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Tips for improving the fit and feel of your bike

No matter how short or how long your ride, you’ll enjoy it more if you’re comfortable, and the good news is that there’s plenty you can do to to improve the fit and feel of your bike.

Feeling comfortable as you ride won’t just make cycling a more pleasant experience, it could also benefit your performance. You’re unlikely to be able to cycle fast if your back and neck are aching because you’re using the wrong handlebars, for example.

Here are our tips for making your bike more comfortable.

Fit wider tyres

If you’re still running super-skinny tyres, swapping to wider rubber could improve your comfort.

With a larger chamber of air between you and the road, a wider tyre allows you to drop the pressure without running the risk of a pinch flat (where the inner tube gets punctured as a result of being sandwiched between the wheel rim and the ground). The lower pressure increases the amount of cushioning you get from the road.

Schwalbe One Tubeless

Schwalbe One Tubeless

If you’re worried that wider tyres will slow you down, don’t be. You could even ride faster with increased width. The majority of riders in the pro peloton are on 25mm tyres rather than 23s for most road stages these days.

If you’re riding a standard road bike, you might be able to fit 28mm tyres to increase comfort further – it depends how much clearance you have at the chainstays, seat tube and bottom bracket.

Ribble CGR.jpg

Ribble CGR.jpg

With most bikes the brakes are a limiting factor when it comes to tyre width, many disc brake-equipped bikes offer much more clearance. The Ribble CGR, for example, offers enough space for 35mm tyres with mudguards and even bigger without.

Ribble CGR - fork clearance.jpg

Ribble CGR - fork clearance.jpg

Check out our feature Why you need to switch to wider tyres.

Switch your saddle

If you’re not comfortable on the saddle that came fitted to your bike, change it.

Fabric Scoop Gel Saddle.jpg

Fabric Scoop Gel Saddle.jpg

People sometimes think that a large, squashy saddle will be the most comfortable, but that’s not always the case. The fit is more important and that’s a very individual matter. Some people like a cutaway centre to remove pressure in that area, some people don't. Just because your friend gets on well with a particular saddle, that doesn’t mean you will.

So how do you decide which one is best for you?

Many bike shops will be able to help you make your choice using a saddle finding system.

Selle Italia, for example, has its idmatch system. You give some basic information about yourself and the type of riding you do, then the bike shop assistant takes some measurements – all totally painless! – enters them into the computer and gets you some recommendations.

Other saddle manufacturers offer similar systems to help you find the most suitable saddle.

For more info, go to our saddles buyer’s guide and check out our saddle reviews

Change your bar tape or grips

If you ride with old or poor quality bar tape, every little bump in the road gets transferred directly to your hands and arms. The same is true if you’re using worn-out grips on a flat-bar bike.

Good bar tape can filter out road buzz that’s heading for your wrists, and it doesn’t have to be expensive.

Radial Cycles Radial gel bar tape - black

Radial Cycles Radial gel bar tape - black

Radial Cycles Grippy bar tape, for example, has a generous gel strip along the back and it costs only a tenner. 

Pro riders sometimes fit a double-layer of bar tape, especially for the cobbled classics like Paris-Roubaix, and you can do the same.

Another option is fitting shock-absorbing gel pads underneath your bar tape. Specialized’s Body Geometry Bar Phat tape (£16.99) comes with gel pads that you fit to both the top of your handlebar and the drops. 

Ergon GP1 Biokork grips.jpg

Ergon GP1 Biokork grips.jpg

Similarly, if your handlebar grips aren’t comfortable, get some new ones. It's a relatively cheap way to make a big difference to the feel of your bike. These Ergon GP1 Biokork grips (£32.99) are designed to fill your palm in order to minimise pressure.

Swap your seatpost

Suspension seatposts exist mainly for mountain biking, but you can fit one to a road bike if you like.

USE Vybe.jpg

USE Vybe.jpg

USE’s Vybe suspension seatpost (£119.99), for example, provides 50mm of bump absorption.

If you don’t want to go that far in pursuit of comfort you can fit a seatpost that’s designed to flex more than usual.

Specialized’s CG-R carbon post (£150) has some built-in vertical flex thanks to its unusual head.

Change your handlebar

Drop handlebars come in different widths – 400mm, 420mm and 440mm being the most common. Bike manufacturers fit the width that’ll be right for most people who buy a particular sized frame, but the width won’t suit everyone.

The distance of the drop (the vertical distance from the point where the stem attaches to the ends of the bar) also varies between bars, as does the reach (the horizontal distance from the point where the stem attaches to the furthest point forward) and the shape of the drop section – some are round, others are more anatomically shaped.

If you feel like the drop is too deep or the reach is too far, you might be better off shifting to a compact handlebar like this FSA K-Force. Most pro riders use compact bars these days.

Flat bars also come in different widths and with different levels of rise, allowing you to finetune your riding position.

Switch your stem

Stems come in various different lengths and angles, giving you the opportunity to alter your ride position significantly.

Deda Superleggero Black 120 Stem

Deda Superleggero Black 120 Stem

If you feel like your handlebar is too far away, you can fit a shorter stem to reduce your reach.

If you feel like your handlebar is too low, you could add a spacer underneath the stem (if there’s room on the fork steerer), fit a stem with a higher rise, or perhaps just flip the stem you already have.

We’d suggest that you take advice from a bike shop before altering your ride position, and perhaps even have a full bike fit (see below).

Have a bike fit

If you’re struggling to get comfortable on your bike, a professional bike fit can be a really good investment.

Essentially, this means that a specialist bike fitter will get everything set up just right for you. Some shops offer a fit when you buy a new bike, but you can always go back and have another, or book an appointment with someone new.

Hip joint

Hip joint

There are many variables to get right – saddle height, fore/aft saddle position, reach to the handlebar, handlebar height, the shape of the handlebar, crank length… 

A bike fitter might change components – the stem or seatpost, for example – or could just tweak your setup. Think of it as a long-term investment in your cycling future.

Get padded shorts and gloves

If changing your components doesn’t provide the comfort you’re after, try new clothing.

Castelli Endurance X2 bib short - on bike

Castelli Endurance X2 bib short - on bike

Well-fitting shorts with a cushioned seatpad will make a massive difference to your comfort. We have a feature that tells you everything you need to know about cycling shorts. 

We also have loads of reviews of individual designs so it’s easy for you to find exactly what you’re after.

Sportful Bodyfit Pro gloves.jpg

Sportful Bodyfit Pro gloves.jpg

Mitts and full-finger gloves can help a lot too. Padded palms help to absorb vibrations from the handlebar (and they'll also save your hands if you're unlucky enough to come off).

Use chamois cream

Slap on the chamois cream to reduce the chances of saddle soreness. It reduces friction as you pedal and it’s usually antibacterial.

Purple Harrys Ultimate Rider Care - Anti Chafing Chamois Cream

Purple Harrys Ultimate Rider Care - Anti Chafing Chamois Cream

There are loads of different brands out there. Purple Harry’s Anti Chafing cream (£9.99) works well. 

Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.

13 comments

Avatar
Pifko [115 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

Latex inner tubes

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geargrinderbeard [97 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

What's with the half naked bike fit? I don't remember mine being like that...

Avatar
crikey [1251 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Perhaps you don't look as good half naked, which is, on reflection, a pretty horrific thought....

Avatar
ch [188 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

I find a Brooks leather racing saddle to be fantasticly comfortable.

But the biggest surprise for me was that using SPD sandals would end up boosting my performance on strava segments. The sandals have a massive rubber sole which does a lot of wonderful shock absorption but standard-theoretically should be stealing watts on short power segments. My guess is that lack-of-comfort plays a role in limiting sprint output power especially for the aging (55) - the sub-conscious animal-brain is instinctively trying to protect the knees and joints from damage by limiting power - adding a little cushioning allows more power to be output with less knee/joint stress.

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iso2000 [82 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes

Are carbon handlebars more comfortable than aluminium? By that I mean do they reduce road vibration more?

Just bought a new saddle and the options as regards getting a LBS to help were disappointing. My nearest only stocks one brand, another wanted £120 for some fancy arse mapping guff. I bought a Bontrager in the end which gives a money back guarantee for 30 days.  

 

Avatar
wellsprop [507 posts] 2 months ago
1 like
iso2000 wrote:

Are carbon handlebars more comfortable than aluminium? By that I mean do they reduce road vibration more?

Just bought a new saddle and the options as regards getting a LBS to help were disappointing. My nearest only stocks one brand, another wanted £120 for some fancy arse mapping guff. I bought a Bontrager in the end which gives a money back guarantee for 30 days.  

 

I have carbon integrated bar/stem on my road bike. It is very comfortable and certainly mutes the road buzz much more than an alu bar.

The road buzz isn't really an issue on my winter/commute bike with alu bars - I have specialised bar phat beneath the tape which takes out a lot of the harshness (I also have this on the drops on my road bike as it helps dull out larger bumps).

The real killer with carbon bars is the cost... Wider tyres and bar gel do a very similar job at a fraction of the cost.

Avatar
missionsystem [46 posts] 2 months ago
5 likes

It's not all about spending money though, eh?

These things all help I'm sure (bike fit, certainly) but I reckon technique is just as important - observe the road surface and react to it by riding light through rough patches, using your arms and legs as suspension.

No point having all the above if you resolutely sit on your bike like a sack of potatoes, crashing the bike across the potholes, speed bumps and road ripples. Adding a bit of body language to your riding improves things no end, costs nowt and has no down sides that I can think of.

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Altimis [58 posts] 2 months ago
1 like
Pifko wrote:

Latex inner tubes

 

How latex give more comfort than ordinary butyl ?

You get the same air volume inside tyre casing with the same wheel

I don't see how latex will help with this, placebo, maybe

Avatar
Woldsman [207 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes
geargrinderbeard wrote:

What's with the half naked bike fit? I don't remember mine being like that...

Indeed. I was completely naked for my bike fit (although I did insist on using two sheets of kitchen roll for my B17 saddle).

+1 for the Specialized Phat tape, by the way. 

Avatar
missionsystem [46 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes
Altimis wrote:

How latex give more comfort than ordinary butyl ?

You get the same air volume inside tyre casing with the same wheel

I don't see how latex will help with this, placebo, maybe

So imagine you used a hosepipe containing the same volume of air as an ordinary butyl tube? Would that be equally as comfortable do you think?

Avatar
DrG82 [201 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes
missionsystem wrote:
Altimis wrote:

How latex give more comfort than ordinary butyl ?

You get the same air volume inside tyre casing with the same wheel

I don't see how latex will help with this, placebo, maybe

So imagine you used a hosepipe containing the same volume of air as an ordinary butyl tube? Would that be equally as comfortable do you think?

I'd agree with Altimis, it's a tyre that is holding the pressure not the tube (try sticking 100 psi in a bare tube) so as long as the tube is pumped to the same pressure then the tyre will feel the same.

The only thing that surprised me about this article was that good shorts and gloves were so low on the list.

Avatar
BBB [461 posts] 2 months ago
1 like

An inner tube adds extra thickness to the tyre casing. Tyres and tubes flex together. 

Latex tubes and tubeless setups have lower rolling resistance and are more comfortable.

 

Avatar
brooksby [2705 posts] 2 months ago
1 like

I've got a pair of Ergon grips on my hybrid (the big GP4 ones with bar ends). Bl**dy brilliant!  1