A group of University of Wisconsin engineers have teamed with Wisconsin-based Trek Bicycle Corp. to aid in the development of the company’s latest bicycle products, gloves to help alleviate cyclist’s palsy.
Cyclist’s palsy often occurs as a numbness in the pinky finger due to pressure on the ulnar nerve in the heel of the hand after long periods of bike riding, said Heidi-Lynn Ploeg, associate professor in mechanical engineering and co-leader of the research team.
While the numbness ceases after the ride, it can cause muscle weakness over a longer period of time, affecting cyclists to different degrees, she added.
Trek approached UW engineers with the idea of examining how the design of cycling gloves can relieve hand pressure and prevent symptoms of cyclist’s palsy that occur in about 70 percent of bikers, Brand Manager of Bontrager Soft Goods Tom Kuefler said.
From UW’s research findings, the company then designed the Bontrager RL Fusion GelFoam glove to be released this November, Kuefler said.
The results of the study, completed in the summer of 2009, found wearing gloves reduces pressure on the ulnar nerve, Ploeg said. This pressure is further reduced when gloves have appropriate padding and stiffness.
To find these results, the research team measured the effects of eight different cycling gloves of various materials and padding arrangements, including wearing no glove, on the hand pressure of 36 cyclists, Ploeg said. The study also examined three different hand positions.
“With these studies… riders and coaches can make decisions based on data, not just experience,” Ploeg said. “We are adding an element of physical evidence.”
This study marks the second collaboration between Trek and Ploeg’s research team, Ploeg said.
In 2005, the team studied pressure between cyclists and the saddle, or seat, to determine ideal shapes and stiffness for the saddle’s design, Ploeg said.
Since then, the research has been “critical to the development of products,” including multiple designs of saddles, footwear and apparel, Kuefler said.
A cycling enthusiast herself, Ploeg said she finds the research motivating and fun when the team can see the benefits of their research in the development of the products.
While plans to work together again have not been discussed, Ploeg said she would like to study footwear next.