Tech & Wearables

Technical FAQ: Gearing for gravel bikes and more on wrist pain

Solutions for alleviating wrist pain while riding, and how to get wide-range gravel gearing.

Have a question for Lennard? Please email him at veloqna@comcast.net to be included in Technical FAQ.

Regarding last week’s column about wrist pain, I received a lot of letters suggesting other ways to relieve wrist pain while riding, and here is a sampling.

Dear Lennard,
The gentleman that wrote to you last week, looking for advice on how to reduce wrist pain, should consider installing a suspension stem. I, too, have wrist pain while riding, and have had surgery to treat basal thumb arthritis on my left hand.

The ShockStop suspension stem, made by Redshift Sports, helps to dampen road vibrations. It works very well.
— Bill

Dear Lennard,
Regarding your recent article on wrist pain, five years ago, I suffered a “Colles’/Bayonet” fracture of my right wrist in an altercation with a car. I mostly ride MTB (using silicone grips) or CX bikes, and the wrist still gets sore after a long day of riding or cold weather.

I have found the Troy Lee 5205 Wrist Guard to be the best solution for me, especially on rough CX courses where wrist stability can be an issue.
— Charles

Dear Lennard,
Like your 77-year-old reader Bill who is suffering from severe thumb/wrist pain especially while cycling, I was using thumb braces, lidocaine ointments, etc., and would even avoid shifting my front derailleur whenever I could (I am in my mid-60s).

After I had a bike crash where I broke my wrist, the orthopedic surgeon that put a titanium plate in my wrist saw the arthritis in my x-rays at the basal thumb joint and offered to do a surgery at some future time to repair it. The next year, in the late fall, I got the surgery in my dominant hand, and, the following year, I got the surgery in the other hand. I was unable to use the hand much for a few weeks after the surgeries, but I am pain-free now and am so glad I opted to go through the inconvenience and post-op recovery for the pain relief I gained. I would certainly recommend it.
— Gary

Dear Lennard,
This is 70-year-old Cliff Watts. We met in 1979 (?) back when I was a race doctor for the Red Zinger, and later the Coors races, when I practiced at Boulder Community Emergency Department and coordinated a three-year study and article on cycling injuries. I just read your latest article on VeloNews about wrist pain.

After having my left wrist fused, I want to delay further right wrist problems. I have used this handlebar set up for 2 years now and love it! So, in case it will help others, I am sending it to you along with 2 photos. If you want double brake levers, the hydraulic systems don’t work, but I’m not tucked or drafting anymore, so I went with hydraulics. Adjustments are key to make it comfortable and stable, but it really has helped me.

As I have worn away the tread on many bike tires, age has worn away the bone and cartilage in my wrists. Consequently, I have spent years modifying handlebars for comfort. Over the last year with the help of Fernando Tapia, master mechanic at Niwot Wheel Works, I have constructed a handlebar system that works well to reduce the impact on my hands and wrists. I want to let others with wrist pain know about this solution.

Photo: photos from Cliff Watts, MD

COMPONENTS:
Niner RDO Gravel carbon frame to reduce vibration.
WTB TIRES Expanse 32mm at 55/65 psi for dirt and paved road riding.
TruVativ Stylo T20 aluminum 600mm bars to hold up to the clamping of accessories. 600mm wide with a 5-degree sweep. This bar has a 31.8mm (1.25 inches) center diameter for a road bike stem and tapers to 22.2mm (7/8 inch) at the ends to fit mountain bike components. We tried an 11-degree sweep bar but were never able to align the different components properly for maximum comfort.
Redshift ShockStop +/-6 Deg, 100mm Suspension Stem.
Bontrager Full Bend Bar Ends (Profile Boxer Bar Ends if preferred).
ODI Longneck XL Cut To Length Grips – 230mm BMX grips, long stretchy freestyle model to go over bar ends. Blown on with air. 23mm/7/8 in diameter horns x185mm long for grips.
Profile Ultimate Performance Straight 24 cm bars and forearm pads.
Horn is 24-30 degrees above horizontal and the Profile forearm pad bar is 24-28 degrees above horizontal. These angles are personal preference. The lower the elbow pad, the more weight off of your wrists, but the lower your torso and the harder it is on your neck.
Ergon GA3 Grips were installed in a reverse manner, putting the left grip on the right side and vice versa, so that the mini-wing acts as a stop to prevent your hand from sliding forward. The forearm cradles already prevent backward movement, and the reversed grips are more comfortable than in the recommended position.
Shimano Deore XT Di2 SW-8050 electric Shift Switch (with Ultegra Di2 Road derailleurs).
Shimano Deore XT M8100 Series Hydraulic Disc Brake Lever for disc brakes.

If you do not use hydraulic brakes, you might be able to modify your system to include brake levers on the horns with a mechanical system. This might be helpful and safer for any drafting or low-profile riding.

I hope this information helps someone else extend their days on the bike. I’m slower now, but at least I’m still riding!
— Cliff Watts, MD
Former Racer and Race Physician

Dear Lennard,
I have an arthritic big toe. Walking used to be very painful until I started trying various home remedies. The one that works for me is tart cherry juice (not regular/sweet cherry juice). I found it at Trader Joe’s for a decent price and drink about half a cup (~120ml) before bed every day. It may be all in my head…but it’s cheap enough that I’m happy to pay, whether it is a real cure or a placebo.

Suggested this to a friend with a similar toe problem and he’s still thanking me for the tip several years on. He found a source of dried tart cherries which he chews on like raisins.

Another cure for sore hands is to ride an Alex Moulton with road suspension — our RAAM rider finished two years running and he could write his name at the end of the race. No one else could do that for a week or more…after ~3,000 miles on a road bike.
—Doug

Dear Doug,
Interesting that you mention that, as, without any evidence in ourselves of its efficacy, my wife and I have been drinking a tablespoon or two of highly-concentrated tart cherry juice daily, for a few years now. We do it because taking something regularly that is high in antioxidants seems like a good idea, and tart cherry juice is claimed to be the highest in the measure of antioxidants of all fruits and vegetables.

I have long not liked the idea of having too many free radicals, which are atoms and molecules missing a valance electron and thus are highly reactive, running around in my bloodstream. Antioxidants donate an electron to the free radical (it pairs up with the unpaired electron in the radical’s valence shell) without becoming reactive free radicals themselves. The ability of an antioxidant to neutralize free radicals is measured in “ORAC units,” where ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity of a food and is quantified by mixing a bit of that food in with molecules vulnerable to oxidation as well as with molecules that generate free radical activity. The less damage there is to the vulnerable molecules from oxidation by the free radicals, the higher the antioxidant capacity of the food. We like the ritual of taking a spoonful of something tasty together daily, even though neither of us can relate it to any difference in any of the aches and pains that come with being active and over 60 years of age. The label on the bottle from which we take our daily spoonful says, “we believe that as further research is published there will be findings of very positive benefits for arthritic pain.”
― Lennard

Dear Lennard,
I just read your column this week responding to Brandon’s question on 1X gravel gearing. If he is willing to consider 2X gearing, he may find the range he’s looking for. I have 34/50 chainrings with an 11-40 cassette, giving me a low gear ratio below 0.8, good enough to climb 15 percent grades in the saddle.

The nice thing about the gearing is that it functions almost like a 1X setup. I basically run it in the big chainring 95 percent of the time – and the other 5 percent gives me the low end I need when the going gets steep.
— Peter

Dear Peter,
It was an oversight on my part to not mention adding another chainring to widen gear range. Given that Brandon is replacing his shifters and drivetrain anyway, this would be the time to get 2X GRX shifters, a GRX front derailleur, and a 2X crank.
― Lennard


Lennard Zinn, our longtime technical writer, joined VeloNews in 1987. He is also a custom frame builder (www.zinncycles.com) and purveyor of non-custom huge bikes (bikeclydesdale.com), a former U.S. national team rider, co-author of “The Haywire Heart,” and author of many bicycle books including “Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance,” “DVD, as well as “Zinn and the Art of Triathlon Bikes” and “Zinn’s Cycling Primer: Maintenance Tips and Skill Building for Cyclists.” He holds a bachelor’s in physics from Colorado College.

Follow @lennardzinn on Twitter.