We each wear gloves while cycling for our own reasons: grip, aesthetics, thermal gain, or padding. Some prefer no gloves and the feel of the bars. In a group ride or race, gloves are necessary when the risk of a crash is heightened.
When developing our Zephyr gloves, our goal was to both provide crash protection and alleviate the numbness people suffer from while biking.
The loss of feeling in part of your hand after an extended bike ride is not only uncomfortable, but the use of your fingers decreases the longer you continue, which can make shifting and braking difficult. The condition is known as ulnar neuropathy (also referred to as ulnar palsy, handlebar or cyclist’s palsy). Experience and style need not apply; this condition can happen to cyclists of all skill levels and in all genres of cycling.
Josh Slane’s research into hand pain in cycling was invaluable to map the padding . With all humans different, each riding different bikes, in different setups, no one solution exists for all. So riders can go a lifetime in the saddle without gloves; some suffer pain in the first few kilometres.
The problem emanates from the ulnar nerve, which extends down the medial forearm and on to the fourth and fifth fingers, as well as other parts of the hand. The primary area that is affected is called Guyon’s canal, where the ulnar nerve travels through the wrist. When the upper body fit for the bicycle is not ideal, the ulnar nerve becomes compressed as extra pressure is placed on the medial-proximal palm (the meaty part). Overextension of the wrist (if the handlebars are rotated too far upward) is another cause of ulnar nerve entrapment, as is increased pressure when riding downhill due to a more forward centre of gravity. Consistent vibration and shock from the road or terrain may only exacerbate the issue.
Slane’s work into hand pain in cycling produced the image below. Three hand positions commonly used by road bicyclists were tested in this study: tops, drops, and hoods. The drop position resulted in the highest average peak pressure magnitude over the hypothenar eminence. Wearing padded gloves did not substantially vary the pressure profiles but did diminish peak pressures, as seen graphically in these images.
His conclusion is that “the hand pressure magnitudes in cycling are sufficient to induce ulnar nerve damage if maintained for long periods. Wearing a glove with thin, compliant padding over the hypothenar region can reduce peak pressure by 10–29%. However, these pressures remain sufficiently high that additional countermeasures, e.g., changing hand position, seem necessary to mitigate the risk of incurring Cyclist’s Palsy during longer rides.”
Gloves do assist in reducing the pain. The simplest method to alleviate it is to frequently change hand positions to spread the concentration of pressure from one area to multiple locations.
If you have returning or chronic pain, these steps may assist:
1. Bike fit, ensuring that the correct amount of weight is in your hands. Straight arms or bars that are low or close will increase the percentage of your upper body being supported by your hands.
2. Sit up! In order for your hands to rest lightly on the bars, you need to have a strong core to support your upper body. So, as is often the case with pains caused by cycling, it’s worth taking a more holistic look at pain while cycling.
Your deeper core muscles are underneath the surface muscles. The fibres in your core muscles run horizontally around your trunk, forming a girdle around your core that supports your upper body weight so that your hands can rest lightly on the bars. These muscles provide a stable platform to anchor your leg muscles so that you produce more power.
3, Equipment, The ‘bend’ on some drop bars, where our hands spend most training time, may not suit your body position. Some new flared bars have a soft’ bend, which offers a greater contact area. Larger tyres with lower pressures have reduced hand shock significantly in the last few years. It is worth investigating if your frame will accept the joy of more volume without losing efficiency.
Why do you wear gloves?