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Increasing Cycling Comfort... Other Options

What is it that makes cycling uncomfortable for you? Does your bum hurt? Do your hands ache after a few miles?

For most people who experience discomfort, it is the contact points that cause the main problems but for some, the problems are harder to solve.

Contact Points

These are the places where we bodily come into contact with our bike. Hands, bums and feet.

Hands

2 options here. Gloves/Mitts and Grips.

Cycling mitts/gloves are typically leather palmed with a padded section in and around the palm area. Firstly, a pair of quality mitts or gloves will decrease friction levels leading to reduced chafing. Secondly, a small amount of padding can reduce the impact transferred from the handlebars into your hands. You may be able to find gloves with Gel inserts which act as quite a good shock absorber. Prices start from about £10 up to £30-£40

Choosing some more "ergonomic" grips might help too. An ergonomic grip is designed to be more hand contoured, so the weight that you rest on the bars is spread over a wider surface area. As with mitts, some grips are available with gel inserts or coatings which can act a a good shock absober. Grips ought to be made of a soft, pliable material, modestly thick but a material which isn't so soft to make it fee like you've got jelly on your handlebars. They are a relatively cheap modification at £8+

Look at how you rest your hands on the handlebars. Your problem might be more related to how you hold the bars themselves.

Commonly, people have the brake levers set too high which forces you to ride with your wrists twisted upwards, reducing the blood flow into your hands.

Bums

We've already covered the issue of saddles on another page, but sometimes, the issue for people with uncomfortable bums is not necessarily related to saddle design.

Fine adjustment of the saddle itself can have a big impact. The angle of the saddle, how far forward or back and its height all have an impact on how our body interfaces with the bike.

If you feel like you are falling off the front of the saddle, adjust the nose end of the saddle upwards very slightly. If you feel that you are falling off the back, lower the nose of the saddle. If you feel that you are sliding from one side of the saddle to the other as you pedal, your saddle is possibly too high for you. If you don't seem to fall off the front, or the back of the saddle, and yet you experience uncomfortable pressure levels in the pubic bone region, it is possible that your saddle is set too far back (or that the handlebar stem on the bike is too long for you).

You can make quite a dramatic difference to how comfortable your saddle is by gradually adjusting (in small increments).

Buying a proper pair of cycling shorts and wearing them correctly is another big impact option.

OK, so some poeple think of padded cycling shorts being a bit of a joke, but in reality, when you are riding, the additional comfort is worth the occassional uneducated jibe every now and then!

Cycling shorts feature an "insert", commonly made of chamois leather or a synthetic substitute. They should be worn directly against the skin... ie do not wear your normal underwear beneath them (doing so negates much of the benefit). This goes for both mens and womens cycling shorts. Much of the problems of wearing ordinary clothes when cycling is that you place almost ll of your body weight onto the saddle. Ordinary clothing, underwear etc has seams which are often not smooth and leave you with pressure points. The insert in a cycling short has either no seams or very fine seams with little, if any thickness difference in the joints, making the whole area covered by a single, seamfree cover. The liner is designed to absorb body sweat, leading to the insert bonding itself to your skin, meaning that any movements on the saddle result only in surface rubbing between the saddle and the outer surface of the shorts... there being no movement between the short insert and your skin. This in turn means there will be little, if any chafing.

By all means, wear cycling shorts under something else, but don't wear anything underneath them!

Feet

Trainers and pumps are NOT suitable shoes for riding a bike in. For short distances you are unlikely to have a problem, but on longer journeys, a trainer offers no support for your foot.

Most shoes are designed to flex in any direction, but when you are on a bike, you are best in a shoes which does not flex at all.

Cycling shoes typically have very rigid soles.

If you don;t want to buy rigid soled cycling shoes, try to ride whilst wearing shoes with as stiff a sole as you have got.

Look at which bit of your foot is actually on the pedal.

Commonly, novice riders pedal with the arch of their foot; often as the result of flexible soled shoes which seem to force you to pedal across your arches.

You should pedal with the balls of your feet. The ball of your foot should be directly over the pedal axle.

Non-Contact Points

Most non contact point discomfort issues are the result of poor riding technique or poor posture. Common complaints are of discomfort in the knees or thighs, plus back ache and neck ache

Knees tend to become painful when using clip-in pedals with the alignment set incorrectly or when people get into a habit of riding with their feet pointing either in or out rather than inline with the bike.

Thighs commonly get uncomfortable when the saddle is positioned too low.

Back ache and Neck ache is most commonly caused by an incorrectly sized bike or one which has been set up (saddle and handlebar height) badly.

Cycle Clothing

In general, sportswear is designed for wearing whilst partaking of a sport and clothing for cycling is no different.

Investing in a good set of cycle gear will have an impact on your enjoyment but don't jumpt to the conclusion that any old sportswear will do! Most sportswear is designed for sports in which your are stood up. On a bike, your body position is significantly different, so cycling tops have an elongated back and sometimes a shortened front. Cycling bottoms whether shorts or longs will commonly have a lower cut front and an elongated back (after all there's nothing worse than a builders bum on a bike; you might get mistaken for a bike rack!). If buying shorts, consider buying bib-shorts, which have no elastic around the waist, but have shoulder straps instead... a little like built in braces! They are far more comfortable than having tight elastic diggin into your waist!
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