“It just feels like I’m riding a whole different bike,” my friend Caitlin said as we finished up a day of mountain biking.
We regularly bike together on a nine-mile, multi-use trail in Marin County, California. The difference today: Caitlin had traded out the seat that had come with her men’s hardtail mountain bike for a more cushy women’s seat.
“I thought sitting on the seat was just supposed to hurt by the end of the ride,” she said. “Now, I can think about doing another loop.”
Unfortunately, Caitlin’s experience is a common one. When women buy a men’s mountain bike, or even sometimes a women’s bike, if it doesn’t fit just right it can negatively impact your experience. The good news is that there are a handful of improvements that can make a world of difference for your performance and comfort.
If you have a bike that’s just not quite working for you, below are a few things to adjust your mountain bike:
In general, you will need to make a choice between weight and comfort. Saddles with more padding will be more comfortable, whereas saddles that are narrower and less built-out will be lighter (read: faster) and allow for the most efficient pedaling. Apart from making sure you have a style of saddle that fits your primary riding activity (racing vs. endurance, for example), if you’re a female rider you will almost certainly benefit from a women-specific saddle. These saddles tend to be wider in the back than men’s because women’s sit bones are farther apart, and may have a cutaway in the middle designed to accommodate women’s anatomical differences.
Shop bike saddles at REI.com.
Women tend to have narrower shoulders than men. You want wide handlebars for mountain biking for control and balance, but it is possible to have too much of a good thing, especially if you’re a woman riding a man’s bike. To tell if your handlebars are the right size, place your hands on the bar in a comfortable position for shifting and braking. The inside edge of your hand (by your thumb and index finger) should line up with the outer edge of your armpit crease. Have a friend help with this, or try it in front of the mirror. If your bars are too wide, consider swapping them out for something smaller.
Make sure your front shock is set accurately to your weight. Go to your local bike shop for help, or use a suspension pump and pressure gauge to do it on your own at home. Once your shock is set correctly, it will give the right amount when you hit bumps, go over jumps and otherwise kill it on the trail.