comfortable bike John Eisenschenk

What is a comfortable bike, my personal view

At some point, for some time, you become obsessed with weight…you, and your bike’s weight. A long while ago, I decided to build a bike for everyday use, very lightweight, without breaking the bank.

The frame I chose was a very low end, 1″ headtube “MTB” frame. We bought 2 bikes almost 10 years ago, while walking nearby a bike shop with my wife. Thought it was fun, there was not much money in our pockets, so we bought the cheapest ones. They were identical; mine is gray, wife has the white. The highest end part of these bikes were Shimano 3×7 grip shifters, along with Shimano Tourney rear derailleurs, and that’s all. The front “suspension” fork is 2.8 kg; and surprisingly, crankset weights almost 1.5kg’s without bottom brackets!

It was a good candidate, because I know even just replacing 2 parts can shave off at least 2 kg’s almost immediately. I take apart all the parts, cleaned and weighted the frame: to my surprise, it was barely 2 kilos; including headset cups, minus derailleur hanger, because it doesn’t have one – these cheap bikes comes with Tourney’s that has integral derailleur hangers.

To cut long story short, here’s my update list:

  • Straight steel fork, which was just under a kilo.
  • Deore 610 V-brakes, front and rear
  • Tektro brake levers, surprisingly much lighter then Deore’s and have a very nice feel.
  • Carbon bar and sponge grips
  • Deore XT 760 crank with Deckas 38T chainring.
  • No front derailleur or shifter, 1x!
  • Altus M2000 rear shifter, 9 speed
  • Shimano Deore XT 771 rear derailleur
  • Alivio 9 speed cassette, 11-28
  • Alexrims DC19 rims, SLX 665 front hub – Deore XT 775 rear hub, some nice Chinese spokes, guess 1.8mm.
  • Carbon fiber AliExpress saddle – knock off of an non-existent Fizik saddle 🙂 Weighing just 98 grams. (I am very,very impressed with that saddle)
  • Aliexpress aluminium seatpost, short, 27.2mm, about 180 grams.

Resultant bike was under 9 kg, if I remember correctly, 8.6 kg. That was over 2500$ road bike class in my country!

Frankly, I still miss that setup. It became my daily bike which I tour around the city, or maybe some parks, or nearby forest for 2-3 hours a day. At the time, I was at a relatively flat city, so 1×9 setup was serving quite well.

However, it started to annoy me after some time, because it was rough: no suspension, 26×1.5 tires pumped to the max, and the saddle was unforgiving. For lightness, I sacrificed rack, stand, lock, whatever you named it. It was like a Ferrari F40 for daily commute.

Then I started changing things and adding things, thus the bike became obsolete as its not that lightweight anymore.

Comfort is important, especially if you have a single bike, or a single bike that you heavily prefer to the other.

Comfort is very subjective: for me, a comfortable bike is a bike that fits your riding style. It’s mostly something between a hybrid / touring bike: a rack, 700c wheels with 32-35 or maybe 38mm slick tires, trouble free groupset, in my case Shimano XTR, and a carbon bar, because I’m a carpal tunnel syndrome candidate, as it seems. I love tubeless tires, but do not trust them. I also love putting together bikes, but hate lubing my chain when my main focus is riding my bike. Years ago, reliability was the last item in my list. Nowadays, it’s above everything. Even comfort; because for me, comfort is mainly a clear state of mind. I’m not a racer, I do not deliver mails, or do not commute to work. I ride a bike to enjoy it, and hate anything that spoils it. I had serious anxiety and depression problems for too long, and biking is a kind of meditation for me. It comforts my soul. I don’t care much about pain to the point where suffering is unbearable anymore.

When you’ re racing on a road bike, comfort is efficiency. You do not look for tires absorbing bumps, or a nice, soft saddle. You want to put all your energy to go faster.

Let me tell you something saddle comfort: its a secret we all kept from non-riders, all new riders: there is no such things as saddle comfort. Only, there are some saddles easing it, or precautions against it: like wearing the best padded things you can get your hands on, finding the best fit, and try not to go very, very tired. Yes, if you’ re tired, saddle hurts, because you sit like a stone on a saddle.

That’s the secret about Brooks saddles. Brooks is an expensive saddle, and they tell you to ride at least few hundred kilometers so the saddle will fit you. Some say a thousand!  Well, if you can ride a few hundred kilometers, you already get used to cycling, and after paying so much money to a saddle, you have to justify it! This is very basic psychology: when people pay really much to a product, they never blame the product if something goes wrong – they think “I must be an idiot, otherwise people wouldn’t take that expensive product”. Well, bottom line is, everybody is thinking the same without admitting to each other. I’m not saying Brooks saddles are bad. I think they’ re very nice – but doesn’t fit me much. I’m just saying it is not a magic bullet that solves cyclings longest enduring problem.

Long story short, do not expect your first bike will be your dream bike. Setting up a comfortable bike will take time; even after that, you’ll need to modify it to your changing needs: my 1×9 setup was serving me well few years ago, but now I’m living in a different city – it is not just gearing that wouldn’t fit me, but also I travel long distances on mixed terrain. I need a rack, because I carry a lot of stuff.

So, what is comfortable, what is not ?

A bike is not a comfortable thing, but there are ways to make it more comfortable.

After a long story, here are some random points:

  • Try to hit a perfect spot between friction and comfort: that means, get the narrowest tire that feels comfortable. Depending on bike type and ride style, this can be trick: Some road bikes can accept only 700×25, which is not comfortable, yet some newer ones can accomodate 700×32. 700×32 on a road bike is exceptionally comfortable. Don’t expect some Rolls Royce comfort: it’s like a Porsche 911 compared to a Formula 1 car: it’s day and night, but still not Rolls Royce. I have some Clement’s, 700×32, on my hybrid bike and comfort levels are acceptable even in very bad country roads – yet in the woods, it is bone cracking. If you ride MTB, anything under 2.00″ is fine. Tubeless? Better then Rolls. You’ re riding a Citroen with a hydractiv suspension!
  • Get some good grips. They won’t make a huge difference, but some are really bad.
  • Get good carbon fiber handlebars if you can. They remove buzz. A worthwhile investment, without breaking the bank.
  • Forget about saddle comfort. Rather then investing on a saddle, invest on good clothing. For example, get a gel padded short instead of a sponge one. Sponge is not that bad, but it is only good for rides under an hour, maybe a bit more. Also, they are short-lived items; deform more then gel pads in time.
  • Try to improve your fitness and do not force yourself beyond your limits. When you get tired, you tend to sit like a stone on your saddle, which causes pronounced pain.
  • Get some good tools with you, and must-have items like a spare inner tube. You’ ll get flats; but when you do, be prepared. As if there is a divine plan to upset bikers, tires generally burst when you just start to pedal, or when you’re exceptionally tired. So, if you can tackle this fast and efficiently, you can still conserve some energy to enjoy your ride.

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