Handlebar frustrations

I’m having problems. So this is the Novara Randonee I have mentioned before, with its new Salsa Poco bars and Tektro short-reach brake levers:

handlebars

I rode the bike with the new handlebars and levers about five or six miles the other day…and I hated it. I did not like the angle my wrists were at no matter where I put them, and it seemed hard to reach the damn brake levers from, well, anywhere.

My first thought is to tilt the handlebars so that the top part (the ramp) is flat, and then maybe scooching the brake levers down a little, so it’s a mostly flat line…but I’m afraid that the drops will then become unride-able because they’ll put my wrists at a crazy angle. I could be wrong here, but it looks to me like the top of the handlebars is supposed to be tilted like that or that lovely ergonomic bend in the drops (which is part of why I got these handlebars!) would be almost unusable.

And despite the fact that these are short-reach brake levers, they still seem awfully far away.

In any case, I think I want my stem taller, since I think I’d be happier with the handlebars a couple inches higher than my saddle, and right now they’re an inch or so lower. I might just get one of these, since it’s cheaper than a new stem. I’d probably have to get new brake cables and housing, which is frustrating.

Riding the bike also confirmed that whomever turned this bike into a single speed is an idiot. They didn’t build a new wheel or anything, they just took off the derailers and shortened the chain. The bike has vertical dropouts, which means it’s impossible to get the chain perfect. There’s a bit of slack in there, and it means that when I hit a hard enough bump, the chain wants to catch on other gears in the rear. In addition, to get a straight chainline it’s in a ridiculously high gear. I could see maybe riding like that with a fixed-gear, but as a freewheel single-speed it’s moronic. And hard on my knees. Hmph.

I’m not looking forward to the expense of putting on new derailers. I guess derailers and shifters and the cables and housing aren’t that expensive necessarily. But it adds up, especially if I wuss out and just have the shop do it for me. And I might want a new cassette anyway, so I can have a really low first gear in the back.

…I’m trying to picture the bike with a taller stem and changing the angle of the handlebars and lever, and how it would change the angles of my wrists…it might work.

Every time I try to get a bike to fit “just right” I wish I could afford a professional bike fitting, or even better, a custom bike. This is a bike I want to be able to ride for eight hours a day for days on end without pain. Some of it is up to me getting stronger and improving my posture, but some of it is getting the bike to fit. It’s tempting to say “aw f#%$ drop bars, I’ll just put upright bars on it,” but I’ve been touring on mustache bars. They’re great for around town. I love the wide stance when going downhill. But they’re agonizing on tour. I end up taking a lot of ibuprofen because my shoulders ache so badly. Some of it is my terrible posture, I know…I recently looked at pictures of me riding on tour, and I was locking my elbows. But only having a few hand positions that are pretty similar to start with, and only one from which I can reach the brakes, just isn’t doing me any favors.

I’d love advice if you have any.

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9 Responses to Handlebar frustrations

  1. Leonard says:

    April!

    You ask how the handle bars are “supposed to be tilted”. The only way they are “supposed” to be (or seat or stem height) is so that you feel comportable with it and feel in control of the machine. Do what you jolly well please with it and don’t look at pictures of how it is “supposed” to be mounted.

    Specifically, if you were to ask me: Raise the stem one way or another, adjust the angle of the handle bars so your hands feel comfortable, and then “scooch” the brake levers down so they feel comfortably reachable. Period.

    (Love that word: scooch… I scooch, you scooch, she scooches, they scooch… )

  2. Doug says:

    “Short reach” brake levers are a bit of a misnomer. The lever body (Tektro’s are some of the longest) is unchanged from regular models, but the lever is merely bent more to be closer to the dropped portion-where a rider may only be spending 10-20% of his/her time.

    Shimano brake levers ($50 w/ cables & housing) have the smallest lever body of them all, but will require a longer reach from the drops. Sram ($75 for alloy, NO cables & housing!) have a larger body, but THE BEST reach adjustment for lever.

    Absolutely agree- the bars should be tilted/raised to how YOU like them, but have an acceptable default if you need to start over, and make incremental changes to make back-tracking problems easier.

    Good luck!

  3. kate says:

    Two yoga tricks for easing handlebar-holding pain:

    1) lighten your grip on the handlebars, as much as you can without losing control. Focus on moving the muscles in your arms “up” (move the energy up your arms toward your shoulders). At the same time, stretch your hands gripping the bars “down” without increasing the strength of your grip.

    2) Focus on the muscles in the pelvic floor: gently “push” your butt down on the seat of the bike, curling your tailbone down and under, using this motion as a foundation to stretch your spine up in the opposite direction. This will take a lot of the pressure off your arms, because sometimes we don’t realize how much weight our arms are holding up while the abdominal muscles have been slack.

    I do these exercises a lot on long rides…even if you can just do them for a minute, it eases some of the fatigue and lessens the episodes of carpal tunnel numbness/tingling.

    Oh, and wear some good padded gloves!

    • I do have padded gloves! And I was wearing them.

      I’m not sure if I understand number one. I’ll have to have you show me.

      I am trying to get a stronger upper body/shoulders but I don’t have weights, so it’s just doing plank and the downward-facing dog a bunch.

  4. Janice in GA says:

    You can improvise weights with bottles of water or cans of food.

    You can also do pushups, pullups, and stuff like that.

    I think planks are more for abdominals/core rather than upper body, but I could be wrong.

    • I don’t have a good place to do pull-ups in my apartment or really close. I suppose I could buy a pull-up bar for one of the doorways, I don’t know how much they cost.

      I have to do pushups the “girly” way, with my knees on the floor, and even then I can do, like, six before my arms start shaking.

      Plank pose does work the abdominals, but it seems to work my arms and shoulders too, especially the shoulders. Plank and downward-facing-dog are the ones that kept coming up when I did google searches for “yoga for strong arms and shoulders.” Even altar pose (I think that’s the name) is hard on my shoulders–it’s supposed to be for your butt and core, but my shoulders are generally so tight that they’re the limiting factor!

  5. Sounds like you’d like the Nitto Noodle bars or the Salsa Woodchipper bars. My wrists hurt with pretty much any handlebars I’ve tried except those.

    • The Soma Junebug bars, near as I can tell, are pretty similar to the Salsa Woodchipper bars. I should see if anyone’s compared them! Do you have a bike with the Woodchippers on them? I don’t remember seeing any on your blog!

      The Noodles always looked like they had too much reach and drop! What, in your opinion, makes them comfy?

      My main issue is my shoulders. I toured fairly extensively last year with Soma Mustache bars, and they’re just no good for touring, although I adore them around town!

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