There’s a pill or a product to soften the sharp edges of just about every aspect of life, so naturally people assume that it is their birthright to be pain-free. The cycling industry has been more than happy to validate this assumption and offers an array of products and services for the rider who wants to buy his way to bliss.
But I’m here to tell you that cycling hurts. Sure, you can and should mitigate the discomfort, but riding a bicycle just isn’t driving a Cadillac. Here are some areas where I think we’re just going too far:
Professional Bike Fitting
But come on, you don’t always have to take the day off work and spend it riding a fit cycle while a shop employee aims a laser pointer at you. Not everybody needs to play Johan and Levi in the wind tunnel. A decent shop will get you well in the ballpark in fairly short order, and you’ll learn a lot more spending a leisurely Saturday morning riding around the local loop with an allen key, having an open and earnest dialogue with your soft-and-delicates.
There’s a similar rationale for ordering a custom frame. In addition to “It’s the last bike I’ll ever buy,” there’s also “It fits me perfectly—nothing beats a custom frame,” and “I need custom geometry to be completely comfortable.”
Hey, who doesn’t want a custom frame? But at least be honest. Unless you have the physique of something that should be behind glass at the Museum of Natural History, you can probably obtain a perfect fit pretty easily with a stock bike. So when you roll up on that new Seven, at least be honest and say, “I want to look and feel special and be envied by my fellow riders.” Not, “Yeah, I just couldn’t get comfortable without a 56.67892 centimeter top tube.”
If you’ve ever spent any time in a bike shop, you’ve probably seen a lot of people come in and complain about saddle discomfort—especially after all that publicity about cycling and impotence a few years back, which convinced the public that so much as looking at a bicycle saddle was tantamount to castration.
Yes, you should not be experiencing severe pain or numbness. But instead of running right out and buying a $200 saddle with all kinds of exotic materials, cutouts, nylon bushings, and vents to cool your crotch (my personal favorite)--or, even worse, going the other direction and bolting a toilet seat to your post--take the time to experiment with saddle position.
And more importantly, understand that a saddle is not a desk chair. Your hands and feet should also be supporting some of your weight. And—I cannot stress this enough—move occasionally! Stand up once in awhile! It’s a bike, not a car! You don’t just plop your ass down on it and sit there in perfect comfort. If it helps, don’t think of it as a saddle—think of it as more of a butt rest. Kind of like a lectern—something to lean on, but not meant for reclining.
And yes, believe it or not, back when there were only a few models of saddles to choose from cyclists were actually able to procreate. Somehow the pros still manage to have children, and I’ve never seen one using one of those horrendous porta-potty things.
But—and this is hard for a lot of people to believe—it is still actually possible to ride a rigid bicycle on an unpaved surface. In fact, there are a lot of places where it’s actually preferable. If you’ve ever watched somebody on silky-smooth, flowing singletrack bobbing up and down on a long-travel bicycle like a kid on one of those horse-on-a-spring things they have in front of the supermarket, you know what I mean. I’m talking about the type of rider that spins up a tiny incline in the granny gear and then falls over onto his camelbak like an overworked mule.
I’m not saying suspension doesn’t have its place. I’m just saying think about where you’re going to be doing most of your riding. If the biggest drop you’re going to encounter on your ride is the one from the running board of your SUV, you may not need the long-travel double-boinger.
Suspension on Road BikesNever. Never, never, never. Have we learned nothing?
I mentioned the $20 Bontrager bar plugs in a previous post. A similar product is Specialized’s Zertz. Do they work? I don’t know, maybe they do. Or maybe it’s the fact that the bike has a longer wheelbase and more relaxed geometry.
Before you get taken in by miracle polymers, consider that some bikes actually have comfort inherent in their design. Learn a little bit about geometry. Also learn about tires. Lowing your pressure or going up in width is often all you need.
If those don’t work, though, I can think of a place to stick those Bontrager plugs that will really smooth out that ride. Hint—it’s the same place they pulled the design out from in the first place.
Not only do people think they should be able to buy a pain-free ride—they also think they should be able to ride a bike completely ill-suited to their physique or riding style because they like the way it looks.
Take the middle-aged guy I saw in the park the other day riding a Fuji Track Pro in sneakers with one of those heads-up stem adapter things. Uh, perhaps the aluminum purpose-built race bike with the really low head-tube is not for you. Yes, road and track bikes are cool, but they’re not for everyone. Three words: http://www.rivbike.com/. The same goes for every guy riding a Madone with a vertical stem and about 500 spacers under it.
I mean, if I want a family car, I can’t buy a Porsche, right? Oh, yeah, I guess I can. Oh, well, I guess nobody should ever have to compromise.