Ride Long – Hand Comfort
4 minute read
A couple of weeks ago I gave my views on the charachteristics of a good audax bike and an order in which you might consider your choices. At the top of the pile was comfort. If a long ride is to be fun for most of its duration, then you need to be comfortable enough. Inevitably long rides become tough towards their end, especially if you are pressing on at the end, but becoming uncomfortable a few miles in, isn’t good.
There are plenty of articles on the internet about comfort whilst riding, and an excellent site concerning a wde range of long distance cycling isses in Chris White’s Ridefar website. He’s riden the Transcontinental race several times, so speaks from hard won experience. I’m not going to try to reproduce anything from this website or others, but I will give you an insight what’s worked for me, or at least appears to be step in the right direction. I’m still sore and ache the day after a long ride, but I have to remember I am getting on a bit, and I do have a number of health conditions resulting from previous ultra running training and racing. I’m not suggesting you try what I’ve done, that’s your decision, but I hope it gives you some ideas. I’ll try to keep it relatively amusing, as the pursuit of comfort can sometimes be a process of trial and error, of dead ends and then an ocassional miraculous discovery.
Let me start with the three main contact points, hands, feet and sit bone area. In no particular order (as Tess says to contestants on the Strictly results show), let’s start with hands. I was getting the classic tingling and numbness in my hands when riding on the hoods. My audax bike has aerobars, one benefit of which is to take the load off the hands and transfer it to the skeleton. If the arm pads are near the elbow joint, the hands are only lightly loaded and I will often wiggle my fingers just to stop me from gripping the ends of the extensions tightly. This position works well for riding alone, and my even effort approach means I spend most of my time during the day riding alone (sob sob…billy no mates). However on climbs I tend to ride on the hoods, and there are times such as during the night, where I may wish to ride in a small group. Unless I’m riding on the front, in low risk situations, I would therefore be on the hoods. In these situations I would quickly get a numb feeling in my hands, which is due to compression of the nerves that run down the middle of the hand.
I think I’ve pretty much managed to eliminate this problem, by reducing the pressure in my front tyre down to 50 psi, wearing padded gloves, and the final thing which was a revelation, ensuring that I’m placing the side of my hand on the top of the hood. I feels a bit strange at first, but now I’ve got to the point where I naturally adjust my hand position to rest on the side of my hand, not the middle.
Some of you may think that 50 psi in the front tyre is low, or too low. From a pure rolling resistance perspective it might result in higher rolling resistance, but the losses from bouncing over rough surfaces are harder to quantify. You might feel that you are sacrificing efficiency for comfort, however this isnt the case especially on rough roads aka your typical audax route. Emma Pooley when she was working for GCN did a video concerned with riding along a rough road (described as ‘pretty darned rough’ by Emma) at a constant power, gradually reducing the tyre pressures (search on Emma Pooley Optimum Trye Pressure). The results, although as Emma admits, it was an experiment which was not as rigorous as it could have been, was that her time for a standard distance (at constant power) dropped steadily from the starting point at 8 bar, down to 2 bar. At the lower pressures the increase in speed flattened out, but she said the additional comfort was very noticeable.
Now I know that Emma is very light, I think she says she is a little over 50kg, and I’m 69kg, but I hope the takeaway is that you can ride at lower and more comfortable pressures and you won’t end up going slower over typical british roads. You may wonder if 50 psi in my front wheel has resulted in any snake bite punctures. And the answer is no, I havent punctured on my audax bike and I’ve run 50 psi front (25 mm wide GP5000) and 55psi rear (28mm wide GP5000) for most of the year.
Update. After considering how other audax riders could use a higher pressure I realised I had been seeking saddle comfort by going to lower pressures than was really necessary. The sources of my saddle soreness were varied and just lowering tyre pressure didn’t resolve them. See later blogs on this topic.
I hope you have found the above interesting, and as this is already a pretty long post, I will leave feet and saddle comfort for another time, along with neck and back discomfort….the list is never ending. Oh did I mention knee pain.
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