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Rider: Becky Walter, Dupont State Forest. photo: Leah Barber

When I was younger, I could tolerate rough, demanding mountain bike rides without feeling like a cripple the next day. Sadly, that is no longer the case. These days, I try to make my rides more comfortable. I already have enough aches and pains that come from getting older, so why create more aches that are easily preventable? I have found there are four keys to a more comfortable mountain bike ride.

The right mountain bike

photo: Leah Barber

I made a huge mistake by not investing in a good bike from the start. Instead, I bounced around between big-box-store and low-end mountain bikes for nearly 4 years before I bought my first quality mountain bike. I could have saved myself many grueling rides had I invested in a good bike up front.

I recommend buying a mountain bike that has air suspension, hydraulic disc brakes, a lightweight frame, and a mid-level drivetrain. The difference in ride quality will be night and day compared to lower-end bikes with heavy frames, coil-sprung suspension, and mechanical brakes. But that is only part of the equation.

Make sure to buy the right size bike. Spend the extra time and money to get fitted for a bike. Otherwise, you might wind up with a bike that is either too small or too big, both of which will be uncomfortable to ride. Finding the perfect bike takes a little extra time and money, but it is foundational to comfort.

The right MTB clothing

photo: Leah Barber

Having the right bike doesn’t help if you are not dressed appropriately when you ride it. Clothing can make the difference between a comfortable ride and a miserable one. Summers here in North Florida consist of oppressive heat and high humidity. As a newbie, I wore cotton t-shirts and shorts when I first started riding. Big mistake. My clothes would be completely soaked by the end of my rides, and I would be suffering from borderline heat exhaustion because my clothes trapped body heat instead of letting it escape.

 

High quality, bike-specific apparel makes an amazing difference. Yes, some items may seem expensive. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for.  Highly breathable synthetic fabrics are essential for a comfortable ride. Plus, a good pair of padded bike shorts helps dampen the impacts from bumps and makes saddle time much more bearable.

The right MTB saddle

photo: Jeff Barber

The right saddle makes rides more comfortable, and helps minimize any circulation issues that may arise from long-term riding. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all saddle; every rider is unique. The good news is, finding a comfortable saddle doesn’t mean upgrading to a more expensive model. It’s all about fit.

After going through a couple of ill-fitting saddles, I went to my local bike shop for help. First, they measured me to determine the correct saddle width. Then, after putting down a small deposit, they let me try out several different saddles for up to a week at a time. When I found the one that fit me the best, they put my deposit toward the purchase price. The saddle I ended up choosing was a pricey investment, but I felt so much better at the end of my rides. Don’t suffer needlessly from a saddle that doesn’t fit or has too little (or too much) padding. Take the time to find the right saddle. You won’t regret it.

The right MTB grips

photo: Jeff Barber

A good pair of grips is nearly as important as a good saddle. Cheap, slip-on grips tend to move around, causing distraction and ultimately poor control. Grips that are too small or too big won’t allow you to hold on properly, which can lead to disaster. Grips with too little padding cause hands, wrists, and arms to absorb the impact of bumps in the trail, which leads to chronic pain.

There is no excuse for not investing in a good pair of grips, especially when they sell for an average price of about $25. That is an inexpensive purchase compared to other bike components. Like saddles, grips are not one-size-fits all, so it is important to find the pair that suits you the best.

Avoid unnecessary pain and suffering

These four key changes have made a huge difference in comfort for me. I could have saved myself a lot of painful rides by making an investment in these items from the start.

Trust me, even if you spend more than you planned on these items, you will not regret your purchases. They will make your rides a lot more comfortable, and a lot more fun!

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# Comments

  • dpb1997

    For me it has always been about the saddle. I have expensive saddles that were measured to assure compfort but the did not. The saddle I have now cost $10 from a bargain bin l bought at least 15 yrs ago and is on a very expensive Cube bike. Why is it so comfortable for me? Because it’s wide, almost 160- mm. I can go for 30-km plus rides and not suffer…at all! Plus, I have not had saddle boils since rediscovering the saddle in my garage. Yes, it’s heavy, old and ugly, but it is the best saddle I have used.

    • Richard Shoop

      I agree. I think saddle fitment should be included as part of a new bike purchase because it is vital to rider comfort.

  • John Fisch

    Need to add number 5 (or 1a if you prefer): get a proper fitting an bike setup. Even the perfect bike will make for a bad ride if not properly set up.

    The most common setup fail among new riders is an improperly adjusted seat height (usually too low). Getting that seat height up where it belongs is crucial to an efficient, and comfortable ride. (But too high will also be problematic, usually leading to lower back pain).

    The next key setup feature is stem length; a proper cockpit length will maximize comfort. Other cockpit setup features like seat orientation (fore to aft), stem height and, and handlebar width can also affect comfort.

    • Richard Shoop

      I totally agree. I made sure to mention that when I talked about having the right bike.

  • Plusbike Nerd

    Wider high-volume tubeless tires run at lower pressures can also make a bike more comfortable. This is especially true for hardtails but full-suspension bikes can also benefit. Before Plusbikes were invented, I would never have recommended a hardtail to anybody but an XC racer because of the rough ride. Now I think a Plus hardtail is a viable choice. Plus tires soak up a lot of trail chatter. Even if you don’t have a Plusbike, putting on the widest tubeless tires that will fit your bike and using the lowest reasonable pressures can make a significant difference.

    • Richard Shoop

      True, but they are also a small niche of mountain biking. I was covering the broader spectrum. Personally, I am on the fence about plus-size tires. I see the comfort angle, but I enjoy the feedback from smaller tires as well as the reduced rotational mass.

  • twowheels2feet

    The cheapest and most helpful add is a seat cover. Buy like 4 at once because the get thrashed. They reduce stickson of ars2seat by allowing the cover to slip on seat.
    Some may argue you give up some control functionality, but I like my skin connected to my body, not friksen burned. So unless your Uber racer guy/gal, need that 1/2 second advantage then this is a must. Also can ride your bike in non mnt bike garb and still be comfortable without the layers in mnt bike pants provide. Also is a seat saver for that expensive seat you just bought. This along with paddle grips can extend your ride time without a two day recovery period.

    • Richard Shoop

      I’ve never tried seat covers. I’ve had an excellent experience with my saddle.

    • Entrenador

      Saddle covers are great for casual rides under 5 miles long, but for anything further / more rigorous I prefer the padding be on my taint (in the form of a proper chamois), and let any friction take place between my shorts and the saddle. Thus, proper riding shorts. For rides with a lot of time in the saddle, a liberal amount of chamois cream between me and the shorts are the ticket.

      There is no room for cotton underwear of any sort between a saddle and one’s sit spot.

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