We cyclists are always looking for ways to make our bikes more aero, lighter and faster — and with this hype around performance, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact a bicycle should be comfortable. After all, depending on the distance of a ride, you could be on it for hours.
Far too many cyclists, or would-be cyclists, are not comfortable on the bike and so they perform worse and enjoy cycling less. With the popularity of longer, adventure-themed rides and races — bike-packing, enduro and gravel rides — setting up your bike for comfort, endurance and control has never been more important.
Many newer riders set their bike seat too low because they’re more comfortable standing with two feet on the ground but to improve your cycling comfort and performance, you’ll want set up your bike for pedaling. If you have knee pain at the front of your knee, your saddle may be too low or too far forward. However, pain at the back of your knee or into your hamstring can mean your saddle is too high.
Aim to have your knee just short of full extension at the bottom of the pedal stroke and when you stop, keep one foot on a pedal and then slide your hips in front of the saddle to put the other foot down.
Handlebar height can also influence comfort. New cyclists often have very high handlebars, which doesn’t allow for much weight to be placed on the hands and causes more pressure on your butt. Experienced riders are more likely to set up too low, which can cause back pain, reduced power output or saddle sores. If your goal is to do more gravel rides or ride longer this year, you may need to raise your handlebars from a typical road position.
Grips and bar-tape can also be part of your issue. Consider thicker grips (like ESI chunky) or even ergonomic grips if you have wrist pain, hand numbness or gripping-related injuries. If you do a lot of work with your hands (i.e., typing) this can be a lifesaver.
If you tried adjusting your bike and haven’t been able to shake discomfort or saddle sores, try a different saddle. Many shops have a ‘try-before-you-buy’ program and many also have different measurements and categorizations to help you find a saddle for your hip width and your goals. Many road riders need a saddle with a less prominent or downsloping nose to allow their hips to rotate forward to get low and aerodynamic.
A very slight downward tilt or level saddle is generally best. Upward tilting saddles often cause sores and groin numbness, while excessive downward tilt can be the cause of hand numbness since you slide forward and have more pressure on your hands.
READ MORE > 3 CAUSES AND CURES FOR NUMBNESS ON THE BIKE
While you might want to start with a big, padded saddle to gain comfort for long rides, the tires and tire pressure you run can actually be a much bigger boost. For gravel and touring you should increase the tire size to handle variable terrain and since disc brakes come on many road bikes now, your choices are quite significant. These bigger tires should generally be run at lower pressures, depending on body size and what you are doing, you will generally use 40–80 psi in 28–40c tires that many gravel enthusiasts and bike-packers use. This change makes any small bumps in the road much less jarring than traditional 23c and 100+psi.
If you are having any comfort-related issues with your bike, try these easy and affordable tweaks. When in doubt, seek a professional bike-fitter or coach who is experienced with athletes with your level of experience, your goals and your particular comfort issue.