Preventing Numbness - Marcello Bergamo

Preventing Numbness

March 17, 2022

Numbness while riding, in any region of your body, is an issue that definitely should be and definitely can be addressed.

There are many causes for numbness while riding and in most instances the cause of numbness boils down to poor positioning on the bike and/or inferior equipment. The two most common regions for numbness are hands and pubic/perineal region but we have also heard of cases of numbness in the shoulders or feet although these cases appear to be rare in comparison.

As mentioned earlier numbness can be caused from poor positioning on the bike. If you have too much weight on your hands, then you can get pain in your arms, shoulders and your hands may become numb during a ride. Alternatively, if you have too much weight on the saddle area then you can experience numbness in the pubic/perineal region. As a general rule we recommend that you get a professional bike fit which will get you properly positioned and balanced on the bike. This will remove numbness issues that are caused by positioning. If, after your bike fit, you still have numbness, you can take a closer look at your equipment.

Continued numbness in the hands can potentially be alleviated by wearing gloves with padding in the palms and/or padded bar tape. Riding on most surfaces causes vibrations which are transmitted through the bike into the handlebars and this constant vibration can cause numbness. It is good practice, particularly on longer rides, to move your hands around on the bars to take the pressure off specific pressure points. There is a myriad of bar tape options, so a bit of research is needed but we suggest that you start with a tape that is slightly padded otherwise the bar can become too thick which reduces control.

Our research has shown that glove padding should also be on the thinner side to avoid bunching in the palm which can cause discomfort and reduced control. A high density thin foam or thin gel layer are the best performers for most people.

It is also important that you not grip the bars too tight. Your grip should be relaxed; but in a position that will allow you to control the bars during any unexpected bumps or manoeuvres. Imagine you are holding a tube of toothpaste; grip tight enough to hold the tube but not so tight that the paste comes out.

Numbness in the pubic/perineal area can potentially be alleviated with the right combination of saddle and padding (chamois) in the shorts. In our opinion, because the pad is the contact point with your body, a good pad can (somewhat) alleviate the shortcomings of a poor saddle however a good saddle cannot overcome the shortcomings of a poor pad… In this era, there is a lot of information around about saddles and we definitely recommend going to an expert to help you with the right saddle to fit your body type and cycling discipline. 

Selecting the right pad is therefore critical to comfort, especially if you spend long periods of time on the bike. Again, in our opinion, the pad is the most important aspect of the bib shorts which is why we only use proven pads from the best manufacturers in the world.

When making a decision about the pad (and the saddle for that matter) you should take into consideration your body type as well as the type of cycling that you will mostly be performing.  Everyone’s body is structured differently and this means that you need to find the right pad for your body type. Most of us fit within a standard tolerance, but there are some general criteria that you can use when deciding which pad is best for you:

Less is more.
For some people, the most important aspect of the pad is that it is not bulky. What they look for is a pad that has a thin protective layer of cushioning with a high quality, high density foam or gel layer. Professionals often need less cushioning because their bodies have adapted from spending many hours on the saddle each day. 

Super sensitive.
Some cyclists get very sore around the sit bones and need additional support in that zone. They need a pad that provides an additional layer of support in that specific area rather than a pad that provides more support throughout the entire area of the pad. 

Sensitive wriggler.
Yes you know who you are… for some reason you can never keep still and are always shifting about in your saddle. Sliding forward, pushing back, left, right; always on the move. The best option for the wriggler is to have a flat surface in contact with the body with a high density foam across the entire pad for maximum protection no matter how they are sitting. 

The cycling discipline is also an important consideration in your choice of pad. If you are mostly riding on unsurfaced roads or trails then you require a very different pad to the one that you would require for road riding which is mostly on well surfaced roads. For gravel, cyclocross and mountain bike riding, we recommend a flat surfaced, highly stable pad. This type of pad provides the impact related support and protection that you need while ensuring that you have maximum contact with the saddle across the entire seating area. 

For road cycling, we recommend a pad that will provide protection from being (mostly) in the same position for long periods of time. This type of pad provides cushioning, support and protection to the sensitive internal structures and sit bone area that are impacted during long periods of time in the saddle. 

Regardless of the discipline, the pad should fit snuggly against your body and the shorts should fit firmly to ensure that the pad does not move around. The pad may be hidden away but it can be a real pain in the butt (excuse the pun) if you don’t get it right.

To summarise, numbness is not the price you need to pay for cycling or cycling over long distances. It can be and should be addressed.

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