Recently, I was on a longer-than-usual ride, and after awhile, things started aching. Since the group I was with had already gone 35 miles without stopping, I thought a break was in order, and picked a shady spot under a bridge to rest a bit.
“All my contact points are sore,” I told one of my co-riders. “My feet, my butt, and my hands.”
The feet weren’t a problem. A few minutes rest would take care of the hot spot, and I would make sure to pull up rather than push down the rest of the way in. My butt wasn’t a problem, either, because the rest would help that, too. But the hands — I’ve had sore hands before, and they don’t go away so easily.
I stumbled across the answer several days later. My hands hurt because I’ve been putting them on the bar in the wrong place. I spend 90 percent of my time on the hoods, and the web between thumb and forefinger naturally wraps around the hood.
That’s not what you want to do.
A post on Bike Forums suggested that your hands should bear all the weight on their heels. That takes pressure off the tender webbing, and allows you to ride in comfort for hours on end. The forum poster even asserted that you could ride without gloves and still be comfortable, if you kept the weight on the heels of the hands.
I decided to try it. The next weekend, I took a club ride about the same distance as when I had the soreness. Several miles into the ride, I remembered that I was going to try the new hand position (I learn slowly, sometimes). I shifted the hands slightly to the sides, to where I could feel the heels absorb the weight.
It was pretty good.
This really works. Problem is, I shift my hands a bit when I have to brake, and then forget to put them back in their new positions. “Move your hands!” I kept reminding myself.
The weight-on-the-heel position doesn’t work only when your hands are on the hoods. It’ll work anytime, anywhere. Want to rest your hands on top of the bar, near the stem? Pay attention to where you put the heel. Want to move the hands around just for some variety? Try putting them on the tall part of the shifter enclosure. The heel naturally falls on the hood that way. Again, you might have to shift the hands quickly if you have to brake, but that’s not an issue.
And I can vouch for the claim that the heel will support your weight regardless of the amount of padding. On another day, I wore my backup gloves, with only a piece of synthetic leather over the heel of the hand — no cushioning inside. I rode for over an hour with no discomfort.
These pictures show local crit racers who position their hands correctly. The guy on the left points his forearms in. So does the guy on the right, who also shows that you don’t need gloves to ride comfortably.
With heels supporting your weight, you aren’t going to put a death grip on the bars. In fact, you ought to be able to wiggle your fingers and wrap them lightly around the bars. That will eliminate tension from your hands, and you’ll ride comfortably for hours.
Criterium pictures via Facebook.
T Foster says
Excellent point. I must be somewhat intuitive with this as my hands don’t generally give me problems.
I’ll sometimes have a worn spot of skin or abrasion at the heel of my palm after a long ride.
That is a good tip, I will try it this weekend!
Some of this has to do with having a bike that fits you – if you don’t, proper position is harder.
I see a lot of bikers – both roadies and mtn guys – with improper ARM position as well – elbows either locked or almost locked. That puts a lot of tension everywhere in your arm and shoulders.
I started out riding a full rigid mtn bike in rocky, rooty terrain, and I think that helped me – you HAVE to have good riding position doing that or you end up in major pain. People who have only ridden paved roads or full-suspension mtn bikes can get away with improper position more easily.
Yeah i got problem with having my arms bent. both on mtb and (newly) on a road bike. I’m heavy and short. instead of loosening in the elbow i losen in the shoulder. wich on mtb wasnt that big of a deal. But on a road bike it means io cant adjust my drop bars so they feel comfortable (with arms straight in the elbows) i might finally learn to properly ride on a bike thanks to that .
Another great post Ray.
I also find that moving my hands to other parts of the bar helps. I move to the drops and the center occasionally to give hands, arms and back some relief.
I’ve always moved my hands around, but never used to think about resting them on the heels. No matter where I am on the bar now, it’s on my mind.
Great article Ray. I too move my hands around a lot to keep them from getting uncomfortable. I’ll remember to try the heel and hood grip.
Here’s a good positioning post: http://coachlevi.com/cycling/bike-fit-tip-more-natural-hand-position/
What’s funny is I spend 95% of my time in the drops if not more like 99.9% of the time.
I wish I should have read your post before I went out for my 32-miler this morning. Yes, you guessed it: hands hurt like there was no tomorrow. I will make a mental effort to remember the new position on the next ride.
Hand pain can also be caused by your seat being too far back and thus you’re carrying too much weight on your hands. Although most of the time that comes through as wrist pain.
The heel position is a good tip. Another is to un-tense, or is it de-tense.
I often need to remind myself to relax, let out a deep sigh and unlock my elbows and shoulders.