Accessorizing for Better Fit
Accessories won’t make up for poor bike fit, however, the right accessories can definitely dial in your comfort on an already well-fitting bike. Again, we’ll be talking about those three Points of Contact: seat, hands & feet.
SEAT: Saddle Choices
Finding a good saddle can take some time and persistence. A saddle that feels good in your hand may not feel so good when you put your weight on it, and if it feels good when first installed, there’s no guarantee it will feel that way after 10 or 15 miles. Your bike shop should have some provisions for either letting you try out the saddle in the real world, or have a flexible exchange policy in case what you thought was the right choice doesn’t work out as planned.
Types of saddles:
Men’s saddles generally have a longer nose and slightly narrower seat area
Women’s saddles have a shorter nose and wider seat area
Cutout saddles have an opening minimizes contact with the genital area (many saddles have a deep indent or groove for the same purpose)
Padded saddles use gel, foam, memory foam or some combination to provide cushioning between your body and the hard frame of the saddle, and to absorb road shock
Spring or elastomer saddles have built-in suspension along the back to minimize road shock
Anatomical saddles rely less on padding and more on contour and a somewhat flexible frame to support your body using your bones and muscles, not your sensitive areas
Leather saddles have no padding and instead use the natural suppleness of the leather to conform to your body over time
There’s a lot of cross-over within these categories, so you can have a memory gel women’s saddle with a cut-out, or a leather saddle with springs, etc.
(There’s also a category of noseless saddles that do away with all or part of the nose, and support your body only on your sit-bones. In our experience, these saddles dramatically affect the ergonomics of the rest of the bike, since you actually use the nose of the saddle in balancing. However we have installed them for riders who could not achieve comfort on a saddle any other way.)
General saddle choice recommendations:
Saddles come in a variety of widths, and we find that those new to cycling often gravitate to wider and more generously padded saddles. A lot of people have childhood memories of riding on extremely uncomfortable saddles, and a padded saddle can look very inviting. However, a padded saddle is not a guarantee of comfort.
Your general body size is also not necessarily a good indicator of how wide your saddle should be. Rather, it is your bone structure, which is not usually evident from the outside, that should dictate the width of your saddle. Specifically, you need to know the distance between your sit bones. You can feel your sit bones when you sit on a hard surface. This article has tips on how you can measure the distance between your sit bones using a piece of corrugated cardboard, some chalk and a tape measure. (The chalk is essential, you won’t be able to do the measurement without it.)
A properly sized, properly positioned seat (refer to this post for seat positioning), such as a quality anatomical saddle or leather saddle, may be more comfortable in the long run than a heavily padded one.
Usually, the more upright your sitting position on the bike, the wider the saddle should be. A wide saddle is usually not recommended if you ride in a more aggressive, forward leaning position.
A padded saddle is fine for a casual rider on a fairly upright bike, but may not be ideal for someone who puts in a lot of miles, because the padding moves up and down, and causes you to minutely re-balance yourself with every pedal revolution.
Again, these are general observations from over 20 years of putting people on bikes, but the specifics of saddle fit will always come down to personal preference and comfort of each rider.
Hands: Grips, tape, bar-ends and brake levers
Grips & Tape
Hand grips and tape should me made of material that offers secure grip without being sticky or slippery, and any texture should be there to enhance your comfort, and not to leave the imprint of the manufacturer’s logo on your hands.
The diameter of the grip should be appropriate to the size of your hand.
Ergonomic grips, which feature a wider flared area to support the heels of your hands, are an excellent option for flat or raised handlebars, and can ease hand and wrist fatigue and cramping.
If you need a thicker grip on drop handlebars, consider incorporating gel inserts under the bar tape next time you have the handlebars re-wrapped.
Padded or gel cycling gloves can also help improve your grip and minimize the impact of road vibration on your wrists.
NOTE: None of the above will compensate for handlebar positions or reach that are inapproprite for the particular rider, and should be considered enhancements to —not substitutes for— good fit.
Bar ends attach to the ends of a flat or raised handlebars to give you an option of another hand position on a bar that doesn’t offer one. They were once popular with mountain bikers, but are making a come back on urban and flat-bar adventure rides, and can be used on stretches of road or trail that don’t require constant access to brake levers.
You should be able to comfortably reach the brake lever with your fingers without losing your grip on the handlebar. If you can’t, have your mechanic check if the levers reach can be modified. Most modern brake levers can be adjusted to the rider’s hand size.
If you’re riding a drop bar road bike and would like to have brake levers at the top part of the bar, you can have in-line levers installed that will work with the existing brake system. This is a great option if you have a touring or gravel bike that you also use to get around the city, when you might want to ride in a more upright position.
Platform pedals (the kinds that don’t come with any clips or straps) should provide a stable and somewhat grippy platform for your feet. Entry level and comfort bikes sometimes come with very basic resin pedals that can be quite slippery, and prevent confident pedaling.
Foot retention devices:
Clipless pedals is a terms that’s misleading, and refers to pedals that have a receiver for a cleat mounted to the bottom of a cycling shoe. These devices can help increase your pedaling efficiency and control, and help you move faster and more confidently. They are easier to get in and out of than it might appear. While not at all necessary for casual riders, they can greatly enhance the cycling experience for riders with long urban commutes, fitness riders, and those going on long cycling trips.
If you’re not quite ready for clipless, for riding in traffic, toe clips or half-clips are a good way to help ensure your feet won’t accidentally slide off the pedals when you accelerate.
Surprisingly, pedals to not come in many widths. If you need extra clearance between your shoes and the cranks, pedal extenders —which offset the pedals away from the crank arms— are available and may be appropriate for some riders.
Links to other parts of this guide: