Discomfort can take all the fun out of cycling, but often there are simple steps that can be taken to improve a rider’s comfort. First and foremost, it is crucial to get a bike that is the correct size.
Finding a fantastic bargain in the sales is no good if the bike is too big or too small. Any short-term gain will be quickly forgotten because cycling will become very uncomfortable.
Any good bike shop should offer advice and allow customers to try different sizes of bike, but there are some guidelines which will help.
Generally speaking, for a mountain bike you should have a minimum of three inches clearance between yourself and the top tube of the frame when standing flat footed on the ground. For a racing bike the minimum clearance should be one inch.
As a simple calculation, the rider’s inside leg measurement minus 13 inches for a mountain bike or minus 11 inches for a racing bike will give you the maximum frame size needed. Bear in mind, however, that bike size is not just all about the height from the ground.
As bikes get taller they also get longer and so you must ensure you can comfortably reach the handlebars and manage all the controls. Saddles are adjustable by between four inches and 10 inches, so any bike can be tailored to fit perfectly.
Don’t Be Saddle Sore
The saddle is one of three contact points between yourself and the bike – the others being the handlebars and pedals – and is by far the most important as far as comfort is concerned.
Saddle choice is a personal one, as what is comfortable to one rider may be excruciatingly painful to another.
Saddles are available in a wide range of shapes and sizes with different levels of padding and can be made from a variety of materials. Solid leather saddles are perhaps the most hardwearing and are a good choice for high-mileage cyclists.
The downside is the lengthy wearing in period, but once it has moulded itself to the contours of the rider it will last for years.
Sprung saddles absorb plenty of road vibration but can move from side to side and feel a bit bouncy, which can be troublesome at higher speeds.
A gel saddle will mould itself to the shape of the rider’s rear, whereas plain solid plastic saddles, commonly fitted to cheaper bikes, are fine for short distances, but can become uncomfortable after 10 or 15 minutes.
If buying a new bike, ask to upgrade to the saddle you want, as most good bike shops will allow this. It may add a little to the cost, but it’s an upgrade worth considering.
If a rider’s hands are hurting, a pair of good quality cycling gloves can decrease chaffing. Ergonomic grips might help here too. These are designed to fit the contours of a rider’s hands so that the weight is spread over a wider surface area.
When feet are sore, take a look at footwear. Cycling shoes tend to have very rigid soles because, while most shoes are designed to flex in any direction, on a bike it is best to have shoes with no flex at all.
Trainers are not really suitable because, although you are unlikely to experience problems over short distances, they give no support for feet on longer journeys.