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I have Erbs Palsy causing my left arm to be shorter and weaker than my right arm. Can the handle bars of a road bike be adjusted to accommodate this or is there another resolution I can consider?

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  • Do you have problems with riding a normal bike?
    – ojs
    Mar 31, 2019 at 15:47
  • It needs to be noted that much of a bike's handling has to do with how the arms "balance" on the handlebar. With one arm weaker/shorter, you end up with something similar to riding with one hand, from a handling and stability standpoint. Anything you do will be a compromise -- there is no "perfect" solution. Mar 31, 2019 at 23:20
  • @paula - Are you able to give an update on how things have gone over the last 18 months? What have you tried and what has worked for you ?
    – Criggie
    Nov 3, 2020 at 2:03
  • Another consideration is what medical assistance is available. Some countries can subsidise the costs of assistive solutions, so a custom-made handlebar that has more rise on one side might be exactly what you need.
    – Criggie
    Nov 3, 2020 at 2:05

4 Answers 4

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For a small difference in reach, it could be a simple as adjusting the position of the hoods on your handlebar such that the left one sits a little higher and further back. It's a change that will often look small, but it adjusts the angle of the lever at the same time, which amplifies the change too.

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I used to regularly see a cyclist with one noticeably thinner and shorter arm. He used a normal road bike and just had his weaker arm on the top of the bars all the time, while using all positions with the right one. He also had an extra brake lever on the right. He seemed to do quite well, even climbed very steep hills, but I've never talked to him.

If the difference isn't too great, you can try simply rotating the stem so that the bars will be slightly askew.

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A solution will very much depend on exactly how much shorter and weaker you right arm is.

If the difference is small, you could adjust the handlebars to be correct for your left arm by bringing them higher and further rearward by fitting a shorter stem with greater rise. This of course compromises the position of your right arm to some degree.

If the difference is too great, I think you would need to look at a custom built handlebar. This could possibly be made by cutting a bar 5-10cm to the left of the the stem clamping area, and adding a block that clamps the two together and moves the left side up and back.

If you are using a road bike drop handlebar, possibly you could adjust the bar position so that you ride with you left hand on the hood position, and right hand on the drop position.

Presumably another concern is having enough strength in your left hand to operate the front brake and shifter effectively. The majority of braking should be performed with the front brake so a stronger right hand is preferable to a weaker left hand.

If you can't operate the front shifter with your left hand you could of course fit a one-by drivetrain with only a rear derailleur and shifter.

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    Since it is a safety matter, I think this work should be done by a qualified bicycle mechanic at a decent bike shop or maybe even better still by a frame builder who knows how to adapt the bike for this particular purpose.
    – Carel
    Mar 31, 2019 at 17:19
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I also have erbs palsy and I am looking for a better set of handle bars. I'm using a Jamis bike with vee brakes right now but want to upgrade . I will let you know what I find that works. My right arm is the shorter .

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    Sorry to hear that - can you use edit to add in what you've already tried and how it worked? Also, do remember to come back and update this answer as you learn more.
    – Criggie
    Nov 3, 2020 at 2:02

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