racing cyclist looking back over shoulder

It’s common for your contact points with the bike to be sore. So you could suffer hand pain and numbness – perhaps your hands go numb while riding. Your pinky might go numb. It varies. It’s especially common if you change your position or buy a new bike.

You might be asking, “How do I stop my hands from going numb when cycling?”

If you’re suffering, here’s what you can do to solve your problems and enjoy your time riding your bike!

Why would my fingers go numb?

Today’s question is about your fingers on the brake levers getting numb, but the way to prevent this is the same way to prevent all types of hand pain and numbness when cycling…

Good morning Coach, I just bought a new road bike a few weeks ago. Half way on a 16 mile ride my 2 fingers that I had on the brake levers started getting numb, what would be the reason for this?

Numb Neil

Hi Neil,

Sorry to hear about the numbness in your fingers.

Let’s talk about the causes of pain and numbness and what you can do about it.

Your Hands Are Delicate

For all the work your hands have to do – both grasping and holding the bar securely, and providing some support for your upper body – they are rather delicate body parts.

The big issue is that your hands contain several nerves. Normally this is a good thing, but when your hands are holding a handlebar and operating brake levers, there is a great potential that you will compress or pinch these nerves.

The ulnar nerve, for instance, runs along the outside edge of your hand and pinky finger. When you’re on a road bike with your hands on the top of the bar, or on the brake hoods, it’s extremely common to compress this nerve and end up with numb fingers.

Fortunately, with this being so common, there are many things you can do to make the pain go away.

How to Prevent Hand Pain & Numbness in the Future

Here’s what you can do:

1. Improve your finger strength.

Since you just got a new bike, especially if you are new to road biking, your fingers just aren’t used to using the brake levers a lot. If you are squeezing the brakes a lot and the levers have a stiff feel, it’s entirely possible that your fingers are simply worn out.

Kind of like sore legs and a sore butt, this type of pain should go away as your body gets accustomed to the task.

2. Change hand positions frequently.

Perhaps you aren’t changing your hand position frequently enough. From the wording of your question, it sounds like you had your fingers on the brake levers for the entire ride. That is completely unnecessary and keeping your hands in the exact same position with fingers on the brake levers would cause anyone’s hands to go numb!

I recommend changing hand position every few minutes. There are about six main hand positions I use on a road bike handlebar (bar top, hoods, hooks, drops, etc.). On the hoods alone, there are three different grips I use! If you just change your hand position slightly, it’s usually enough to keep your hands happy.

3. Try different gloves.

Are you wearing gloves? If not, try wearing gloves.

If you are wearing gloves, perhaps you need to invest in a paid with more padding. Some models are made specifically to cushion around your ulnar nerve.

Pearl Izumi is a trusted brand that makes all sorts of cycling gloves. Giro is also making nice gloves these days. You can shop online, but it’s really best if you buy from a local bike shop where you can try on different gloves to make sure they fit properly.

4. Try thicker handlebar tape.

You could try some cushy bar tape and see if that helps. There are a lot of very nice bar tapes available nowadays in 2019. Some of them even come with cushioning strips that go underneath the tape.

If you look for tape designed for gravel bikes, it’s usually thicker and offers more cushioning. There is some Lizard Skins DSP tape which comes in a 3.2 mm thickness – much thicker than normal tape. There is also the Supacaz Super Sticky Kush Silicone Gel tape, very popular among the pros who spend hours on their bikes every day. It’s expensive but worth it. You can buy it on Amazon for $40.

(Again, though, consider purchasing at your local bike shop, especially if you aren’t an expert at taping your own handlebar.)

5. Get a professional bike fit.

Poor bike fit is the likely cause of most pain among cyclists. Hand pain is no exception.

If your bike fit is not ideal, you might be putting too much weight on your hands, or perhaps your wrists aren’t at a good angle when braking.

The first step you can try at home is to follow these instructions to set a more natural hand position. If that doesn’t help, it’s worth setting up an appointment with a professional bike fitter.

Try that and you should be much more comfortable when riding!

This article was originally published on March 28, 2011. It was revised and updated on October 26, 2019.

Photo Credit: WickedVT

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