Whether it’s your hands, groin or feet, numbness on the bike can wreck your ride. Here are a common causes and cures so you can cruise pain-free.
Causes: Numbness in the hands can be the result of tension in the shoulders, road vibration or a handlebar reach that’s too far.
Cure: Beginners often have a hard time relaxing their grip on the handlebar, causing tension in the shoulders and arms. While riding, keep your grip light and loose, which can also prevent oversteering when you encounter an obstacle. Change hand positions frequently by rotating between the tops, hoods and drops to help relieve muscle tension and remind you to loosen up.
If road vibration is the culprit, try double wrapping your bars or using a thicker bar tape meant to decrease road chatter. While more expensive than an aluminum bar, opting for a carbon handlebar can also help decrease vibration in your hands. Upgrading to a wider road tire with a width of 25–28mm makes your ride less harsh over rough roads, which saves your hands, arms and shoulders as the miles pile up.
As for bike fit, if you’re reaching too far for the handlebars, numbness could eventually become an issue. Look at the height of your handlebars and stem length as common causes — particularly if you’ve opted for a fairly aggressive, low-position on the bike. A shorter stem and a few more spacers to shorten your reach could help solve the problem.
Causes: Saddle numbness is often caused by compression of nerves and blood cells, resulting in a lack of blood flow to the perineal area. An ill-fitting saddle, a poor position or not alternating between sitting and standing enough are the primary causes for most cyclists.
Cure: To find the right saddle, pay attention to the shape of the saddle rather than switching to a bigger, cushy saddle with lots of padding. The shape of the pelvis varies greatly from one person to the next, which means some people respond better to a curved shape rather than a flat saddle — or vice versa. You can also opt for a cut out or a saddle with a channel designed specifically to relieve pressure from the perineum.
If the problem is caused by your position on the saddle, you may be putting pressure on the wrong parts of your body. Ideally, you’ll want to place most of your body weight on your sit bones rather than directly on soft tissue areas. To remedy this problem, make sure you aren’t sliding forward onto the nose of your saddle while you ride and keep your weight toward the rear of the saddle on your sit bones. Make sure your saddle is level and you don’t have the nose tilted down, which can cause you to slide forward, too. Some people find angling the seat so the nose is slightly up helps them stay in the right position.
A saddle that’s too high, not making an effort to stand every so often while you’re out on the road and replacing old or cheap cycling shorts are other easy fixes to help relieve pressure on this sensitive spot.
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Causes: Numbness and pain in the feet or toes is often due to poor fitting cycling shoes, cleat placement or a closure too tight.
Cure: Just like running shoes, the fit and comfort of a cycling shoe is highly individual. Before you decide on a purchase, make sure you try on several different models to determine which one fits you best. Pay attention to the width, toe box, height of the upper and comfort of the closure when making a selection. A shoe that’s too tight or narrow has the potential to cause numbness. Also, be aware that shoes with a taller upper have more arch support if that’s a feature you’re looking for.
In terms of cleat placement, align the pedal spindle with the ball of your foot as a starting point. While this is the most efficient position for generating power, sometimes the pressure of the bony portion of the foot over the pedal can cause numbness. To remedy the problem, try sliding the cleat back toward the heel in small increments and put the ball of the foot slightly forward of the pedal spindle. This should help with foot numbness if shoe fit isn’t the issue.
Whether you opt for Boa dials, Velcro straps or a buckle closure, you’ll also want to make sure the closure evenly distributes pressure across the top of the foot. As your foot swells during your ride, you may want to adjust the closure to ensure it isn’t too tight, which can also cause numbness in the toes.