Riding a bike can cause your hands to ache, tingle or even go numb. Don’t panic. It’s caused by the compression of nerves in your hands, specifically the ulnar and median nerves. That can be due to your own bodyweight bearing down on your hands or bumps and vibration being transmitted from the tarmac. It soon eases, and there are things you can do to stop it happening in the first place.
Check your riding position. Pain and numbness are more common if your hands are supporting too much of your weight. Try sitting more upright, by bringing the handlebar up and back towards you. This may require a shorter, more upright stem or a handlebar with more rise or back-sweep. Or you may need to alter the angle of your handlebar. Your local bike shop can advise. Remember that there’s no right or wrong - only what’s comfortable for you.
If your riding position is fine (and possibly even if it’s not!), you need to limit the vibration coming through to your hands. You don’t need a suspension fork for commuting; a fatter tyre will help more. A steel or carbon fork can take the edge of road buzz. And of course you can pad your hands with mitts and your handlbear with better grips or bar tape.
When you’re leaning forward on a bike, it’s more comfortable if you’re able to move your hands around. This is one of the reasons for drop handlebars: they provide at least four different hand positions – tops, shoulders, brake hoods, and drops. A flat bar provides just one hand position and the position that it does offer puts a lot of pressure on the heel of your hands where those sensitive nerves are. Flat handlebars greatly benefit from bar ends, which give an alternative hand position, and ergonomic grips, which spread the load better.
Gel is useful to pad mitts, grips or bar tape because it reduces vibration and doesn’t compress flat at pressure points. Cork is good too, since it dulls vibration. Dual density grips, which have softer rubber where you need it, also work.
Here are some of the things you can use to improve comfort simply by changing how you grip your handlebar.
Specialized BG Bar Phat
Cork bar tape is pretty comfortable by itself. Specialized improve comfort further by adding four self-adhesive gel pads, which you fit to the bar tops and drops before winding the tape over the top. There are two thicknesses of gel available: 4.5mm and 2.5mm. Either makes a significant impact in reducing pressure on your hands.
Bontrager Gel Cork tape
Cork tape with an inner gel strip, this doesn’t have the same amount of padding as Bar Phat but nevertheless provides decent cushioning. It’s available in lots of different colours too, and it goes on and off easily so it’s easy to re-wrap your handlebars.
Outland Stubby Bar Ends
Even simple aluminium bar ends like these are surprisingly useful. There’s something about holding your hands parallel to the direction of travel that feels more comfortable. Stubby bar ends give you an extra hand position with minimal weight or bulk. These are well suited to flat-bar road bikes.
Cane Creek Ergo Grip II
These unusual bar ends provide a T-shaped rather than an L-shaped end to your handlebar, so that your hands are in line with the handlebar rather than in front of it when using them. Steering feels more secure and your reach to the bar doesn’t change. The contoured rubber outer provides a comfortable grip even with bare hands and the resin/aluminium core underneath ensures they’re durable.
Specialized BG Contour Targa Grip/Bar End
The Targa is a flared ergonomic grip similar in shape to the Ergon and costing £18. It’s worth spending the extra £12 to get the integrated bar end for the extra hand position it provides. The grip is made from triple density rubber: firm for the core, medium for grip, and softest under the heel of your hand. It was designed to prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and other cycling-related aches and pains.
Ergon pioneered flared grips with greater palm support. They make all sorts now, some made from cork, some with integral bar ends, some super-light ones for racers, and more besides. The GP1 is the standard version and a good solution for the flat-bar rider who doesn’t want bar ends. It comes in small and large versions, for different hand sizes, and in shorter versions for bikes with Gripshift or other twist-shift gears.
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