How to Make Your Bike More Comfortable

Successful bike commuting requires at minimum two things: 

1) A bike

2) A bike you can ride comfortably 

As I am sure you can imagine, you probably won’t commit yourself to a bike commute if you’re not comfortable!

You may experience butt, wrist, or knee pain when bike riding due to a variety of factors. But the good news is that you can alleviate many of these problems and make your bike more comfortable, with a few, easy adjustments. Even better, you can make most of these tweaks in the comfort of your own home!

Read on for some common bike complaints, and learn about adjustments you can make to to help troubleshoot those pesky aches and pains!


Do You Have the Right Frame Size?

Before trying small adjustments, you must double check the frame size of your bike.  Improper frame size can lead to significant discomfort and cannot be solved with simple tweaks.

Where Do You Find the Frame Size?

  • If you’re buying a new bike, the frame size is always listed in the specifications. 
  • If you’re buying used or secondhand, the frame size is usually written somewhere on the bike. Look for a number just under the seat or on the tube under the handlebars.

How Do You Know Which Frame Size to Get?

Frame size (regardless of the type of bike – mountain bike, cruiser, etc.) is dictated by height and inseam. 

Some charts and graphs on the internet only include height in frame size fitting – which is not helpful!  Two people who are 5’7 may need different frame sizes because one person has a longer inseam (longer legs) than the other person. The inseam is the more important value when it comes to picking the right frame size. 

I really love this frame fitting guide from Moosejaw that beautifully explains bike dimensions and how to measure for a proper fit. Plus, it includes excellent frame size guides!


What if the Frame Size is Nowhere to Be Found?

Now, if you can’t find the frame size number on your bike OR you don’t feel like doing a bunch of measurements on your body…use the standover maneuver! 

The Standover Maneuver

  • Stand over the top tube of the bike with both feet comfortably on the ground.
  • You should have plenty of room between you and the top tube (about 1-2 inches)   
The Smart Cyclist. Make Your Bike More Comfortable
The Smart Cyclist. Make Your Bike More Comfortable. Standover Height

Take note, the standover maneuver only works for road bikes and mountain bikes. For step-through bikes, use this strategy here


The Takeaways

If your bike is too small or too big, you should go back to the drawing board and try to get yourself a bike that fits properly. There is no way to make your bike more comfortable if your frame size is incorrect!

However, if you’ve established that you have the right frame size, but you’re still scratching your head at why you have pain, read on for some quick solutions!


If Your Butt Hurts…

You Might Be Getting Used to A New Form of Exercise! 

When you sit on a bike seat, most of your weight is distributed on two very small bones at the bottom of your pelvis called sits bones (also known as sits bones or sitting bones) or ischial tuberosities.

Red Areas = Sits Bones

Just like your body feels sore after doing a new or tough workout, your sits bones and the muscles surrounding them can feel sore after sitting on a bike seat. It’s not a position most people find themselves in on a regular basis. 

It can take a day or two for your bones and body to get used to sitting on a bike seat – maybe longer if your bike commute is long – but soreness can be a common part of the bike commuting process. 

However, if you’re still experiencing butt pain after a few days to weeks that doesn’t improve, you should try adjusting your bike seat or consider getting a new one altogether.


Let’s Take a Look at Your Bike Seat (aka Saddle)

Adjusting Your Saddle

You can adjust your bike seat in all directions (up, down, and side to side). When riding, your seat should be relatively level to the ground- not tilted too far up or too far down. A saddle that is tilted too far up can put unnecessary pressure on the groin area, which can cause significant discomfort.

When adjusting your saddle it is also important to consider the position of your handlebars and seat post. Sometimes, bicyclists experience saddle soreness because all their weight is resting entirely on the saddle. This could be caused by handlebars that are too high, or a seat post that is too low. One thing to remember is that your weight should feel spread out evenly across all aspects of your bike – your saddle, your handlebars and even your pedals.

Adjusting the saddle, seat post and/or handlebars a few inches in any direction can go a long way in making your bike more comfortable. Don’t be afraid to play around with different adjustments until you find a position that feels good. Remember, every body is different and different adjustments may work for different people. It may take some trial and error!

Getting a New Saddle

Getting an entirely new bike seat can be as much of a pain as the saddle soreness itself ! There are a multitude of different bike seats on the market; it can be quite overwhelming. That is why I think it is important to adjust and optimize your bike as much as possible, but sometimes you have done everything you can and still experience pain.

The most important factor to consider when shopping around for a new bike seat is the width between your sits bones. Where those bones connect with your saddle makes a big impact in overall bike seat comfort. If you ride with a saddle that is either too wide or too narrow for your sits bones, you will experience significant discomfort and sometimes chafing. Read this in-depth post from BIKEFIT that explains different methods for measuring the width between your sits bones, and provides suggestions for finding the right saddle.

In general, women’s sits bones are positioned farther apart than men’s. As a result, most women find wider bike seats slightly more comfortable. However, that is by no means a rule! Like I said before, every body is different and different things work for different people!


Key Takeaways: Butt Pain

DODON’T

Keep riding! You might just be getting used to a new form of exercise

Make sure your seat isn’t tilted too far up or down

Consider adjusting your handlebars or seat post

Get a new seat without trying small adjustments first



If Your Knees Hurt…

Adjust your seat post height 

If you’re experiencing knee pain when bike riding, your seat post height is most likely too low.  A low seat post results in excessive knee bending when pedaling – leading to pain and discomfort. 

The ideal position of your legs on your bike should look like the picture below:

Most beginner bike commuters start out with the seat post height too low. When you’re at a stoplight or stop sign, it is much easier to have both feet firmly on the ground while seated. Only being able to touch the ground with tip-toes can feel unstable in the beginning, but your knees will thank you in the long run!

Key Takeaways: Knee Pain

DODON’T
Make sure your knee has a slight bend at the bottom of a pedal stroke

Make sure only your tiptoes touch the ground while seated
Ride with your seat post height too low!

If Your Wrists Hurt..

Adjust your handlebars

Considering how much work your legs do on your bike, it’s easy to forget about the importance of your arms, hands and wrists in the process! 

Handlebar position affects not only the wrists but the hands, shoulders, neck and back as well. If you are experiencing pain or discomfort in these areas, it is most likely secondary to your handlebar position.

When riding your bike, your wrists should not be too straight or overly flexed! These positions put extra pressure on the nerves and tendons in your wrist (carpal tunnel) and can result in not only pain, but also numbness and tingling if not properly addressed. You want to achieve a handlebar position that gives a slight, but comfortable bend in the wrists like the graphic below:

If your handlebar is set too low, you may find yourself leaning into your arms and overly extending your wrists. If the handlebars are set too high, you may decrease the amount of wrist flexion; however, you will also inadvertently shift the majority of your weight to your seat which may also cause discomfort (as discussed above in the saddle soreness section).

The most important thing to remember: when adjusting your handlebar position, try to strike a balance that distributes your weight comfortably between your arms and the bike seat.


Key Takeaways: Wrist Pain

DODON’T
Make sure your handlebars are not set too high or too low

Check to make sure your handlebar position and seat position are working together
Keep your wrists too straight or too flexed!

If you remember only one thing from this article, remember this: biking is a full body workout and everything must work together to ensure proper comfort! To make your bike more comfortable, you need to adjust each component (the seat, the handlebars, the height, etc.) with the goal of distributing your weight evenly and comfortably across all areas.

Hopefully after reading this post you are one step closer to the comfy bike of your dreams! Comment below if any of these tips helped you and check out other posts in the “How-To” Section of the site!

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