We all love cycling and there’s nothing more rewarding than racking up the big miles. However, more time in the saddle is often accompanied by niggles and soreness that can take the fun out of riding.
We’ve taken the time to speak to top pro bike fitter – Matt Hallam from Crimson Performance – to give you some pro tips on ways to improve your comfort on the bike. Matt has fitted some of the stars of the sport including Olympian Elinor Barker and has a wealth of knowledge and experience. He has combined his scientific expertise of biomechanics with practical advice to give us the inside scoop on how to set up your bike for a comfortable ride!
1) Saddle height
According to Matt ‘saddle height is king pin in your bike position’. Too low and you’re at risk of anterior knee pain and too high you could develop lower back discomfort, saddle sores and posterior knee pain. Matt says that ‘a good place to start [when establishing your correct saddle height] is by taking an inseam measurement and then simply deducting 100mm.’
If you want to get more technical, Matt states that in ‘the fit studios [he] look for between 140- 145deg knee extension and around a 20deg ankling angle as these ranges are biomechanically optimal for power production and injury prevention’.
2) Saddle choice
A saddle that works for you is crucial in ensuring a comfortable ride. Here Matt highlighted the importance of ensuring ‘that your saddle is wide enough to support both sit bones evenly.’ He explained that ‘saddle manufactures are developing much wider saddles because, [in general], a wider saddle provides greater pelvic stability and more comfort.’
Matt also emphasises the importance of ‘being logical around saddle selection’. It can be a bit of a process because it’s important to find the curvature, width, and shape that you find comfortable. Matt offers a money back guarantee on saddles for his clients and he recommends double checking this applies to your saddle purchase too as finding the right one can simply be a matter of trial and error.
3) Reach and saddle set back
Reach and saddle set back are two important components of a well fitting bike. Your saddle setback refers to the horizontal distance between the centre of the bottom bracket and the front tip of the saddle. If you notice you have a tendency to sit on the nose of your saddle, then try moving the saddle forward whilst if you feel like you are sitting off the back of the saddle then try moving the saddle back. Matt says that ultimately ‘the back of your saddle should feel accessible and sustainable to sit on’.
In terms of comfort it is also important to achieve a balanced centre of mass over the bottom bracket and this is where your reach – how ‘stretched’ you are on the bike – comes into play. Matt says ‘if you feel that the back of the shifters and saddle are accessible, then you are on the right path.’ However, if you feel too stretched you may want to consider moving the saddle forward or fitting a shorter stem.
Matt has found in his studio fits he is more often that not ‘reducing a riders setback because far too many riders front load their saddles’. He explained that sitting too far forward on the saddle isn’t healthy for blood flow to our soft tissue and bringing a saddle further forward can provide additional benefits as it ‘also helps to open the hip angle and in turn lead to better engagement of the glutes.’
4) Handlebar width
Handlebar width can have a big impact on the comfort of the bike as well as its handling. A well- fitting handlebar can help reduce the pressure on a rider’s hands as well as prevent neck and shoulder soreness. According to Matt the rule of thumb is that the ‘handlebar width should reflect a rider’s shoulder width. He finds it all too common for ‘stock bikes to come with handlebars that are a size or two too wide’.
5) Tyre choice and pressure
Away from position another quick fix for comfort is your tyre choice and tyre pressure particularly on poor road surfaces and ‘heavy’ roads. In general, the lower the pressure, the smoother and more comfortable it will feel. But remember, if you drop the pressure of your tyres a lot you will need to increase the size of the tyre in order to avoid pressure punctures. A good guideline is that a 25c tyre performs well at around 85psi, whilst a 28c tyre can be taken down to 70psi.
If you are going to swap your tyres then bear in mind that the tyre itself can also make a difference to the feel. Different composites will provide a different feel and in general a tyre with a more supple casing will improve your comfort as it will ‘deform around the imperfections of the road and thus dampen the ‘buzz’ coming from the tarmac’.
There is nothing worse than being uncomfortable on the bike. Aches, pains and soreness can quickly detract from the fun of cycling so having a good position is so important. A correct fitting bike can not only improve comfort, but also increase your power and efficiency as well as stave off injury. Hopefully with these expert tips you can now rack up those winter miles in comfort!
A special thanks to Matt Hallam of Crimson Performance for his input and expertise. You can check out his website here – https://www.crimsonperformance.com/bike-fit-manchester – for more insights and information.