Welcome to Pedal Science, the weekly bike fitting blog by Nick Thomas of The Endurance Coach. This week our resident bike fitter Nick Thomas talks about extra comfort!
To achieve your potential on the bike riding position must be comfortable so optimum power output is sustainable for the duration of the event. An effective bike fit is essential to maximise efficiency and comfort but there are several relatively inexpensive equipment choices and modifications which can also significantly increase comfort on the bike.
There are three points where the body makes contact with the bike, all of which need to be considered: handlebars, pedals and saddle.
Handlebar tape provides cushioning and helps reduce vibration but quality can vary. Insufficient cushioning can lead to numbness in the fingers, sore wrists and general upper body fatigue, especially during long events on poor road surface. There are several ways to increase the cushioning:
High quality bar tape:
Buying cheap, thin tape is a false economy as you’ll replace it at the earliest opportunity with a high quality, well cushioned alternative. If using tribars they should also be taped, especially if racing on flat courses where you’ll be spending the majority of time in the aero position.
To provide extra cushioning gel strips can be attached to the top of the handlebars and then covered with bar tape. As well as providing more cushioning the surface area is also greater so the load is distributed over a slightly wider area increasing comfort further.
Fingerless gloves increase comfort and many include a gel pads across the palm of the hand. Quality can vary so ensure they provide the required amount of cushioning. The gloves also provide protection in event of a fall.
For feet to be comfortable shoes need to fit correctly, provide adequate arch support and a have a stiff upper which holds the foot securely. A loose fitting shoe will allow the foot to move during the down stroke which can lead to discomfort and fatigue in the forefoot, especially during longer events.
Cleat position will also affect comfort in the foot. To reduce pressure underneath the foot cleats should be positioned behind the metatarsophalangeal joint so the pressure is moved behind the joint. A stiff sole will also distribute the pressure over a larger area which will reduce the point of peak pressure: be aware that cheaper shoes are generally more flexible so the sole is less able to distribute pressure and also flexes as pressure is exerted through the pedal when cycling.
Saddle choice is the holy grail of comfort and there is no simple answer for everyone. Factors to consider include the following:
Saddles come in a variety of widths and measuring devices are available which determine which model is the most suitable.
If someone finds they get pins and needles or numbness it is likely due to nerves and/or blood vessels being compressed. A saddle with a central cutout might be more appropriate as it relieves the pressure.
Time trials bikes usually result in a forward riding position which results in the pelvis being anteriorly rotated. There are several saddles on the market which take this into account and provide a more ergonomically efficient position for the pelvis to rest on.
It’s also worth considering tire choice when maximizing comfort on the bike, especially if riding for long distances. A good quality, supple tire will provide a more forgiving ride than a harder, cheaper option and for anyone competing at Ironman this is essential as a harsh ride could severely compromise the marathon. The performance benefits of 25mm tires is still being debated but it’s generally accepted that a wider tire will provide a more forgiving ride: ultimately this will lead to faster times over longer distances as power can be maintained for longer.
By making small changes a bike can be adapted to provide a more comfortable ride. The longer an event the more comfort will affect performance especially if the bike is followed by a run.
Nick Thomas is the resident bike fitter at The Endurance Coach. He is a fully qualified bike fitter and expert in lower limb mechanics, holding a BSc (Hons) in podiatry. You can contact him using the email address: email@example.com or see more about his fitting services by GOING HERE.