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Home » Cycling » Advanced Road Bike Setup; Getting the Shift Lever Hoods Right Can Save Serious Pain Down the Road

Advanced Road Bike Setup; Getting the Shift Lever Hoods Right Can Save Serious Pain Down the Road

January 2020
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A couple of months ago I put a new aero drop bar on my Trek. It is fantastic on that my old 5200.  It’s hard to tell it’s a classic (it’s a ’99, so a classic just this year):

Unfortunately, there was just a little too much drop from the saddle nose to the handlebar with the new bar.  I added a 5 mm spacer under the stem to bring the bar up.  When I was done, the reach wasn’t bad, though maybe a touch long, and I could handle the drop a lot better, even with my winter five pounds…. and the bike looked awesome.

Just before Christmas, we flew to Florida to stay with my wife’s sister’s family and I started noticing some problems with my right hand and wrist. It felt like the tendons in my wrist would “catch” every now and again. The associated pain wasn’t a big deal, it was unsettling, though.  I worried it might be the onset of carpel tunnel syndrome.

When we got back, after a week and a half off the bike, I rode on the trainer with regularity and the popping and pain increased.

It took a minute (three weeks…ish) for it to dawn on me, but I finally put the puzzle together and traced it back to the new handlebar installation. Or more succinctly, I narrowed it down to something in the handlebar setup.

After a lot of thought about what to do, I settled on raising the hoods… maybe the angle was off, the way I was reaching for the hoods?

Still on the right plane, but with more rise.  Just riding yesterday was a remarkable improvement in how my wrist feels.

How did I come to the conclusion I did?

I could have done a few things to set this right: A) Lower the handlebar. B) Roll the handlebar back which would naturally raise the hoods. C) Raise the individual shift levers/hoods.

Raising the handlebar by adding spacers below the stem would be exactly the wrong thing to do.  That would increase the forward wrist rotation, exacerbating the problem.  Put your hands in front of you, like you’re holding your hoods, roll your wrist forward… now raise them up two inches.  The right thing to do would be to lower the handlebar.  It might have worked, decreasing the odd angle, but the physics of it just don’t add up; with my slight winter gut in the way.  Ahem.

I could have rolled the handlebar back, bringing the hoods up, but that would have thrown off my position in the drops big time.

The hardest option, moving the shift levers themselves, was the option I chose because that would give me exactly what I needed, even if it was a lot more work contrasted against the other two options (getting the hoods in the right position, level and square to the handlebar drops takes a bit of ingenuity and attention to detail).

What went wrong initially?

In my pursuit of being perfectly stylish, I tried to set the shift levers to perfectly follow the plane created by the drop – as should be (my wife’s old bike in the foreground is all wrong, but the way they did things on sport bikes vs. race bikes twelve years ago).  It looked awesome and aggressive, but even with the decent drop from the saddle to the bar, the long reach meant I had to slightly roll my wrists forward to hold the hoods.  I was putting a lot of pressure on my wrists while they were bent in a way they shouldn’t be bent.  Over time, this aggravated the tendons in my wrist which inflamed them, thus I felt like I had gravel in my wrist.  In fact, just sitting here typing this report up, I tried to mimic that movement, rolling my wrists forward.  Without any weight on my wrists it hurt.  I got a jolt up my right arm and I could feel the pressure in my left (I’m left handed, it would make sense that, being left hand dominant, it would take a little longer for problems to show there).

The conclusion.

The causes of my trouble are many little things rolled up into an ugly ball; cockpit reach (length of the stem in this case), geometry of the bike (I don’t have this problem on my Venge – standard vs. compact frame), choice of handlebar (I didn’t have any troubles with the last handlebar – the rise and reach are different on the new bar) and the location of the hoods on the bar.  All of these things combined make for an ugly problem in my bike’s setup.

Thankfully, I’m picky enough to have caught it before any real damage was done.  I hope.


1 Comment

  1. […] a post last week, I wrote about a wrist problem I was having. I figured it might be related to the new handlebar […]

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