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I've got a fully-rigid mountain bike with flat bars that I'll be using on a 150 mile bikepacking trip on a "rails to trails" trail. So it'll get a bit bumpy.

My hands get a little sore from all the bumps.

What I've tried

  1. I'd rather not lower my tire pressure (it's max'd out now, I'd rather not increase rolling resistance).

  2. I've looked for some sort of "flexing" bar ends, with no luck. (Plenty of bar ends, just none with any flex or "give"

  3. I'm considering getting such bar ends but maybe coating them with thick, soft foam. Hoping for a more elegant solution :)

Any suggestions?

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    High frequency vibrations (i.e., gravel) is best handled by the tire as the moment of inertial is the lowest. The key is finding a supple large volume tires show minimal rolling resistance gains at lower pressures (e.g., 30-45 psi). Most "touring" or puncture resistance tires (i.e., tires with stiff casings) will roll like bricks at this pressure. If you can find tire that rolls well at 30-45 psi you will be amazed at the comfort gained on rail trails and other mixed terrain riding. Wide and low pressure also confers some flat resistance over running the same tires run at higher pressures. – Rider_X May 9 '16 at 21:51
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    If you've maxed out tire pressure, you should probably go lower. The resistance increase will be negligible, but the ride will be much more comfortable. Plus, the tire will be more tolerant of road hazards: sheldonbrown.com/tires.html#rolling – Batman May 10 '16 at 2:49
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    In addition to the gloves/grips - are you putting too much weight on your hands? Sit up a bit more and put less weight on the arms/hands. – Criggie May 10 '16 at 2:57
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    Its possible to get suspension stems - has been for years, but more recently making a comeback in some niche markets (e.g. gravel racers). (e.g. cxmagazine.com/…). – mattnz May 10 '16 at 3:40
  • Have you been fitted for that bike? Raising/lowering the height of the handlebars and/or seat to balance your weight can help in such a way that it doesn't sit all on your hands and even make your riding more efficient and comfortable. – Baratier ErebusDuHalm May 16 '16 at 4:07
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There are some tricks that I've used to deal with manual discomfort in some longish, 3-4 hour, rides.

  1. Resting my hands on the handlebars using somewhere other than the meaty part of my palm and the crook of my thumb. I'd either tuck my pinky and pointer, or ring and middle fingers under, so that the backs of those fingers rest on the bars, or rest on the front of my digits rather than my palm and the crook of my thumb. I suspect the discomfort comes from restricted blood flow from the constant pressure on the same spot.

  2. Take breaks and shake out/stretch my hands, arms, shoulders.

  3. Learn to balance without being on the handlebars and shake out/stretch my hands, arms, and shoulders. This basically means I can keep pedaling while I stretch, saving a few minutes.

On my new touring bike, I went with trekking bars so I could swap out grip positions more often. I can even lay my hands on top of the bars so that my fingertips touch the front and my palms rest on the back.

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There are two things that come to mind. Grips, and gloves.

Depending on whether or not you use gloves, they do make some that have gel in the palms that may help reduce vibration some if you're not already using them.

Secondly you may try different types of grips, a couple worth mentioning would be the ESI grips. They're essentially made out of silicone foam and have several different thicknesses. I have yet to try them for an extended period of time, but they feel nice and I know a lot of people who ride them and have also heard good things. They can be seen here. They may be just the sort of thick soft foam type you are looking for.

You may also consider an ergo grip if you haven't. They won't help with the vibration as much as other styles but they may help by keeping your weight in the correct areas of your hand.

One other thing that came to mind that you may or may not be able to use are gel inserts. They're made for putting beneath road bar wrap but you may be able to use them for something if you get creative. They can be seen here but again, you would have to get creative on how to adapt it to a flat bar.

If your budget allows, you may also try out different brands or styles of tires, some thicker puncture protection (the 5mm rubber band rather than a fabric sheet) may help to alleviate some of the vibration as well. Depending on what you're riding I'm a big fan of the Freedom ThickSlicks. They have about double the thickness of rubber on the tread side compared to a standard road tire.

  • These are good immediate, cheap solutions to try. Replacing the front bits on you bike with carbon bits will also help a surprising amount. Carbon fork swap and carbon bars will do wonders to soak up some vibration. – Deleted User May 10 '16 at 0:41
  • @SuspendedUser FYI I've had some monsterously bad experiences with Freedom Thickslicks - mostly involving loss of traction on white painted lines. They might be fine on a fixie tootling around town, but not for sharp fast cornering. – Criggie May 10 '16 at 2:55
  • Not sure what those are. I was referring to bars, stem, fork and wheel. – Deleted User May 10 '16 at 4:00
  • gloves also make your ride more safe. On a fall it is far more probably to hit the ground with your hands that your head. – kifli May 10 '16 at 9:57
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I'll assume that single bumps aren't the issue (hardtail MTB riders take quite big hits on flat bars), but local fatigue from riding all day on rough surfaces is. I ride flat bars with touring tyres (marathon plus 28), and like to ride trails like these when I get the chance (although my trips are shorter).

Definitely padded gloves will help, but the padding generally suffers over the course of the day unless you go for gel gloves and like them (or neoprene but I've only tried that in winter gloves).

I've found that the main solution is a good basic grip postion combined with the ability to grip differently for a while. I've got some ergo grips with stubby bar-ends a bit like these (chainreaction cycles - no copyright info so link only). They need adjustment to be much use as you need to get your wrist on a good angle. Even once this is optimised you've still got some wiggle room While there's some give in the surface a major benefit is that they spread the load over more padding. In the default position you can cover the brakes but it's easier on your wrists if you don't. Turning your hands outwards gives a few positions differing slightly, but relying on your palm rather than gripping the bar ends.

How you grip makes a big difference - i.e. don't grip too tight (but of course you don't want your hand sliding around either). For that, the right gloves for your grips help especially if there's rain or sweat around. And change hand positions when you're happy to (considering access to brakes etc.) rather than when you feel the need as it's too late by then.

  • God idea - An earlier question came up with Bar Mids as well, which are Bar Ends but more half-way between middle and end of handle bars. – Criggie May 10 '16 at 9:26
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    @Criggie I've not tried them, but then I've got too much on the bars and quite wide shoulders. – Chris H May 10 '16 at 10:44

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