Shoes are another factor in pedaling efficiency. Many everyday riders use running, cross-training, or basic tennis shoes when riding. These shoes are designed to absorb the impact from running and walking in order to improve comfort. But on a bicycle they absorb a lot of the energy before it gets to the pedals, causing your pedaling to be less efficient. On the other hand, cycling shoes have a very stiff sole and are designed to transfer all your energy to the pedals to get you down the road as efficiently as possible.
Some biking shoes are so stiff that they look like they were cast out of iron. Others shoes are designed with the cleat recessed up into the sole and flexible materials that allow you to walk normally — these are popular with touring or mountain bikers, because they allow you to ride and then get off and walk around town or hike up an un-rideable trail. In contrast, road biking cleats are mounted directly to the sole and are hard to walk in. They’re like having high heals on, because the shoes are designed with the toes set higher than the heals.
Be careful walking in road-biking cleats — they’re very slippery on flat surfaces.
Saddle Up! Taking Your Saddle to the Next Level
A top-notch saddle not only can improve the comfort of your ride but increase your pedaling efficiency. There are many options on the market — enough to fit many different body types. Some saddle manufacturers even make a tool to measure your tail-bone position so you can get the most tailored and comfortable fit. However, the only way to be sure that you’ll be comfortable on a saddle is to try it. Some bicycle stores have test seats to try out in the store; others allow you to try a seat on your own bicycle for a limited time to get a feel for it.
Upgrading Your Handlebars
Handlebars come in many different sizes and styles, so there’s no excuse for not finding a set that fits you. A correctly sized handlebar can greatly improve riding comfort. As a general rule, your handlebars should be as wide as your shoulders. This allows for improved breathing while you ride, while giving you greater control of the bike.
With drop bars or racing-style handlebars, you have options as to the shape. Some have a flat spot for your hands in the middle of a curved drop section to give your hands support when riding. Some have a flat platform on the top section of the bars to give your palms more of a surface ledge to rest on.
Also available are triathlon or aero bars, which are attachments added to the handlebars that have hand grips and elbow rests. They allow you to ride in a bent-over position with your arms and elbows tucked in close to your body to reduce wind resistance.
If you have flat or upright handlebars, you can add bar ends to the handlebars to give you another hand position. Bar ends are small 2- to 5-inch extensions that mount to the end of the handlebars and drastically improve your comfort on longer rides, allowing you to change your body position and shift your weight to get more comfortable.
Boosting Your Brake Levers
Like the handlebars and other parts of the bike, brake levers come in different sizes and styles. Some levers are designed for improved comfort with a larger surface area for your hands when you’re riding on the hoods (the part above the brake levers that serve as another place to rest your hands). Most bikes for women have brake levers that are smaller, with a shorter reach for people with smaller hands. Bicycles with flat or upright bars have brake levers that are adjustable for people with smaller hands as well.
The angle of the lever can also make a significant difference in comfort and performance. The levers should be positioned at an angle so that your hands rest in a natural and comfortable position.