Bike Fit: What part does Comfort play?

I have long discussed this basic concept with my bike fit clients. The four main levers related to bike fit that I consider are: (Sorted from highest to lowest priority per my general preference, unless otherwise selected by the client.)

  • Comfort
  • Power
  • Handling
  • Aerodynamics

I am linking this podcast below after only a few minutes listening, but I am optimistic it will touch on the issues I frequently discuss with my clients. I will update this post after a full listen, but I hope this will spotlight that a well rounded bike fit will at least consider all of these aspects to start.

I personally place Comfort at the very top because the best power, aero and handling don’t matter much if you can’t use the bike for the intended purpose and duration without undue discomfort. Any discomfort and/or pain we feel from riding these bikes should come from the effort we apply, not the actual position we use from the bike setup.

ETA: the other way to think about it is that Comfort is an integrally linked part to the lower three attributes. Most changes done to any of those three have a potential Comfort related component. So it’s less of a distinct attribute to a degree and a necessary consideration throughout the fit process, no matter the other “performance” goals.

One part of the overall challenge in bike fitting is the constant need to balance these attributes in an effort to meet the needs of each individual in that moment.

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I’ve had a similar discussion with folk on time trials (usually folks complaining about a sore back): whilst there is a bit of adapting to the position in the short term, ultimately if you are not comfortable in it in the longer term you can’t deliver the power :+1:

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It depends? :laughing:

Event length, bike utility, etc.?

On my new road bike, I went much more towards comfort after my Venge skewed more towards aero and I can do a lot more work in the drops in an aero position than I could on my Venge. My TT bike fit is now also skewed toward comfort so I can remain in position for hours.

Obviously if you’re a track guy or have a bike you only race in crits, you might be able to get away with a less comfortable fit to gain aero or other watts…

… but as Ive gotten older and presumably wiser, I have skewed my fits substantially more toward comfort and kind of laugh at my Masters buddies who slam their stems and ride on the hoods all the time.

So much of what people do with their own bikes is because “that’s what the pros do”, it’s beyond ridiculous.

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You made me realize that I kind of go into a fit with the wrong mentality. When he asks me what my priorities are, I tend to say things like “I want to be fast, but not in pain”…because in my mind “comfort” means “upright”, and I don’t want to be sitting up like a sail.

The problem is that then I go home and almost subconsciously tweak things to get more…you guessed it…comfort. I’m that guy who wants to be more aero, but then in the 3rd hour has to constantly stand up to take a break from my position, essentially wasting any aero gains.

About 6 months to a year ago I kind of realized that I’m getting older and I absolutely prefer comfort to speed and would far prefer to stay healthy and on the bike than be faster and in pain. But…I’ve never gone back and said, “look, for my next bike, let’s talk about being able to ride 4 hours without ever noticing saddle, wrist, elbow, back, neck, or knee pain…but still being as fast as I can”. Basically reversing my priorities. I really need to do that.

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  • No doubt that is nearly always an unstated assumption with anything in this space.
  • Yup, and I battle it with many of my fits each year. “Bike Fashion” and such where people come in wanting to get more out of their bike (which often means changes pointed towards “comfort”) that are a odds with what seems ‘PRO’ or race-like.

  • That is one reason I really valued the comments in this podcast, since they directly point to comfort as a key element as well as even getting pros to make changes that go against the historic grain at time for better results.

  • You are NOT alone in that. Many people come in with this performance ideal at the top of their list. With discussion of the how’s and why’s that actually lead them to book a fit, we frequently come to realize that despite that focus, they are dealing with other limitations that are more appropriate to address.

  • Once we do, the ‘performance’ element is often a tandem partner to what seems like a wrong direction in the start… which is what makes fitting part art, part science and part psychological :stuck_out_tongue:

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One thing I’ve been wondering…as my bike fit is probably 5 years old now…is when should a bike fit be adjusted? For context…my fitness has increased perhaps not dramatically, but significantly since my fit, and I’ve had zero comfort issues over the last 5 years, be it racing, training, or long rides…

  • My basic suggestion is for a bike fit anytime something notable changes. Obvious points would be an entirely new bike, but even changes as “simple” as a new saddle can impact the fit and experience on an otherwise unaltered bike.

  • Fitness changes can matter for people since they may change their body composition to a point where a previously functional fit now leads to issues. Changes in mobility, flexibility and such are key as well. These may come from deliberate things like stretching, yoga, strength training and such. Or they may come as new limits from things like injuries or even pure aging.

  • There’s not necessarily a need to do “maintenance” fits if a person is very happy with their setup. So I just recommend it when there is a notable new change or something that used to work stops working as intended.

Thanks. Yea nothing changes with me physically other than more hair falling out every year…weight stays within about 3lbs year round.

Really I’m just considering dropping the front end some, mostly to help with front end traction/cornering/balance for cross season. But give that once upon a time I WAS uncomfortable…I’m a bit leery of ‘fixing’ what aint broke.

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Swapping a spacer or two is quick and easy for test ride or even single race. See how it goes. Keeping it to maybe 10-15mm drop to start is largely safe and may not even be noticeable if you aren’t close to any physical limits. Worth a test if you are considering it.

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Thanks. Yea 10-15mm for sure is not going to break me…I typically ride with my elbows pretty substantially bent anyway…so it’s not like i cant get that low without comfort issues.

Just worried I’ll then like it and have to mess around with getting the steerer cut lol. (I already have have a spacer or two on top of the stem…).

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can’t agree with this more. Big watts can only happen with comfort, esp at hour 4 of a race! And many times we need to do more “little things” if we want to be more aero…stretching, flexibility, etc.

I’ve become more aero AND comfortable from 8-12months of stretching and mobility work. It’s been a huge leap forward for me. Thanks for posting this, a good reminder to keep it up!

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Comfort is a huge component IMO. Not comfort as in you feel like you’re riding on a cloud but comfort as in when you ride you’re not in pain and you don’t really think about the comfort of the bike. It’s just there doing it’s job.

We all know there’s a mental component to cycling. Just like during a hard interval you focus more to be able to hit the hard effort. It’s a lot to handle if you’re having to focus on hitting the target watts AND discomfort on the bike.

I get for something like an hour TT you can push through that but for most people longer rides if you’re dealing with discomfort on the bike fit it’s a challenge.

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