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Drop Bar Hand Problems - Worth Continuing?

Old 05-20-21, 07:14 AM
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sven77
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Drop Bar Hand Problems - Worth Continuing?

Hello,

Ive just recently changed my bike from flat bars to drop bars and have done my first 100 miles with them. The reason for the change was to offer me more hand positions on longer rides and also some extra space for a handlebar bag. The problem is I seem to have started to develop some numbness that lasts for a few days in my little and ring finger which appears to be the classic cyclists palsy and has occurred about 60% of the rides I have done with drop bars (worse on off-road rides). The other 1300 miles I have done this year were on flat bars (same bike) and have never had any numbness.

In terms of the fit I have raised the stem as high as I can go but my steerer tube was cut for the original flat bars and have also installed a 60mm reach stem with compact drops. Riding on the hoods still feels like im stretching forward a bit too much - thought It might have been just because I wasn't used to the less upright you have with drop bars but can't help but feel still about 2-4" too far away. Ive also wrapped the bars with cushioned bar tape but dont wear any gloves.

My question is - is it worth continuing with drop bars at this point or is the writing on the wall that if it aint broke etc and return to flat bars if there were no issues and fit was good. Its a shame as I like the extra positions and space but am I missing something I haven't tried before I abandon the drops? Many thanks

Last edited by sven77; 05-20-21 at 07:32 AM.
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Old 05-20-21, 07:20 AM
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A picture is worth 1,000 words. It is hard to know without seeing your bike setup, preferably with you on the bike. That said, once I have a fit dialed in on a bike, I am reluctant to change anything. I am going through this now with my current setup. Recently, newer handlebars have come on the market that in theory should offer me more hand positions and better comfort. but since I am reasonably comfortable with my current setup, I don't want to mess with it.
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Old 05-20-21, 07:30 AM
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Sadly as i'm a newbie it won't allow me to upload any pics until i've hit the 10 post mark! Not quite there yet. I have done some research into bike fit and although i'm not an expert at all i've tried to follow some guidance on saddle height / angle / stem length. The bars I have are also very small in terms of reach and allow the hoods as close to me as I can get them in correct position on bars. Have to agree with not changing set up once dialled in. I forgot to mention i'm more at the recreational end of the spectrum and have been riding on hoods / ramps 99% of the time with the drop bars so the issue is coming from the default riding position not in drops.

Last edited by sven77; 05-20-21 at 07:34 AM.
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Old 05-20-21, 07:55 AM
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The geo of drop bars means the hoods position is pretty far forward from where a flat bar would have been. Hence your short stem reach. Maybe try to find a different set of drop bars where the reach from the bar tops to the hoods where it sweeps out there is as minimal as possible.

I am no expert in which to suggest, but know for sure that "reach" is a fit coordinate relevant to buying a drop handlebar. Some have more, some less.

Some "aero" drop bars have a second flat "hoods" style position a couple cm less reach back with the hoods position meaning to be more stretched out. Whereas a round bar in that area is round and less comfy an aero bar is "flatter" and easier on the hands.

Maybe an affordable Bontrager alloy aero handlebar? Don't know.
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Old 05-20-21, 08:04 AM
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Thanks for you reply. My drop bars are 75mm reach which I believe to be quite short already. I have seen some with 65mm reach but feel that even an extra 1cm reduction might not be enough to make the difference even with my new shorter stem. My flat bars had a small rise and also a 10 degree sweep so i think you are right about the position shift with the drop bars.

I can only assume that my finger numbness is because i'm putting too much weight on my hands and possibly wrong wrist angle because i'm having to lean slightly further forward than is natural. I have tried my saddle level and also with the nose very slightly angled + moved saddle forward a bit and still have same numbness. Also tried having the aero levers little higher on the bars as well.
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Old 05-20-21, 08:17 AM
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There are lots of reasons for hand numbness, and several things you can do to alleviate it.

For some tips, check out this excellent GCN video:

.
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Old 05-20-21, 08:42 AM
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My solution to the discomforts that are due to cycling is to counter with strengthening the muscles under assault. For example, when my neck got sore from hanging over a drop bar I did neck exercises. When my troublesome right knee begins to complain, I do knee exercises with lateral moves. When my hands got numb as my mileage increased, I did core exercises. I enjoy videos about life in other parts of the world. I noticed in videos about life in the third world that much agricultural work is not mechanized still goes on as it did hundreds of years ago. In the linked video, in the mountains of Nepal, people work bent over to plant and cultivate, and can do this all day, day after day. If taking the time to do the exercises is not feasible, then staying with a flat bar and a more upright position is best.

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Old 05-20-21, 08:46 AM
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1. How far was it from the saddle nose to where your hands were with the flat bar?
2. How far is it from the saddle nose to where your hands are on the hoods now?
3. Riding on the hoods (ideally on a trainer), can you lift both hands off the hoods without falling forward?
4. The numbness you describe is your Ulnar nerve, which runs up the outside of your wrist and hand. Normally on the hoods, the weight is borne on the palm, between the thumb and fingers. Are you turning your hand and putting weight on the heel?
5. Are your arms locked straight out when on the hoods? Or elbows bent slightly?
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Old 05-20-21, 08:51 AM
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BTW, higher bars are not necessarily the key to preventing numbness. I got a bike last year. The first ride, my hands kept getting numb, which doesn't happen with my other bikes. The bar on the new bike was 1" HIGHER than my other bikes. I lowered it to the same height as the others and have had no numbness problems since. So, maybe think of it in terms of there being a range of reach and drop that will work, and outside of that in any direction you'll have problems.
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Old 05-20-21, 08:54 AM
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Thanks. Yes interesting approach and amazing video from Nepal. Makes sense to do that although not entirely sure how one would go about targeting a specific part of the wrist to stop nerve compression but will look into it. As I said wrists have been fine with zero numbness for previous 2500 miles with flat bars which makes me think maybe something wrong with fit etc and I may not be able to solve it with this bike - eg shortest stem on / highest mounting position on steerer already done / bars and hoods rotated most within normal limits to use etc.

The drop bars are not a deal breaker as I love the bike and its a good fit with flat bars just a shame if I can't resolve with drops as would've been nice but possibly not an option hence my original post. Cheers
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Old 05-20-21, 08:59 AM
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1. How far was it from the saddle nose to where your hands were with the flat bar?
Dont have exact numbers but hoods on drops are probably 10cm approx further forward than flat bar position

2. How far is it from the saddle nose to where your hands are on the hoods now?
Saddle has been moved forward slightly than with flats but have tried in same position

3. Riding on the hoods (ideally on a trainer), can you lift both hands off the hoods without falling forward?
Good question! Haven't tried this but will do. I guess if I fall forward that suggests they are too low?

4. The numbness you describe is your Ulnar nerve, which runs up the outside of your wrist and hand. Normally on the hoods, the weight is borne on the palm, between the thumb and fingers. Are you turning your hand and putting weight on the heel?
Ive tried to move my hands around but numbness is still occurring. Shame I can't post a pic but I have cross referenced my hand position and bar / lever position with pics online and can't see anything glaring obvious im doing wrong. My bars have fairly flat ramps but even on hoods my palm is just resting on bar

5. Are your arms locked straight out when on the hoods? Or elbows bent slightly?[/QUOTE]
Possibly straight but just because they feel like a bit of a reach. Id swapped to the 60mm stem with 6 degree rise but still can't help but feel riding on hoods with access to breaks is a stretch

Thanks
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Old 05-20-21, 09:03 AM
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Putting drop bars on a bike with flat bars isn't a simple thing. If you didn't change the stem length then your reach is changed from day one.

I've been of the opinion that a bike made specifically with flat bars in mind has a slightly different frame reach than a similar road bike with drop bars. So a flat bar bike that fits a person well might be too big for that person if drops are put on it.

And with the different hand position, width might be a factor too. Narrow is better for me on drop bars.
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Old 05-20-21, 09:11 AM
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Are you putting your weight on the center groove of your palm?


that aggravates the carpal tunnel nerves.
Your weight should be on the butt of your palm. Rotate your elbows inwards so the butt of the palms are resting on the handlebars/hoods. Are you using modern brifters or old style brake levers?
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Old 05-20-21, 09:21 AM
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Originally Posted by sven77 View Post
1. How far was it from the saddle nose to where your hands were with the flat bar?
Dont have exat numbers but hoods on drops are probably 10cm approx further forward than flat bar positionc

2. How far is it from the saddle nose to where your hands are on the hoods now?
Saddle has been moved forward slightly than with flats but have tried in same position

3. Riding on the hoods (ideally on a trainer), can you lift both hands off the hoods without falling forward?
Good question! Haven't tried this but will do. I guess if I fall forward that suggests they are too low?

4. The numbness you describe is your Ulnar nerve, which runs up the outside of your wrist and hand. Normally on the hoods, the weight is borne on the palm, between the thumb and fingers. Are you turning your hand and putting weight on the heel?
Ive tried to move my hands around but numbness is still occurring. Shame I can't post a pic but I have cross referenced my hand position and bar / lever position with pics online and can't see anything glaring obvious im doing wrong. My bars have fairly flat ramps but even on hoods my palm is just resting on bar

5. Are your arms locked straight out when on the hoods? Or elbows bent slightly?
Possibly straight but just because they feel like a bit of a reach. Id swapped to the 60mm stem with 6 degree rise but still can't help but feel riding on hoods with access to breaks is a stretch

Thanks
[/QUOTE]
10 cm forward of where you were with the flat bar is a huge change. With bike fit, you want to make small changes, like maybe a cm or 2. I am betting your hands are way too far forward.
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Old 05-20-21, 09:35 AM
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Originally Posted by icemilkcoffee View Post
Are you putting your weight on the center groove of your palm?


that aggravates the carpal tunnel nerves.
Your weight should be on the butt of your palm. Rotate your elbows inwards so the butt of the palms are resting on the handlebars/hoods. Are you using modern brifters or old style brake levers?
Carpal tunnel is index, middle, and 1/2 of ring finger, whereas the OP's numbness is little finger and 1/2 of ring finger which is the Ulnar nerve.
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Old 05-20-21, 09:45 AM
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If you haven't tried a Jones H-bar, you might like it. They allow for several hand positions, including one that mimics being on the hoods, and a comfortable, upright stance that places your wrists in a very natural/neutral orientation.
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Old 05-20-21, 10:38 AM
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Originally Posted by icemilkcoffee View Post
Are you putting your weight on the center groove of your palm?


that aggravates the carpal tunnel nerves.
Your weight should be on the butt of your palm. Rotate your elbows inwards so the butt of the palms are resting on the handlebars/hoods. Are you using modern brifters or old style brake levers?
You are implicating the wrong nerve. The median nerve travels thru the carpal tunnel and provides cutaneous sensation to digits 1, 2, 3 and the lateral 1/2 of 4. The ulnar nerve (the other nerve in the image that is unlabeled) provides cutaneous sensation to the medial 1/2 of digit 4 (ring finger), and digit 5 (pinky). It's common in cycling to experience numbness from compression of either or these nerves, but the consequences, in terms of which combination of fingers go numb are different.
To the OP....in order to avoid compression on either of these nerves you have to be mindful of how you are resting your hands on the handlebars. It doesn't matter how many hand positions you have if you are compressing areas in your wrist and proximal hand in which these nerves run thru. The median nerve runs thru the center of your wrist, and the ulnar nerve runs thru the wrist more medially (toward the pinky side). Once you understand the basic anatomy, and to which fingers each nerve provides cutaneous sensation, it's easy to diagnose which nerve is being compressed and this should inform you on how to tweak your hand positions to find ways that do not compress these nerves.

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Old 05-20-21, 11:09 AM
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Originally Posted by sven77 View Post
1. How far was it from the saddle nose to where your hands were with the flat bar?
Dont have exact numbers but hoods on drops are probably 10cm approx further forward than flat bar position

2. How far is it from the saddle nose to where your hands are on the hoods now?
Saddle has been moved forward slightly than with flats but have tried in same position
Moving the saddle forward places MORE weight on your hands. That is the exact opposite of what you should do. Saddle setback should be set so that, while pedaling at a decent power level, but not your max, you can take your hands off the bars and not fall forward. That way you can hold you body up with minimal exertion, and not have so much weight on your hands. Don't fix reach problems with seat setback. If you need less reach, use a shorter stem, or bars with a shorter reach.
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Old 05-20-21, 11:16 AM
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What stem length did you have with the flat bars? Compact drops have a reach of probably 60-70mm, plus the extra length of the hoods, so it's not surprising that the hoods feel very stretched out unless you had a very long stem before. This is why drop bar frames typically have a shorter top tube than flat bar frames.
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Old 05-20-21, 12:08 PM
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10 cm difference in where your hands would rest most of the time is ENORMOUS! And if the reach to the flat bar was comfortable, it's no wonder the reach to the hoods feels like a long way! I set my bikes up so when I'm in the saddle, the hoods feel like the most natural place for my hands to fall, kind of a default position. That makes all the other positions usable, including the drops and the top of the levers. This comes in handy because my usual ride includes about 4-6 miles into the wind! It might be difficult or impossible to set up your bike that way. I don't know how long the stem is, but 10 cm is most of the length of most stems. If you're already using a short-reach bar, you've gotten all you can out of bar choice. I'm not sure what effect an ultra-short stem has on handling, although the GCN guys tried it and reported it made the handling too squirrelly.

At this point, I think you should really get a professional bike fitting. You could chase issues around and around by yourself, using pain as your guide, but that could be a long, counterproductive process. I had one 25 years ago and all my bikes are set up based on it. Yeah, 25 years is a long time, but if it ain't broke.....
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Old 05-20-21, 12:22 PM
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I agree with Rolla, you should try the Jones H-bar. I changed my flat bar for a Jones and my hand numbness went away. If you want to try a less expensive option, I changed the drops on my road bike to butterfly (trekking) handlebars. Another change I made was to install Grab On 1/4 inch thick foam grips, and wrap those with gel cushioned handlebar tape. The larger bar diameter means a larger surface area of your hand supports whatever weight and I believe it reduces pressure on whatever nerve. The foam grips dramatically reduce the vibration transfer to my hands.
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Old 05-20-21, 12:43 PM
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@sven77's ablum:
https://www.bikeforums.net/g/user/538591
https://www.bikeforums.net/g/album/21284267



It doesn't look like he's uploaded fitment related photos yet. 2 more posts?
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Old 05-20-21, 12:55 PM
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Wow. Okay, if that's his stem currently, he's got no way to make up reach there.
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Old 05-20-21, 12:58 PM
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Originally Posted by terrymorse View Post
There are lots of reasons for hand numbness, and several things you can do to alleviate it.

For some tips, check out this excellent GCN video:

How To Prevent Numbness Or pain In Your Hands Whilst Cycling.
Excellent video.

I would like to highlight the end of the clip when they start talking about bike fit. Remember a drop bar road bike isn't necessarily fit the same as a MTB or flat bar bike.

Setting the seat back some will reduce some of the weight on your arms. Perhaps counterintuitive, but it does help.

I do like the flat top aero bars, and ride more with my hands on the tops of the bars than on the hoods. And, of course, the discussion about wider wheels and perhaps lower tire pressures.
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Old 05-20-21, 01:07 PM
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Things that you can do that cost very little money: play with the brake lever position and handlebar rotation. These change the angle of your wrists and might relieve pressure on nerves n key places. What I do as standard practice when setting mu new bikes or making changes is go for the first several rides with bare handlebars. (Just enough electrical tape to keep the cables in place.) I bring all the wrenches for stem height, bar rotation and the brake lever clamp. I play with the handlebar rotation, the lever location up and down on the handlebar and also the tor-in of the hoods. (My hands like a fair amount.)

Before I start those rides, I hold a yardstick to the underside of the drop flats and mark where it hits the chainstay with a piece of tape. Do the same with a short ruler and note the vertical between the brake lever tip and ruler. I observe how I feel during the ride and after. Better? I mark where I am and go a little further on that adjustments. Worse? Try a little the other way.

After doing this research, it may become clear that a different shape bar or lever will work better for you.

I'm old enough and have had enough physical issues that I put health and comfort far above appearance. I now ride bars that are rotated forward and down well past stylish or "right". Brake hoods low enough to be on a 1960s race bike. Stem raised a little to compensate. All to get my wrists rotated forward as it seems that's what they've wanted all along. Looks all wrong but my hands don't hurt or go numb during rides and feel just fine after. (Well, not so much if I've taken time off the bike, but at 68, that applies to the rest of my body as well. )
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