When I’m out riding my bike, I often see people pulled over on the side of the trail stretching out or resting their achy body from the rigors of the sport. I think many people attribute these pains to a lack of fitness, but I’m here to tell you that a little extra comfort can go a long way for your ability to sustain time in the saddle.
Here are my Top 10 Ways to Make a Mountain Bike More Comfortable.
- Selecting the Correct MTB for Your Style of Riding
- Is Your Mountain Bike Fitted Correctly
- Adjust Your Suspension Settings
- How to Find Gloves and Grips for Your Mountain Bike
- MTB Handlebar Width and Height
- Selecting the Best Saddle and Padded Shorts for MTBing
- Finding Comfort with MTB Pedals and Mountain Biking
- Wearing Good Sunglasses While MTBing
- Are More Gears Better?
- Lower Your Tire Pressure
1. Selecting the Correct MTB for Your Style of Riding
One of the first steps to feeling comfortable on the mtb is selecting the right bike to begin with. Riding the wrong bike for the terrain is a sure-fire way to finish the ride exhausted and in pain.
Full Suspension Bike: Adding suspension to your mountain bike is one of the best ways to find extra comfort. If you are currently riding a hardtail and find yourself suffering with back pain or arm fatigue, a full-suspension might be exactly what the doctor ordered.
Are you an older Mountain Biker looking for even more comfort? Take a look at this article I wrote. What is the Best Mountain Bike for Older Riders
A full suspension cross country bike is good for almost any rider but it is especially good for people wanting to ride long distances. Full suspension bikes provide extra cushion for a rider’s back and reduces fatigue because the bike will absorb some of the jarring of the trail. For the same reason, full suspension bikes are also good for older populations because you are never too old to ride a bike, but you might be too old to enjoy getting bucked up and down by a hardtail mountain bike.
Trail Bike: A trail bike is perfect for riders who have ambitions to go on faster descents or a little bit gnarlier terrain. The trail bike adds more suspension than a full-suspension cross country bike which allows it to feel more plush and takes out jolting or hard impacts.
A trail bike is usually a little bit heavier than a full suspension and the added weight could make riding too difficult for someone who wants to go uphill fast or with as little effort as possible. If uphill speed is no object and you’re strong enough to muscle a few extra pounds uphill then you will find the most comfort on a trail bike.
Read all about Mountain Bike Suspension in this article: What is MTB Travel and is More Better
The Other Bikes: Hardtail mountain bikes, enduro bikes, and downhill bikes will often look appealing sitting in the bike shop window, however, those frame styles are made with things other than comfort in mind. Those types of bikes are specialized equipment and will leave you uncomfortable if you plan on frequently switching up the terrain you ride.
2. Is Your Mountain Bike Fitted Correctly?
Bike Size: Do not make your body fit your bike! That is rule #1. I see this problem a lot when people are trying to buy used bikes at lower price points. It doesn’t work. If you have too small or too large of a frame you will never be able to find the position that your body feels comfortable in.
In addition to buying the correct size of bike, make sure that you find a brand that fits your body type. Some frames have a longer top tube or more drop from seat to bars which might not work for you if you have shorter arms or torso. Look up the sizing chart for the brand of bike you wish to buy and do your research.
Saddle Height: One of the best and easiest ways to check your saddle height is to use a goniometer. Most people find that they are most comfortable when their knee is at a 25-35 degree angle at the bottom of their pedal stroke.1
Saddle Position: The best way to determine if your saddle should be moved forward or backward, is to use a plumb line. From a very simple point of view, when you pedal everything should be in line. From a more scientific point of view, pedal until your feet are flat and level. Then, using a plumb line, hang it in front of the knee cap. The plumb should fall right at the end of the crank arm.
Bar Reach: Generally speaking, when you reach for the bars your torso angle should be at 50-60 degrees.1 If you are an expert or more serious rider your angle might be as low as 30 degrees.1 Usually the more upright that you are sitting the more comfortable you will be. Try putting a few spacers under your stem to help you sit more upright and take pressure off of your back.
Bike Fit: All of these fit guidelines can be very complicated and difficult to navigate on your own. Try setting up your own bike, but if you experience any pain or discomfort or simply want to find the most economical position possible, invest in a professional bike fit.
3. How Should You Set Up Your MTB Suspension:
The best advice I can give you is to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines. Many riders don’t understand that a fork and rear suspension is not set up and ready to ride when you first receive your dream bike. A fork should be adjusted and tuned to your body weight and trail selection.
Each brand of suspension will be slightly different so it is impossible to spell out the specifics, however, the first thing you should do is set up your sag. The sag will be based on the air pressure in the suspension. For example, a 160 pound rider on a Fox 32 mm fork will run somewhere around 90 psi.2
After finding the perfect PSI you will adjust the rebound and compression. These adjustments will be based on the type of trails that you are riding. The good news is that these settings are easy to change and most suspension companies will encourage you to play with the settings. Try them out and find what is most comfortable for you.
4. How to Find the Best Gloves and Grips for Your MTB:
Like everything else on the mountain bike, grips and gloves are extremely personal. The most important thing to remember is that there are so many options. Thicker grips allow for better shock absorption while thinner grips can allow for better handling.
Thicker gloves can also help with shock absorption and provide extra protection when crashing. On the other hand, thick gloves can feel hot and restrictive. There is no right or wrong answer to gloves and grips. The only wrong thing is to neglect your bar end plugs. Always use bar end plugs!
5. Handlebar Width and Height
Your handlebar width should reflect your shoulder width. It should be comfortable and reasonably in line with your shoulders. Wider bars also allow for better handling and skinnier bars allow you to navigate through narrow spaces.
Read the article on correctly sizing your MTB Handlebars: How to Make Mountain Bike Handlebars More Comfortable
Handlebar height should place your torso angle at the degrees outlined earlier in this article. Keep in mind that a wider bar will require you to reach further and therefore make the bars feel lower.
6. Selecting the Best Saddle and Padded Shorts for Mountain Biking
Most people are riding on a saddle that is too narrow! The saddle should not be pinching, and it should not be chafing. Your sit bones should sit evenly on the widest part of the saddle. Before picking out your saddle go to a local bike shop and have them measure your sit bones so that you know what width of saddles to look at.
In addition to having a comfortable saddle, you should have comfortable bike shorts. You should be wearing a chamois! Even though you see people out on the trail with baggy shorts, they are wearing padded shorts underneath. Make sure that the shorts and chamois (pad) are sized correctly. If they are too big or too small they can cut into your skin and cause discomfort or even cuts.
Females should seek out a women’s specific saddles and women’s specific padded shorts. While a woman can ride just a well, if not better, than a male, it’s just a fact that the downstairs area is very different so treat it like it is.
7. Finding Comfort with MTB Pedals
If You are Not Clipped In: You will still want to purchase some mountain bike specific shoes. The shoes will have a hard sole and allow you to better balance on your pedal. Furthermore, you should make sure that the pins in your pedals are not worn down. The pins will allow your feet to stick to the pedals better so that you don’t slip off while descending.
If You Are Clipped In: Find a shoe that fits your foot. Since mountain bike pedals are smaller they can cause hot spots. Make sure that your shoes are snug on your feet but also wide enough to be breathable. If you continue to get hot spots, try out a different type of clipless pedal.
Cleat Position: When riding clipless pedals, a good starting point is to position your cleat on the ball of your foot. When you are clipped in you should not have to twist or adjust your ankle. You should be able to push straight down on the pedal and should not feel like you are pushing inward or outward on the pedal.
8. Wear Good Sunglasses While Mountain Biking
Have you ever been riding and felt a bug smack you in the eye, or dust completely cloud your vision? Sunglasses will not only make you more comfortable, but they will also give you a safer ride. When selecting your sunglasses, make sure you pick the correct color and size to fit your face.
Selecting sunglasses is an art. Comfort, protection, polarization and ventilation are all factors. Read my article on How to Select the Best Mountain Bike Sunglasses
9. Do More Gears Make Mountain Biking More Comfortable?
Yes! There is nothing more frustrating than mashing on hard gears and not being able to make it up steep climbs. You want to ride your bike, not take it for a walk!
I highly recommend running a single chain ring up front. Look into a 32 or 34 tooth chain ring for the front of your bike and find a cassette that is somewhere between an 11/46 and an 11/50 tooth in the rear. This gearing ratio should give you small enough gears to make it up most steep and difficult climbs.
Not only will easier gears make your ride more enjoyable, but it could also save your knees.
10. Lower Your Tire Pressure
The tire pressure that you run will depend on your weight, style of riding, terrain, and whether or not you have a tubeless tire set up. If you run your tires tubeless you will be able to run lower tire pressure and you might be more comfortable.
Mountain bike tire pressure has a bunch of variables. Read how to find a great pressure for you and what a poll of thousands of riders said in this article: What Should My Mountain Bike Tire Pressure Be?
Tire pressure is critical. Elite and professional athletes will agonize over tire pressure down to 1 (or less) PSI. Try playing with your tire pressure. If your tire pressure is too high your ride could feel harsh, bumpy, and feel like you are going to slide out on turns.
Comfort Is King:
At the end of the day, your comfort on the bike is the most important thing. Being uncomfortable isn’t just a part of riding. Professional mountain bikers are not uncomfortable on their bikes and you shouldn’t be either. If you are uncomfortable then your overall experience will suffer. Do yourself a favor and only push yourself to go faster and further and stop pushing yourself through the pain.
- Pruitt, Andrew L., and Fred Matheny. Andy Pruitt’s Complete Medical Guide for Cyclists. VeloPress, 2006.
- “FORK- 2019 32mm/34mm: Bike Help Center.” FOX, www.ridefox.com/fox17/help.php?m=bike&id=919.