There are three major points of contact when riding a bike, namely your hands, feet and seat. And the more time you spend riding the more important these three become. Each of these can be improved individually for the best fit, function and comfort while pedaling. To begin with, shoes and pedals are fairly easy to figure out as the old adage applies “if the shoe fits, wear it.” With a variety of brands and styles to choose from there are a lot of options for cycling footwear. Besides specific footwear for mountain or road riding, brands such as Sidi and Giro also offer narrow and wide shoe widths to best fit any rider’s foot. Different closure systems such as ratcheting buckles or twist-lock mechanisms add convenience and allow on-the-fly adjustment. As most riders will experience some swelling in their feet during long rides so they choose a shoe that offers a little more room in the toes to accommodate this. In addition, additional arch support through footbeds is something many riders consider.
On the front end of the bike there are numerous options for grips and handlebar tape. Many mountain bikers and commuters opt for the ergonomic grips which provide support for the palms, such as those by Ergon or shock-absorbing silicone grips, such as those by ESI or Fabric. For your road bike, the bar shape is probably the best starting point. Wing shaped bar tops and shallower drop bars have recently gained popularity. To wrap the bars, there is wide range of choices with various thickness and material to help will let you dial in comfort for your hands. For those looking for a bit more comfort, gel padding or a second layer of bar tape (often seen on the pro’s bikes during the cobbled spring classics) can be placed on the bar first before wrapping with new tape although this added comfort comes at the cost of added weight and for some a disconnect with the bike. Popular choices are a wing-shaped road bar with thick and tacky tape by Fizik or Lizard Skins which can offer great grip with extra cushioning. Of course good gloves are a crucial element here with long fingered and short fingered gloves coming with everything from thick gel padding to no padding at all.
Now onto the most subjective of these three, the saddle. There are literally hundreds of good saddle choices available to any and all cyclists. However, there are millions of cyclists so there definitely is not a “one size fits all” solution to saddle comfort. A good rule to follow, when you don’t like your current saddle, is to look for a new one that has a different shape than what you’re using. Basically, no amount of padding will make an ill-formed saddle work well. We have found that the best route to a more comfortable seat is to try a few before you buy. At Contender Bicycles we offer our Saddle Test Ride program with many of the most popular seats from Fizik, Fabric, Adamo, PRO and Selle SMP.
The best way to address these points of contact is with a proper bike fit, as this will give you an expert opinion on what it will take to make your bike both more comfortable and efficient. There are many ways of going about a fitting with most starting with the shoe/pedal interface and working up from there. As avid cyclists we are big fans of using shoe and pedal combos to better connect rider to bike. Being “clipped in” not only creates an efficient pedal stroke it also helps in isolating your body position and finding the best location for your saddle. Once the saddle is properly in place you and the fitter can go to work on finding the best location for your hands on the bars. Many of us have previous injuries or other physical issues that can be easily addressed in the fitting process making our time on the bike more enjoyable.
At Contender Bicycles in addition to offering a free fit with most bike purchases we are pride ourselves on helping customers walk out with the perfect bike, not necessarily the stock bike. While manufacturers often use more neutral saddles and select bar widths based on the frame size some riders find themselves needing to make changes immediately. In these instances we are happy to work with you to pro-rate the value of the parts you need switched out for those that will help you get the most out of your riding.
Please feel free to come by the shop if you have questions on any of these points of contact.