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Monday, December 3, 2012

Custom crafted handlebars

Ever get numb hands or fingers on a ride?  Of course you have.....I'm sure nearly every cyclist has experienced on some level a bit of hand wonkiness while out on a longer ride. 

You can understand then that hand placement, pressure, and grip are addressed on every bike fit I do.  In truth, some clients will NEVER see a complete resolution of their hand symptoms.  Some (somewhere in the vicinity of "many" or "most") will have 100% improvement and have no issues after a fitting, and the rest will experience a reduction in the problem but the numbness won't go away 100%.

The shape of your handlebars plays a huge role in the pressure on your hands.  Round bars ensure that your hand will always be resting on a pressure point where a large portion of weight is assumed through a very small surface area of the hand.  Remember "tangents" from geometry class?

The round profile of a bar profile a point where our hands will contact with greater force than the areas around it.  Which isn't to say that this HAS to cause problems, just that it can increase the likelihood of problems.

Some carbon bars address this problem with a new shape -- the ellipse.

The ellipse provides a blunted surface where we can more effectively distribute hand pressure.  But the ellipse needs to be oriented at a very specific angle in order to help and so this limits how you can orient your handlebar -- depending on how you prefer your drops or hood positions this may require you to orient the ellipse at an angle that isn't taking advantage of its ergonomic shape.  We run into this problem many times when setting up shaped carbon handlebars -- the kinds you commonly see out there with flat surfaces on top by the stem or at the bend of the bar before you reach the hoods.

Add that to the fact that you can easily spend $300-$400 on a set of carbon handlebars, and you get the reason I've been looking for a way to take a normal round bar and add some material to it to shape it into an ellipsoid or custom surface.

I have in the past used a few different materials to accomplish this.  I've tried the commercially available pads like the Fizik gel pads and and the foam wrap from Aztec, but neither seemed to tick all  the boxes.  The gel pads could only be laid over the bar and so did little to change the shape of the bar and often the gel padding ended up in places where it wasn't doing nearly enough good.  The Aztec foam compresses down over time too much and it doesn't provide a lot in the way of options in order to orient the padding in a user-specific way.

I've also meticulously taken extra bar tape and cut it into strips, and taped and taped and taped it into varying thicknesses over the contour of the bar so that it exhibited something close to the shape I wanted.  But this takes so much time and it's still limited in the shapes I can get out of it.

So I was really excited when I found a product that I could take and mold onto a client's handlebars in a way that allowed me to fully customize how their hands attach to their bars.  It doesn't cost a fortune and I've been able to come up with some custom treatments for our handlebars, some of which are:
  • median and/or ulnar nerve decompression
  • arthritic CMC joint(s) (base of the thumb)
  • global hand/wrist arthritis issues
  • riders with exceptionally small hands reaching the brake levers or finding comfortable positions
  • riders with large hands finding comfortable positions on the hoods
  • providing a proper platform so that we can place a gel pad in such a way that we get the full benefit of the padding
It's pretty exciting because the sky is the limit with this....I can take nearly any hand-handlebar interface problem and come up with a way to in some way improve it.

Here are a few pictures of one really basic preparation I did from start to finish:
Plain Ritchey Pro bar wrapped in tape

Added the blue to provide digit rests when on tops; red flattens and widens the bends; yellow provides a rest for the palm when on the drops.

Another view

Stage 2
Added more black, blue, and red to further flatten and deepen the entire top of the bar.

Stage 2
~3 cm wide at bend.  Areas close to the hoods like this, I can make a recess for the brake and shifter housing so that you don't get that annoying bump right where your hands rest when on the hood.

Almost 4 cm deep on the flats

Stage 3
Once wrapped, the bar has a much different shape than when we started.

 All told it adds about 35 grams per side or about 2 ounces total.  This material adheres exceptionally well to anodized aluminum.

This was a very generic example, but the great thing is this "clay" allows me to make nearly any shape or contour I want. 

Of course, my clients that come in for bike fittings can just have this done right here in the Studio, but those out of town (or country) can ship me their handlebar with the hoods installed.  That way I can make the additions you'll need and leave channels for the shifter housings.
Cost runs $75 to $150 depending on what's required, so if you're having hand or wrist problems on the bike there is undoubtedly something we can do about it.