Engineers team up with Trek for cycling research

Posted on 22. Jun, 2011 by in Academic Departments, Economic Impact, Healthcare and Medicine, Issues, Magazine, Mechanical Engineering, Research

During a long bike ride, it’s not unusual for cyclists to experience hand or finger numbness, a very common condition known as cyclist’s palsy. The condition ranges from mild tingling to, sometimes, long-term nerve damage and hand muscle atrophy over time.

A team of UW-Madison engineers has scientifically measured hand pressure during cycling and studied potential solutions to reduce that pressure, which can cause problems like cyclist’s palsy, a condition that Wisconsin-based Trek Bicycle Corporation estimates affects as much as 70 percent of cyclists. Trek has incorporated the UW-Madison findings into the design of a new Bontrager cycling glove that it released in winter 2010.

Mechanical Engineering Associate Professors Heidi-Lynn Ploeg and Darryl Thelen led the UW-Madison team, which studied the effects of seven glove (or no glove) types and three hand positions on the hands of 36 experienced cyclists. Ploeg and Thelen found that much of the pressure on cyclists’ hands is concentrated over the ulnar nerve and gloves with proper padding density, thickness and placement are able to reduce pressure over this region of the hand. Also, the team found certain hand positions can alleviate pressure, such as holding the part of the brake attached to the handlebars, a position known as “hoods.”

Ploeg, a biomechanics expert and an avid cyclist, says partnering with Trek was a unique opportunity to look at the potential of cycling research. “Cycling is a really accessible activity for people. It’s something a lot of people can do and could use to improve their health,” she says.

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