Whether you’re a recreational cyclist or into racing, comfort on the bike should be priority number 1. Instead of suffering through lower back, neck and other common cycling-related discomfort, a few simple tweaks to your bike can make a world of difference.
Make these four easy fixes to your bike to improve your comfort and performance on the road.
1. STEM LENGTH & HEIGHT
While a stretched-out position that puts your handlebars several inches lower than the height of your saddle might make your bike look pretty pro, it can backfire. If you aren’t extremely flexible, it can put additional stress on your lower back and neck.
Assuming your saddle height and fore/aft position are dialed in correctly, shortening the length of your stem and/or raising the height of your stem so it’s closer to level with the height of your saddle will put you in a more comfortable, upright position. While some might argue that this will negatively affect aerodynamics, if your reach to the handlebar is too far, you’ll be less likely to ride on the hoods and drops.
By shortening the stem and adding spacers underneath the stem to raise the height, you’ll be more likely to use the handlebar drops to achieve a lower, more aerodynamic position when needed.
The stock handlebars your bike came with may or may not fit your body type. When choosing a handlebar, it’s important to look at the width of your handlebars first. In general, the width of your handlebar should match the width of your shoulders.
Outside of width, the reach of the drops and the height of the bar ends to the handlebar tops should also be considered. While there are many different height and reach combinations to choose from, here are a few basic rules that work for most cyclists:
- Smaller riders, those with lower-back pain and anyone with small hands benefits from a compact handlebar, which has a short reach and height. This helps you reach the brake levers more easily when riding in the drops.
- Less flexible riders will want to steer away from handlebars with a long reach. Using a compact handlebar instead makes it easier to use the drops.
- Taller or more flexible riders should look at larger handlebar reach and height combinations. This gives you more options for hand placement and allows you to stretch out a bit more on the bike.
For anyone looking for additional comfort, also look at what material your handlebars are made of. Aluminum handlebars are less expensive and stiffer than carbon, which can help with control. However, if you’re looking to dampen road vibration, carbon bars can help reduce fatigue in your upper body. Using a thicker handlebar tape or double wrapping your bars can also improve ergonomics and take even more shock out of the road.
If you ride a road bike, the right saddle can make a huge difference as the miles start to pile up. And while no one saddle will be perfect for everyone, there are a few things to look for to make your cycling experience smoother and more comfortable.
- The saddle shell: While most cyclists look to the padding for comfort, the flexibility of the shell on the underside of the saddle makes a big difference in comfort. You can check the flexibility by pushing down on the top of the saddle. If there isn’t much movement, you might want to look for other options.
- The saddle rails: In general carbon rails are stiffer than titanium. Go with titanium or other composite materials that flex, absorb more road vibration and will be a little easier on your backside.
- Saddle width and shape: Saddle choice ultimately comes down to your individual anatomy. When selecting a saddle, choose a saddle width that is close to the width of your sit bones. For saddle shapes, it’s best to try a few different options to see what works best. Some saddle companies like Fizik and Selle Italia claim flatter shapes are better suited for more flexible cyclists, while curved shapes are for less flexible riders — but this is not necessarily the case across all brands.
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Skinny tires capable of handling a high psi might be fast, but can also make for a harsh ride. Lowering the psi of your tire improves the smoothness and comfort of your ride — but to do so without risking punctures you’ll need to use a wider tire. While it might vary slightly depending on the brand of tire, in general a 25c tire can handle somewhere in the 80–90 psi range, while a 28c tire can go even lower — down to about 70 psi.
Keep in mind that before you make the switch, you’ll need to make sure your frame can handle a larger tire width. Most road bikes with rim brakes can run a 25c tire comfortably, but not all frames can be used with tires 28c and larger. If your bike has disc brakes, the lack of brake caliper may allow you to run a tire all the way up to 32c, which allows you to maintain comfort on gravel and dirt roads while using an even lower psi.