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Tips for improving the fit and feel of your bike

[This article was last updated on July 5, 2019]

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

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

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

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

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.

Fabric Hex Handlebar Tape.jpg

Fabric Hex bar tape (£13.99), for example, is soft, tacky silicone tape that's easy to look after. 

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 (£17) comes with gel pads that you fit to both the top of your handlebar and the drops. 

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 (£34.99) 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’s Vybe suspension seatpost (£85), 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 (£145) 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

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

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

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

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.

2Toms Butt Shield.jpg

There are loads of different brands out there. 2Toms Buttshield (£15) 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.

37 comments

Avatar
urbane [100 posts] 10 months ago
1 like
missionsystem wrote:

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.

There is such as thing as a false economy, including naive "it ain't broke don't fix it" thinking.

Selective/affordable spending on some upgrades can be a wise investment, because it can increase comfort and control, thus safety, including in exceptional conditions, like unexpected surface conditions or weather, it can even save money over time! Better grips can reduce limb fatigue/damage, thus improve steering ability, better brake levers and brakes can save you from an accident, better wheels/tubes/tires can need far less maintenance and last a lot longer, a better seat can protect your crotch area and reduce butt/leg fatigue etc. a seat suspension post can deal with rough ground far better than any saddle or padding can; I got fed up and bought a Cane Creek seat suspension post! You should not rely on arms or legs for suspension, because that can cause cumulative joint damage...

Yes, some upgrades are only justified when a cyclist has sufficient skills/power to reveal limitations, but not all.

Avatar
brooksby [4596 posts] 10 months ago
0 likes
urbane wrote:

I'm not convinced that using Cork in the Ergon GP1P is a good idea for wear & tear, so recently fitted a newer MTB-specific Ergon GS1 pair; they are far more comfortable than even fresh neoprene foam grips because they I don't have to grip much now due to plenty of palm support, so finger, front hand, and wrist-bending stresses are gone. I trimmed off the bar-end stop-edges to fit proper bar-thickness bar ends, because Ergon's attempts are a too-thin joke.

I fitted Ergon GP4 grips on my hybrid, their biggest/longest, so I had a different position when hill climbing or cruising on the flat: sooo comfortable! Only downside is that my ride now looks like its entering the rutting season...

Avatar
CHARISROBERTS80 [2 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes

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CHARISROBERTS80 [2 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes

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Tommytrucker [129 posts] 9 months ago
1 like

Seems legit....

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janusz0 [343 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes

For a more expensive way to get saddle comfort, call Dr. Ifade.  The cheapskate's answer is: push harder, boost those leg muscles, so your arse doesn't put so much force on the saddle.  Bonus: you'll be faster too. 

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Reedo [46 posts] 1 week ago
0 likes

I’ve never tried double wrapping a bar. By the look that Sky (?!) mechanic hadn’t either.

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