Modifying Shimano Ultegra road bike setup on a Colnago C40 for left handed use - first approach [technical right below elbow amputee core focus work / bike adaptation]
I got myself a Colgnago C40 carbon road bike / race bike / Rennrad for leisure amateur purposes. That is, for the colloquial ride. With that, I am not a professional or competitive racer. Modifying my Shimano Ultegra road bike setup for left handed use therefore aims towards leisure purposes.
How to go about riding a road bike as arm amputee. This is the first approach and test. If you are after the improved set-up, head over to the page with the second approach [link] because that really worked a lot better.
- General situation with road bike riding and arm amputation
- Adjusting Ultegra brake / lever positions
- Wrapping the handle bar
- Pedals to ride with VC prehensor grip dependent setup
- The bike - overview, and after modifying Ultegra brake / shifter lever position
- Extensive testing
General situation with road bike riding and arm amputation
This bike adaptation is a big thing. Road bike riding is one of the most satisfying things one can do. Other than riding a regular bike, vintage road bike, or mountain bike (also here). There are other sites such as as MTB-amputees.com but there is nothing really new there. Just some mountain bike riders that also decided to jam their control devices on one side. It is just a lot less obvious for road bikes. Also, sitting position and prosthetic device requirements play a particular role here.
To go ahead and actually do this is on a road bike is probably a leap of faith most people fear. What I did was actually not even just a leap of faith, but head-on against concise actual verbal advice. I asked around for a while. Should I find a race bike manufacturer that sold race bikes with flat handle bars? Should I risk to buy an expensive new race bike with the risk of not at all being able to ride it? Would a bike mechanic offer the extra hours of trial and error until we would find a solution? One of Zurich's top bicycle mechanics told me in person that I could not ride a road bike unless I got myself an electronic shifter system. A Plusport (Swiss top disability sports agency) representative told me the same. They were all consistent, they were all cool, and they are all top competent. So as far as advice and feasibility estimates are concerned, I will now enter a totally white spot on that map, uncharted territory, in just a few.
Prosthetic requirements: body controlled VC arm
Riding a straight handle bar bicycle with a prosthetic arm seems straightforward (but is not). But riding a road bike with drop bars is a different beast.
Drop bars allow for at least three different hand positions. You will want to use all possible positions for both aerodynamic and (more importantly) comfort reasons. With a fixed position, my right arm and my back start to hurt after 20 minutes. I then need a break. This means that you may not want to use your Freelock or Mert hand for this type of bicycle riding.
When I can adapt my position continuously, I can make it longer, better, happier. For road bike riding, you may want a body powered arm that has a suitable device for holding on and letting go alike - ideally, a Voluntary Closing (VC) device such as a TRS Prehensor. You can use a Toughware Equilux (inside gripper profile too edgy). You may use a Voluntary Opening (VO) device such as a Becker hand (at least it locks the grip. Or even a Hosmer hook (these just slide out when handle bar motion pressese harder than your grip provides). But the TRS Prehensor is ideal. It is conceivable that people do not know about it.
For distinct reasons, the TRS Prehensor is the one to use for this type of bike riding. It has a shape unlike other prehensors that allows to let go fast. The more angled gripper contours of a Toughware Equilux are not just as smooth. This is relevant for handle bars or steering wheels. For these, dynamic grip-let go-grip - let go cycles are a continuum along a more high performance and quality oriented gripper use. You need to change your body and grip position on that bike and handle bar. It is essential this is safe to grip, and safe for letting go, alike.
As I tend to sweat during rides, myoelectric electrodes can cause problems that one does not want. Both electric burn rashes and loss of function are the norm there.
Adjusting Ultegra brake / lever positions
How to losen the brakes from the handle bar - where are the screws?
The Ultegra brakes have a plastic sheath. It has to be rolled up from both top (photo below) and bottom aspect of the handle bar circumference. That is probably, force wise, the hardest part. Rolling the plastic sheath up will expose the Hex key / allen key screw that fastens the brake around the handle bar.
The following photo shows the brake below with an inserted wrench (orange).
The screws are reportedly of relatively soft metal, or "bad" quality. So you have to make absolutely sure your wrench gets a fully inserted fit, before you start turning that screw. I found that out when doing a deep search regarding all Ultegra aspects before starting with this.
Looking back, this tells us also that it is important to read reports on-line about others re-arranging their Ultregra brakes. These pertain to how the brake is best serviced, modified or tuned. Before possibly messing up stuff.
Next photo: Both Ultegra brakes' sleeves are already rolled up, and already placed on left handle bar side. The one that is closer to the camera of the two has a small structure immediately (within the image: below) adjacent to the fold of the plastic sheath. The brake lever that is more remotely positioned to the camera has an orange hex key inserted into the screw. There, the screw sits also immediately adjacent to the fold of the rolled up plastic sleeve.
The same position photographed from front in the next image. Here you can very clearly see the location of the screw that fastens the brake levers on the handle bar.
Once the key is inserted, you will notice that the tolerances for the plastic cover that now is rolled up/down/back are so low that you can barely manage to insert the wrench into the screw. The rolled back plastic sleeve will press against it, which has the advantage that the key stays in no matter at what angle.
Re-placing brakes / shifters to a convenient position
To re-place the brake / shifter levers, let me tell you that you do not want to take the screw out all the way. Oh no, you do not want to do that. You go a bit, wiggle, a bit more, wiggle, etc., until the brake lever moves or comes off. Leave the screw in.
With the position I try to find, you see the following image with me performing a single hand grip. One hand squeezes both brake grips. Index finger on front brake, three fingers on rear brake.
As it appears, having two perfectly functioning separate brake handles is not bad. If you can handle both, that can be a good thing.
The real trick here is to get the upper brake handle (the one that was on the right handle bar side first) to sit on top and outside.
The lower one sits bottom down slightly to the inside or right.
That way I can shift the derailleur using the upper brake lever and shifter. Both levers tilt out to the lateral or outside or left side. There is ample space there. The reverse setup would jam the shifter action against the other brake lever's mount body.
The lower lever operates by shifting to the inside or right side, similarly unobstructed by any structure.
Preparing for a test ride
One needs to approximate a good position of the Ultegra levers. Tthen test, re-adjust, re-test, and re-adjust etc. until the result is good.
This calls for some temporary setup.
To go for a test ride to test lever positions, I just taped down the Bowden sheaths but did not install any grip tape just yet. Also, I left the rubber covers folded up.
Wrapping the handle bar
My arm stump is rather sensitive to vibration. So I want the handle bar to be padded well.
So to alleviate my vibration problems I used a stripe of car window cleaning leather that I cut to size.
I performed some tangiential edge removals to get it rounded up.
I did the same also for the horizontal top part.
Result of handle bar wrapping
Admitted, I had blue Gecko and black other grip tape lying around.
As cheesy and expressive as this Italian beauty bike is, I surely added my asymmetrical twang design wise.
The blue matches, though. But as grip tapes have it, they are not for any eternity.
If ever I feel like any of this looks are more relevant, I will give it a re-do. Someone also mentioned the silvery handle bar to be out of style. Who knows : )
Pedals to ride with VC prehensor grip dependent setup
I am an old hard core "ride to high school race bike rider". One that has seen too many situations in daily traffic.
As that I will prefer sneakers and old style race bike pedals to any click pedals. I got SPD clickers lying around. But I am not sure just yet. The prosthetic arm is too much drama already, no need for click pedal drama right now.
The bike - overview, and after modifying Ultegra brake / shifter lever position
The bike is a Colnago C40 (classic carbon) road bike. It has cult status. It is of Italian make and design which is obviously what you will want. Some of these bike models sold with the more stylish Campagnolo setup. This one came with an Ultegra triple crankset (Dura Ace shifter) and Ultegra cassette and derailleur.
Next steps are, obviously, to ride longer distances than just test rides to the next town. See about handle bar and saddle positions and overall performance. Then take it from there.
The TRS Prehensor to ride this is almost essential. It has smooth gripper surfaces that easily slide in and out of the handle bar positions. I can change grip positions and most importantly stretch and avoid single fixed position overuse.
Extensive testing showed that:
- the position to pull both brake levers is slightly awkward, as it is not a full upright sitting position but also, the wrist has to bend towards the thumb to reach the upper lever
- the shifting for the brake lever / shifter that requires outward pressing is really awkward to shift whereas the intended use - inward shifting - is by far more desirable, which basically calls for 180 degree flip of the one shifter that would shift outward
- the top lever is the one to easily reach when riding upright, and it is the one to use for emergency braking; let that be the front brake as that responds faster and allows for precision in steering while braking and even while braking har
A second approach was therefore in order and performed end of January 2018 [link]. Definitely, you read that here first.
But read the disclaimer: whatever you read here and think it works for you or it is safe to use, it may not. I am a no double net type test pilot for my own bike or prosthetic arm modifications and I may go about near-failure testing different than you to be safe. Not all that goes into the actual testing is posted here so this may give an overly optimistic view for reality. Whatever you try from this you are on your own. If you cannot brake in time, you need to revise your setup until you manage that. If you brake too hard using only the front brake you may fly over the handle bar and front wheel if your center of gravity is too high up, depending on your body position or saddle height. I give no warranty or guarantees for your safety, only indications of what worked for me to significantly improve my function. If that works for you, great - if not, keep trying.