By: Kelly Bastone
Want to feel better on your bike? Try these five comfort-boosting pieces of gear.
Heading out for a lunch-hour bike ride, I bring virtually nothing beyond a full water bottle and a first aid kit. That’s because short rides simply don’t require as much planning or endurance: I can tolerate almost anything for one mere hour, be it hot weather, a sore behind, uncomfortable sunglasses, or even a flat tire (when I’m biking short distances, I’ve sometimes walked my bike back to the trailhead rather than attempt on-trail repairs). But multi-day rides beg a different approach.
For starters, longer rides repeated over multiple days make it harder for our bodies to refresh tired muscles. So if we feel beat after Day One, we might feel downright wasted by day four. There are ways to counteract that cumulative fatigue, so keep reading!
Niggling discomforts can be harder to ignore on multi-day adventures. I learned that firsthand with a bike helmet that felt a little pinchy on short rides, but gave me awful headaches when I took it on my first White Rim trip.
So before you embark on remote wilderness bike trips where switching out gear isn’t practical, scrutinize your daily garb to make sure it’s 100 percent comfortable during shakedown rides. Your helmet and sunglasses should interact without pressure on your ears, temples, or nose. Shoes shouldn’t pinch. Make sure your pack straps don’t chafe your neck (if they do, try wearing a collared shirt that provides relief).
But also, consider adding the following items to your gear kit. They just might make the difference between a difficult ride and a delightful one.
Skratch Labs Hydration Sport Drink Mix
Many riders pull off shorter, half-day rides without spiking their water with electrolytes or sugars. But if you’re pedaling all day or stacking up multiple daylong rides, including some electrolyte drink into your hydration strategy makes a world of difference in how perky you feel hour to hour and day to day. For me, that’s true in all climates but especially in the desert, where the dry heat often draws out perspiration that I’m not even aware of: My sweat dries so fast that I don’t notice it dampening my skin or clothing.
I prefer Skratch Labs’ hydration formula because it’s made from real-food flavorings rather than chemical additives. It tastes delicious and never leaves me with an unpleasant aftertaste. I put Skratch Labs powder in my bike bottle and plain water in my hydration bladder (because it’s a pain to clean those tubes and valves once sugar water flows through them). Everyone’s hydration and electrolyte needs are different, but for me, I run best on one bottle of electrolytes per half-day: On a full-day ride, I generally down two bottles.
A firm saddle that fits
It seems counterintuitive, but plump, super-cushioned saddles are particularly punishing to your behind. That’s because a fat layer of padding doesn’t actually cradle your sit bones so they can support your body weight. Instead, the pressure gets diffused across your fleshy parts—which get sore.
Far better to choose a firm saddle that gives you a solid platform from which to pedal.
Ideally, you’d match the saddle’s width to your sit-bones, a measurement that varies from person to person (that’s true for men as well as women). Many bike shops can help consumers discover their sit-bone width and guide them to compatible saddle models.
I’ve been riding comfortably on the Specialized S-Works Power with MIMIC, a saddle that was developed through extensive studies on how to minimize pressure on women’s soft tissues. In fact, I’m impressed with Specialized’s scientific approach to all the saddles the company designs: Specialized’s researchers have measured how various saddles affect penile blood flow and conducted pressure-mapping analyses of their various products to make them as unabusive as possible. It’s geeky stuff, but it seems to pay off in comfort.
Vibration-dampening handlebar grips
Switching out the grips on your bike probably isn’t the first upgrade you think of, but for people who experience numbness or tingling in their hands while riding, a pair of supportive grips can be a godsend.
I ride with the Pivot Phoenix Factory Lock-On Grips, which feature a triangular-shaped piece of squishy, shock-absorbing material that buffers vibrations beneath my outer palm. It has virtually cured my hand numbness, but it’s not the only effective option out there. In the past, I’ve also had good results with ergonomic grips that get wider toward the bar end to support the outer palm. Specialized Neutralizer Grips and Ergon’s GA3 Lock-On Grips are two tested and trusted options.
A lightweight collared shirt
I know, most people ride bikes in short-sleeved tee shirts, and I generally do, too. But canyon country sunshine is shockingly intense and calls for annoyingly frequent sunscreen reapplication—particularly over multiple days of riding. On such trips, I wear long-sleeved collared button-down shirts, like Stio’s Eddy Shirt. It’s made of breezy, quick-dry synthetic fabric with a 50+ UPF rating that protects my skin without slimy lotions (I save those for my face). But any collared shirt will do: My husband wears a lightweight poplin button-down purchased from a resale store.
Lip balm with SPF
Just one day of desert riding can sunburn your lips so badly that you won’t want to sip a beer or munch on nachos—and that’s a shame. Pop some UV-thwarting lip ointment into your pack so you can relish the yummy feasts that Holiday’s guides cook every day.
As a full-time freelance writer, Kelly Bastone contributes to publications such as Outside, The Red Bulletin, and AFAR. She lives in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, but every spring and fall she totes her mountain bike to the Colorado Plateau. Follow her on Instagram at @bastonek, and read her latest work at kellybastone.com.