The lack of comfort on a road bike is probably the biggest shock to any newbie. That’s exacerbated further if you switch from a plush full suspension mountain bike to a skinny road bike. Of all the challenges that switching gave me, getting comfortable while sitting on a razor blade perched on top of a super-stiff bike with skinny tyres was the worst.
Fortunately, there are some quick fixes to make that experience less painful. Some cost a little money, some don’t. All will make a significant different to how comfortable you are on the bike.
Nothing beats a professional bike fit but if you can’t afford one or want to find your own perfect fit, these tips should help.
The shift from a comfortable Charge Spoon to a Fizik Aliante saddle was the worst for me. So to begin with, I rode the Spoon on my road bike. Then, once I had adapted, I switched the saddle back and tried to get comfortable. I couldn’t, so had to swap saddles until I found one I got on with.
Road bike saddles come in all shapes and sizes, as do our derrieres. One size very definitely does not fit all, so it takes a bit of trial and error to find the right saddle for you. Fortunately, most good bike shops will have a try before you buy system where you can borrow a saddle and try it out before committing.
Some brands have a fitting system but these aren’t always that great. The best way to find the right saddle is to try as many as you can.
The next big contact point is the bar tape. There are hundreds of different types of tape out there made of everything from carbon to cork. Like saddles, the style of bar tape you find comfortable is very subjective. Good, thick tape reduces road buzz which instantly makes riding more comfortable. Some tape comes with gel pads for the resting points which add even more cushioning.
Some riders double wrap tape for extra comfort. Finding the right feel, thickness and texture is again about trying different ways and settling on that which feels best to you.
Riding in the drops or even on the tops also takes some getting used to. Drop handlebars come in a variety of shapes and sizes to help find that perfect fit. One measurement is width, usually 400mm, 420mm or 440mm. It is best to pick the width that equals that of your shoulder for best comfort.
The drop type is also variable, with an ergonomic fit, compact fit or rounded. Again, it is down to personal taste and your physiology to find that perfect setup.
Stem length is a cheap and easy way to alter the angle and length of reach to the bars. Most bikes come with a default stem length for the frame size but stems come in lengths from 70mm up to 140mm and beyond. They will also have an angle, or rise, which will raise or lower the height of the bars.
The stem sits on the steerer tube which will likely have spacers. You can move the stem up or down on those spacers depending on how low you want to get. If you’re new to road cycling, you will likely have the stem on top of the spacers until you become used to the position. Then you might like to gradually lower the stem until you find the perfect position.
Not long ago the only acceptable road bike tyre size was 23mm. Everything else was regarded as wrong. Fortunately that has changed and now 25mm is the norm. Some even run 28mm. The good news for us is the larger the tyre, the more comfortable it can be.
Wider tyres are more comfortable. Running them at the right pressure also influences comfort. Run them at 110psi and you’ll go fast but will feel every bump in the road. Run them at 80-90psi and you won’t go quite so fast but won’t have your fillings shaken out as you go.
Most cyclists agree that Lycra is not a good look, especially on men of a certain age. But there is method in the madness. Most cycling shorts will have a chamois pad in the crotch. This helps maintain comfort in the saddle for longer periods of time. It also helps with modesty and wicks away sweat, which is nice.
Buying the best quality shorts you can afford, that fit your body well is the single most effective investment a cyclist can make!
You should never wear shorts without a bit of chamois cream in support. At least until you’re completely comfortable on the bike. Chamois cream acts as a lubricant to reduce friction on your nether regions, making every movement more comfortable. Some also have antibacterial agents to help keep things clean while you’re sweating. I have been using it for over a decade and never ride without it.
Likewise, a good pair of gloves can help reduce more road buzz which can help you ride longer and more comfortably. Plus, they have the added benefit of saving your skin should you have an off. Some also have a fabric stripe to help remove sweat too.
If you do decide to change something on the bike, make sure to give it a chance before changing back. Stem length, stack height, bar type and saddle all need a few hours or days riding before you can truly know whether they are comfortable or not. Your body needs time to adjust to the new position so give it that time before making a decision.