Things

The Ultimate Guide to Bike Comfort

Nothing ruins a day out on your bike quite like being uncomfortable. 

Whether it’s being cold and wet, or getting a sore bum, being uncomfortable sucks. There are, however, some simple things you can do to reduce the risk of being uncomfortable.

In this article we have identified four areas where you can maximise your comfort and enjoyment out on the bike. We’ll cover Bike Set-up, Clothing, Fuel and Skills.

Bike Set-up

It’s important to have a bike that fits you well and doesn’t cause you discomfort. If you are riding your own bike, this should be a simple set-and-forget exercise to get your bike dialled in just for you. If you are riding a rental bike however, it pays to take some time to get it set-up just right for yourself before you head off.

Size

This is an obvious one, make sure your bike is the right size. 

A bike that is too small for you can cause all sort of discomfort from back aches to sore knees. A bike that is too big however can be difficult to dismount and hard to control, this is dangerous.

Different manufacturers have different sizing so checkout their website and reference your height. And, if you can go for a short pedal. You’ll soon know if it feels good or not. (Assuming you are buying or renting a bike).

Saddle Height

Setting the correct saddle height on your bike is easy to do and can make a big difference to your ride. 

I’ve seen too many people out on the trail with their saddle slammed down way too low. Possibly so they can stand over their saddle rather than the top tube!?!

Correct saddle height will improve your posture on the bike, which is good for your back, reduces pressure through your hands, and it will ensure you have the correct leg extension on your pedalling. The correct leg extension will reduce knee issues and let you exert more power through your legs. 

Some bikes have a quick release lever making height changes easy, while others may have a collar with a bolt holding the saddle in place, you will need a tool to adjust that. 

A dropper post is a great investment if you are riding off road frequently. This is basically a post that you can “drop” at the press of a lever on your handlebars. A shorter seat post makes descending much more comfortable as it lets you shift you weight back without getting caught on the saddle.

The basic rule of thumb is that at the bottom of your pedal stroke while sitting in the saddle with level hips, your lower leg should be bent approximately 25 degrees. This will allow you to get the best power from your legs without too much strain in your knees.

Grips

One of the three key contact areas on your bike is through your hands and so your grips have a big role to play here.

If you are prone to sore or numb hands, you may benefit from changing your grips. Either thinner or thicker grips or ergonomic grips like those from Ergon could be a good option. 

Sometimes hand pain can be from poor posture, leaning too much weight forward on the bike through your hands.

Tyre Pressure

Having the right tyre pressure will ensure you get the best possible grip while still rolling efficiently. We check our tyre pressures before every ride as they can lose pressure very quickly.

We choose a slightly higher tyre pressure for flat rides on roads etc as this helps the tyre roll more efficiently requiring less pedalling energy. Generally, for on road rides or concrete and limestone paths we will run 30psi. 

But for off-road or rough rides where grip is more important, we usually drop the pressure to around 25 psi, which increases the tyres contact area and grip but also requires more pedalling energy.

It’s a bit of a trade-off and requires a little homework to understand the kind of riding surface you are likely to encounter.

There’s a whole other section we could do here on tyre choice too, but we will save that for another blog.

Clothing

This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of comfortable clothing ( I could be here for days writing about that), but these are the quick wins we think you can make to improve comfort.

Gloves

As one of the main contact points with your bike, your hands need to be comfortable. Aside from grips, a good pair of gloves can help keep your hands comfortable and warm if you are riding in winter. You can get gel padded palms for extra comfort too.  I usually wear full finger gloves unless I’m filming, then I’ll wear fingerless instead.

Padded Shorts

This one’s a no brainer, if you plan to spend any time on a bike, you should invest in a good quality pair of padded shorts (Also called chamois or liners). 

A good quality pair of padded shorts will cushion your sit bones, reduce friction and some have sweat wicking and anti-bacterial properties too making your rides more comfortable for longer.

They come in a wide variety of styles suitable for all kinds of riders and all kinds of riding.

The more popular styles on offer are; 

  • Shorts, padded shorts to be worn as outer wear.
  • Tights, padded like shorts but longer (duh!)
  • Liners (undershorts) a bit like padded boxer shorts that go under a pair of baggy shorts (or pants).
  • Bib shorts (bib knicks), these are padded shorts with a bib that go over your shoulder to stop the shorts from riding down. Some have pockets for extra storage, some have grippy silicon to stop your outer shorts from riding down. Some are designed to wear as outer shorts too.

There’s also anti-chafe or chamois cream if you are prone to rubbing. 

Jackets

Riding at any sort of pace means you are likely to encounter wind. That wind over time, can strip you of energy and have you feeling like a popsicle which is not much fun.

Jacket tech these days has made the materials so thin and light that means you can have a windproof breaker comfortably stuffed in your pocket. I have a wind breaker stuffed into the SWAT box on my Stumpjumper down tube if I ever need it.

I personally don’t mind the rain so much, but when you are wet and it is windy, you run the risk of getting very cold very quickly. So keep an eye on the forecast for your ride and maybe take a rain jacket or wind breaker or both.

Helmets

Any helmet is better than no helmet, but a light helmet is better than any helmet.

I’ve found if I wear a heavier helmet, I tend to get a sore neck over time. 

New helmets these days are getting lighter and lighter despite more tech being thrown in to them.

For extra protection look for helmets with MIPS tech in them, and carbon fibre for light weight.

As I ride a lot on my own, I’ve got a Specialized helmet with ANGi built in. ANGi is a little crash sensor which sends Teresa a message with my location if I get into a spill. I’ll do a review on that soon.

Fuel

Whether you are riding around the block or around a mountain, your body needs fuel to turn your pedals. 

Run out of fuel, and you run the risk of a bonk… No not that kind of bonk! I mean the kind where you have either run out of energy, are dehydrated or both.

This is the worst feeling out on a bike, you physically hit the wall (often mentally & emotionally too) and you simply can’t think about anything else. But it is so easily avoidable by just being a little prepared before your ride. 

Aim to have some food and water before your ride and if you plan on being out for longer than 90 minutes, plan on taking some extra food with you. Bike companies have a variety of cycling specific foods for you to take with you and consume out on the trail. From bars to beans and gels. I’m a big fan of jelly snakes to be honest 😉

Also, don’t forget to take enough water too. The rule of thumb is around 500ml per half hour riding. Electrolytes can help here too.

Knowing how long and how far you will be riding for will help you avoid a bonk. Websites like ours will help give you an idea of what the trail you’re about to ride might throw at you.

Skills

The final area we think will help you be comfortable out on your bike is by having good bike skills. You don’t need to be Danny McCaskill but being confident with your brakes down a steep section of trail will vastly reduce your nervousness about riding unknown trails and massively increase your “stoke”.

Teresa and I both did MTB Skills clinics early on in our riding days with Gabby and Dodzy and I still remember the “phundamentals” they taught. Getting the basic essential skills right will get you feeling super confident on your bike when the trails get a little sketchier.

I firmly believe that this is one of those “super upgrades” where you get way more bang for your buck than a set of new brakes for example. Coaching vouchers also make for a great present too 😉

These days there are tons of great MTB coaches around. Check out Janet Stark or Wheel Women as a couple of great options. Also, check in with your local club as they are bound to be able to recommend someone local.

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