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Choosing the Right Handlebars for Happy Cycling Shoulders.

This week we continue our series of shoulder blogs with, as promised, a look at cycling and shoulder pain????.

Firstly, it doesn’t matter what type of cycling you do. Whether you cycle casually, for leisure, fitness, commuting or are full on racing, it’s crucial to have the right size bike for you and then to have it fitted correctly. If your bike is to big you will over-reach with the arms and if it’s too small you will close up on yourself. Both positions will potentially strain muscles and aggravate soft tissue and cartilage around the shoulder joint ???? .

This can sometimes be remedied by swapping some components such as the handle bar stem, seat post and crank arms for a different length. A bike fit doesn’t need to be expensive either, most bike shops offer a basic fit and specialist bike fitters will take more serious riders through a whole motion capture system.

If you are not sure if your bike is the right size and you have no idea about a bike fit then there is plenty of information of how to fit your bike on the net. There are a few good bike fitters we can point you towards, as we don’t offer bike fitting as a stand alone service. If you are with us for an injury and your bike set up is part of the issue then we will help you with reseting the bike as part of the whole rehabilitation process, if that’s required.

Why do we get shoulder problems while cycling?

It’s worth noting here that virtually all cyclists who come to us with problems have already had and have got a perfect bike fit. Problems are arising due to a pre existing bio-mechanical issue, that has never bothered them in everyday life. Howevere, they have now taken that issue onto the bike and the unusual action of cycling is bothering it. In fact if our client has had a full, motion capture, dynamic bike fit, then the fitting notes they bring with them often highlight a ‘movement’ issue that the fit has not been able to change. Don’t blame the fitter though, this is not a problem with the ability of your fitter. It is that Bike Fitting is a mechanical process, not bio-mechanical process and it is uncommon to find a bike fitter who is also a therapist, and even rarer to find one who is also a bio-mechanist. It’s for this reason that I like to refer to our cycling services and cycling package as ‘Beyond the Bike Fit’

Right!….back to the blog. Once your bike is sized and fitted correctly you have already gone ninety percent of the way to avoiding shoulder (as well as back, knee and neck) issues. Now we are purely down to the type of handle bar you have on your bike! ????

Which handlebar should I use on my bike?

We have already established in previous posts that the most unfavourable position we can place our shoulder is ‘hands out in front of you with the palms facing down’ and its the palms facing down that really have the biggest influence.

So, if your bike has a straight/flat handlebar, as found on mountain bikes and hybrid commuting bikes and most electric bikes, that is exactly the position you achieve!

Conversely, the bars that may on the surface appear uncomfortable, the ‘Drop Bars’ we see on road racing bikes, actually allow for a more forgiving hand position. Next time you see a serious cyclist on a road bike, look at where they place their hands…..on the brake lever hoods. This position allows the hand to remain on its side leaving the shoulder much more open. Ask a road cyclist to ride purely on the flat section of their bars and it wont be long before they tell you its not at all comfortable. Modern brake levers for Drop Bars are ergonomically designed to allow for this side on hand position. Having said that road cyclist does need to consider other elements of their handlebars, in particular the width. Be aware though that this an area of continual contention: Currently the road cycling scene is quite race-centric most road cyclist are after pure speed so a narrow bar width gives a more aerodynamic position but closes the shoulder joint in. But having a handlebar that is too wide can be just as problematic.

There is no easy guidance on this other than the bio-mechanical logic of your natural shoulder width offering the least problematic, but not most aerodynamic position. If you like long day out or several days riding in a row (think Tour of Wessex), you may want to check out at ‘Audax / Randonneur’ drop bars. At the end of the day it really comes down what you want to achieve if you are a road cyclist and accepting there will always be a degree of compromise between aerodymanics and shoulder health.

So, counterintuitive as it may seem we are more likely to do our shoulders harm riding on a ‘friendly, suitable for all’ , flat bar bike! If however that is the bike you own and the cycling you do then there is a neat way around this: Simply fitting your Straight bars with with Bar Ends instantly allows for the side on hand position to be achieved and if your worried that this takes you away from the brake levers, you can also fit bar end brake levers, allowing you to brake from all hand positions.

Lastly, and lets get a bit radical here! You may want to consider Butterfly Bars, also known as Trekking Bars????. We are not that used to seeing them in this country they are becoming increasingly common on touring bikes where you may be riding all day and longer. These bars allow for an unparalleled multitude of hands positions ???? and if it trekking bars look a little too radical for you and especially if you are riding casually, then you can always go retro super cool and fit Comfort Bars (as in the picture above ????)

Hopefully you have found this useful, so much time and press is given to other elements of bike fit that handlebar type often gets left out. Finally and just for the record the most comfortable pair of Drop handlebars I use for long rides are ‘on paper’ too narrow for me! So take the information above but remember it also comes down to individual difference and preference.

Happy and injury free cycling ????

Find out more about how we treat cycling injuries here.

Find out more about local bike fitters here.