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Handlebars and wrist injury - Cyclelicious

Handlebars and wrist injury

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Sunday, July 31, 2005
By Yokota Fritz

Utilitarian cyclists disagree on just about everything, and one of those things is handlebar style. Road bars with drops, or flat bars? (See note). Because of a recent trend of putting flat bars onto decently light road frames and calling these "commuter bikes," I thought I'd comment on this important issue.

Flat bars have their uses and advantages: increased manueverability, better turning and braking leverage, and other characteristics that are important in technical trail riding. For my average road commute, however, flat bars can be downright painful. When I ride much over ten or fifteen miles on my mountain bike with flat bars, my hands get numb and my wrists hurt. I've been told it's fit or that I need to move my hands more. Fit was done at a bike shop, and I've been biking enough years that shifting my hands periodically is automatic for me. I think it's the unnatural pronation of my forearm putting pressure on my wrists.

Jerry and Jeanette show in this case study of long distance touring on hybrids with straight bars the many advantages of drop bars over straight bars, especially for somebody with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Of course, there's a blog entry that got me thinking about this issue. Skip writes about his five mile commute on his old Stumpjumper. "During that time I began to suffer an incredible amount of pain in my right wrist." He was diagnosed with Repetetive Stress Injury (RSI) but couldn't find the cause of it.

When he moved, he stopped riding for a while and the pain eventually went away. Then, after an office move, he started riding again. "Within one week my wrist and arm were hurting more than ever, and the only thing that had changed in my routine was bombing down the valley to work. The mountain bike hand positioning was continually jarring my wrist and I was suffering once more."

Skip did some research and bought a cross bike with drop bars. "Within a couple of days I knew that cycling would no longer be a major source of wrist injury."

What do you think are appropriate for all-around non-competetive road riding? Drop bars, flat bars, riser bars, moustache bars, randoneering bars, or something else?

Yes, I know there are several other styles such as moustache bars. I'm ignoring them to (1) simplify things and (2) I have little experience with other styles of bars. I include riser/raised bars in overall "flat" category. Yes, I know they are different. When it comes to comfort and injury-prevention, moustache bars have many of the same positive characteristics as drop bars.

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Short Version:
I prefer drop bars.

Long Version:
After many years of mountain biking (with flat bars and bar ends) I began riding an 8 mile commute by bicycle. After some time commuting on a mountain bike, my only bike at the time, I decided it was time for something a bit more appropriate for the streets.

I bought an '80s sport touring bike with the intention of replacing the bars with flat bars and old levers lying around my basement because I was used to that position. I took a few rides on the bike as-purchased and found that I liked the drop bars. The brake hoods were a comfy general-purpose position and the drops were great for higher speeds and headwinds.

Even more importantly, though, I never once missed the palms-toward-street position and found the palms-together position much more comfortable. In fact, when mountain biking, I found myself unconsciously moving my hands to the bar ends when clearing obstacles, which seemed to work well, except that the brakes were then out of reach for the downhill side of the obstacle.

Furthermore, I've been considering dirt drop bars for my mountain bike, although I'm kind of attached to my hydraulic brakes, which is a deal breaker at this point.
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