal records, and want to work my heart more due to a family history of heart problems). Probably about 95% of the time my hand position is on the hoods or the bars just aft of the hoods. Hardly ever ride in the drops, (unless bucking a stiff headwind), and even less on the tops of the bars nearer the center. I'm 60 years young.

---

p.s. Don't think that the measurement of the height of the seat above the handlebars has anything to do with how "hot" you are. All of us, for a given height, have shorter or longer legs and shorter or longer arms that the person standing next to us. It's all individual, hence the need for pro fitters.
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Last edited by volosong; 02-16-12 at 03:58 PM.
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Old 02-16-12, 04:05 PM   #12
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I find bar and glove padding to be counterproductive, especially with respect to numbness.
Same here. No padding.
Learn to relax your hands and arms while riding.
Ride more, 30 miles is way to short.
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Old 02-16-12, 04:41 PM   #13
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Upright rider smirks and reminds all that she keeps telling them that hunchback nonsense ain't good for you.
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Old 02-16-12, 05:39 PM   #14
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The answer that many people don't want to hear.

Ever consider a recumbent?
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Old 02-16-12, 05:46 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by edsterra View Post
In fact, comments about that would be appreciated. Is there only one 'correct' fit regardless of if you're going to race, tour, or amble? After all that's a fair hunk of change to invest with folks who don't seem too attuned to my specific needs unless they really don't matter and a fit is a fit regardless.

Fit aside, what sort of bar do you use? As I mentioned, I'm not thrilled with the Woodchipper and have seen good comments about various sorts of upright and backswept bars that hint of being useful in my circumstances. Confusing myself with various online reviews it might seem that a bar such as the On One Mary or Nitto Albatross could, in conjunction with a proper fit improve my situation.
There is no one correct fit. Fit depends on the type of riding on is doing, personal preferences, and physical limitations. A fit that is good for a 10 or 15 mile time trial will probably be completely wrong for a 600k brevet ride. In my case, because of limited flexibility, I ride in a much more upright posture than many others.
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Old 02-16-12, 06:19 PM   #16
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The problem likely lies right in the middle...of the rider. Strengthen your abs so that you are comfortable putting no weight at all on your hands for most of your ride. You're really not supposed to be supporting your weight on your hands, they're just there to control the brakes. In the words of an old friend, "Don't ride like a sack of potatoes."
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Old 02-16-12, 06:59 PM   #17
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I think I'd look into a shorter/more upright stem.
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Old 02-16-12, 07:03 PM   #18
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The problem likely lies right in the middle...of the rider. Strengthen your abs so that you are comfortable putting no weight at all on your hands for most of your ride. You're really not supposed to be supporting your weight on your hands, they're just there to control the brakes. In the words of an old friend, "Don't ride like a sack of potatoes."
This is the first thing I thought when I read the post. A bit of core strengthening may go a long way in helping to keep the weight off the hands.
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Old 02-16-12, 07:54 PM   #19
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Thanks again, good thoughts all.... I agree with the core strengthening and I've been working on it. To the more upright folks...... which handlebar do you use? Does it allow multiple hand positions? The Woodchipper isn't that conducive to an upright position, so I am willing to consider a change.
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Old 02-16-12, 08:17 PM   #20
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Best gloves I ever had were the Spenco gel gloves, with a crocheted back for that classic (retro?) look. But that was back in the 80's and I think Spenco got out of the bicycle accessories a long time ago. Right now I'm Using a pair of Specialized gloves with some smaller gel pads in strategic places. They are starting to look tired and I expect to wear them out this year. I do have a modest collection of other gloves that I didn't like as much.
Incorrect! Spenco Ironman gloves are awesome. I prefer the Rip It model myself.

I do think a bike position adjustment is going to the the most important key to solving the OPs problem though.
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Old 02-16-12, 08:20 PM   #21
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Ever consider a recumbent?
Hehe. Sounds like in other forums, when someone posts a request for help with a Windows PC and someone else always pipes in with "Get a Mac". No slight meant, however. Bent's are cool and I've got one in my stable. Need to get out with it more.
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Old 02-16-12, 08:22 PM   #22
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Incorrect! Spenco Ironman gloves are awesome. I prefer the Rip It model myself.
Thanks! Last time I looked, Spenco had no cycling products at all. I may just have to get a pair now.
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Old 02-16-12, 09:35 PM   #23
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Hi Ed, and welcome to the Monkey House.

I'm a racer guy who logs pretty big training miles and am dealing with a bunch of old injuries and a bad case of carpal tunnel. Seems counter intuitive but I don't wear gloves except when racing and went from padded to very minimal bar tape to stave off the numbness.

The other big helper has been carbon bars. They aren't all created equal, some have made things worse, some better. The best ones knock down the road vibration and soften the pothole hits. Value shopping is your friend here...retail can be pricey but they are worth it.

Saddles are entirely about you. I started back riding at 200lbs, as I lost weight and shifted weight, I ended up on different perches. There's no "best" saddle. There is a "best for me".

30 miles is great. Best part of this sport is improving as you go along. Don't worry about what other people are logging for miles or hours. Go do what's fun and feels good.
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Old 02-16-12, 09:51 PM   #24
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Strengthen your abs by doing core workouts, then when you ride your bike, increase your level of awareness about engaging your core when rideing. Proper engagement of your abs while riding relieves pressure off your hands therefore reducing numbness and pain.
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Old 02-16-12, 10:32 PM   #25
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I would like to recommend that you keep your elbows bent and your shoulders out of your ears. Also, make sure your gloves aren't too tight.
If you want to try different bars, remember they come in many shapes and sizes and different stiffnesses. I use alloy bars but I tried several different models before I settled on the set I have.
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