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Getting The Grip Right

October 2012

I’ve been meaning to write about a minor issue that has turned into a big problem for me all through September and right up to my sitting on the couch, typing this.

I went to the back cracker to get my neck adjusted but I’m still left with some incredibly sore shoulders. I don’t complain much about pain, and I surely won’t start here, because relatively speaking, I’ll live, and a couple of Aleve and a good night’s sleep with my bite splint provides complete relief, at least for 12-16 hours.  It’s most certainly an overuse issue and I’m not about to stop overusing the shoulders until the snow flies.

My problem, specifically, started in March and it started out so small and insignificant that I couldn’t really realize how much trouble I would end up creating for myself:

When I’m pushing to ride as fast as I can, trying to ride that fine line between fast, over a good amount of distance, I grip my right hood with my middle and ring finger. Hard. I’m left side dominant and constantly trying to stay balanced on my right side so I end up pulling on the handlebars with my right arm to load up on my right leg a little more.

This habit was formed over dozens of short 16-25 mile rides throughout the season. On those shorter rides the attempt to balance my cadence made my right shoulder a little tight – over a century it created the most intense charley horse I’ve ever experienced that would take upwards of 15 minutes to release after I got off the bike. I knew this wasn’t right, but I didn’t want to slow down to figure it out either…

Originally, my hoods were slightly off level. My right hood was just a little higher (closer to my body) than the left, so I developed the habit of balancing between the pedals, saddle and bars, favoring my right arm because the hood was closer to me.  I do not have my bars set to a comfortable angle – Matt had it set up that way, where the bar was tilted up so the drops were about 10-15 degrees off parallel with the ground.  This allowed me to sit up a little straighter but was terrible for riding in the drops.  I tilted them back down to just barely off parallel.  That allowed me to get lower and scoop less air, but it required a little more tension on the shoulders.  With the right drop higher, I was loading quite a bit onto my right shoulder…

Combine the two, squeezing with my right hand and pulling to load up my right side, and the off hood (only for the beginning of the season, once I realized it was off I fixed it) and I’ve got some kind of sore shoulder.  I have written about this before, but when I did I was only aware of the poorly aligned hoods – the squeezing I only figured out a few weeks ago after I tapped out on a 108 mile ride at 95 miles.

To counter the squeezing I had to change my grips on the hoods.  I used to ride with three fingers wrapping the hood plus my thumb and one finger on the brake/shift lever.  I’ve since switched to two on the lever and two (plus the thumb) around the hood.  I also concentrate intently on keeping my grip extremely loose – not so much that my hands can fall off if I hit a bump, but relaxed.  This has helped out quite a bit.  To put it in another way, they always say that you want to hold a golf club with the same grip strength you would if you were holding a bird – I go a little bit lighter than that and it’s seemed to help quite a bit.

I’m certain I won’t heal up completely until I can stop resting on them so much – but that won’t really happen until I’m spinning in my office this winter when I don’t have wind to worry about.


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