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I consistently get soreness/inflammation in the knuckles of my right hand the day after even short rides (e.g. 16km yesterday, with a ~2h break in the middle). Bike is a Scott Speedster with Tiagra 4500 STI levers.

Applying some mechanistic reasoning (and from the feeling in my fingers when I'm foolish enough to ride with them still slightly inflamed), it's likely to be from shifting to the larger cogs in the back. I realize that modern levers are supposed to be lighter to shift and therefore older ones require more force and this could be a contributing factor, but I literally cannot find a single other complaint like mine online. All I'm able to come up with is complaints about hands/fingers tingling/going numb. At this point I figure it's either bad technique or bad equipment, am I missing other possibilities? How do I tell which one the problem is?

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  • Do you wear gloves? Do you move your hands around different positions on the bars, or do you stay on the hoods only? Are your two brake levers at the same height? – Criggie May 10 at 2:47
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    I've got half-finger gloves, riding with or without makes no difference the next day. I do move around between the hoods, tops, and drops. Both brake levers are at the same height and alignment generally. – Andrea Reina May 10 at 3:00
  • Sounds like your finger joints are particularly sensitive. And yes, this is bad, inflammatory reactions are always detrimental to the inflamed tissues. For IGHs, shifting is usually done with a rotating grip, which is much less stressful for the fingers than lever based shifting. I don't know whether there are rotating grips available for chain shift bikes, though. – cmaster - reinstate monica May 10 at 7:13
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    Honestly, it might be worth taking this one to a medical professional who specialises in sports, or a well-known local bicycle fitter. – Criggie May 10 at 7:18
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    A visit to a professional is definitely in the cards if it turns out to not be a technique or mechanical problem. – Andrea Reina May 10 at 11:07
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Sounds like you are shifting at a bad/uncomfortable angle, need too much force or your hands are just not used to the work. Are you sure it’s not from braking or your hand position in general?

I had problems shifting after I injured my middle finger while climbing. What helped most was using as many fingers as possible for shifting (in both directions).

When you are on the big chainring you generally need more force to shift on the rear derailleur. So I’d try shifting to the small chainring earlier (which also means less work for the right hand).

You could install new, good cables and cable housing to reduce friction. In my experience good, properly routed cables make much more difference for quality and ease of shifting than the price/tier of the groupset.

As a last resort you could change to a different type of shifters. Either twist-grip shifters, bar-end shifters or electronic STI shifting (Shimano Di2, SRAM eTap), though it’s very expensive.

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  • Most of my braking is with the left (front) and I don't get the discomfort when braking, just shifting so I'm pretty confident it's not the brakes. Hand position is a possibility, the bars the bike came with weren't particularly comfortable when on the hoods. I changed the bar out for unrelated reasons after my ride yesterday so I'll see if that changes anything, then change the cables if not. Money's not there yet for Di2 :) – Andrea Reina May 10 at 11:05
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    @AndreaReina: When you start changing things, change one thing at a time at larger intervals, in a scientist's way. This will allow to find out precisely what was the relevant change. – Carel May 10 at 12:42
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    Since you bring up angles, this answer might be relevant: bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/68352/… – Weiwen Ng May 10 at 14:18
  • After a lot of riding and playing around I think it was indeed the angle. Specifically I think I've been pushing with the sides of my fingers as opposed to the pads, which of course puts a shear stress on the joints. Maybe related to having too much weight on the hands (so I don't want to unweight the hands to be able to get a good angle), but at this point it's conjecture. Just happy to have my fingers feeling fine even after several longer rides :) – Andrea Reina Jun 6 at 4:54
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How much mileage do you have on your cables? Like Michael said, old calbes/housing with lots of friction can dramatically affect the force needed to active shifting/braking.

I would also recommend a bike fit to check you have a good posture on the bike but i think this would impact more in general comfort (and injury prevention) rather than the joints in your hands.

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  • Change cables does seem like a logical next step. Shimano's Optislick and polymer coated cables do make shifting really smooth and low friction. Optislick is probably a bit longer lasting than the polymer coated cable, but it may be marginally less smooth. It comes stock on 105 groups. The polymer stuff is stock on Ultegra and Dura Ace. Both were introduced after the 4500 era (which I think is 2 generations behind the current generation of Tiagra) – Weiwen Ng May 10 at 14:20
  • Outers were changed maybe 1200km ago, mechanic said the cables themselves were fine. In hindsight probably should have had that done anyway. – Andrea Reina May 11 at 1:52
  • @AndreaReina from my experience, cables should be fine but sometimes they wear at different speeds. For exemple, on my bike recently my right brake is harder to pull than the left one. Maybe you could try a friend bike with a fresh tune up to compare shifters stiffness before changing parts on your bike. – Pascal May 11 at 18:14

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