When you go for a ride you’re only actually in contact with the bike at three points – your hands, your seat, and your feet: these are the three areas where most people, especially those new to riding, will experience discomfort.
Getting your seat position right is a matter of a good bike fit and testing saddles until you get lucky. For your feet, it’s about finding the right shoes, insoles, pedals, cleat position, and even socks. The hands are where you’re likely to feel it keenly – they’re one of the most sensitive parts of your body, they might blister, go numb, or ache. You can experiment with gloves, stem and handlebar position, and grips.
Getting your grips right is one of the cheapest, simplest ways you can increase your comfort on the bike. While on the roadie it’s a choice of bar tape or bar tape, on the mountain bike there’s a startling array of shapes, materials, and sizes – from contoured ergonomic forms that fit your palm, to heavy lock-on rubber – to choose from.
After 14 years riding I’ve tried just about all of them – I’ve also been through the complex processes, over and over again, of getting the other contact points comfy – and I’m still startled at how simple and easy it is to get grips right. Here it is: just buy some simple, lightweight, cheap foam ones and use your time and money working out the more complicated stuff.
Recently I’ve been testing FRM foam grips. They cost around $25-30 a pair, they’re easy to get on and off, they’re super lightweight, they’re not slippery, and they’re deliciously springy and yielding in the hand. Some shops even sell them with a bonus 500mL bidon – a real bonus if you race a lot. I’ve recently raced them through incredibly rough marathons that took quite a toll on my body, and while I’m not about to lose the callouses on my palms anytime soon, they performed perfectly.
I find that women especially tend to have trouble with their hands, usually experiencing pressure on the palm and wrist. For women these days there are narrower handlebar and grip combinations available on the market to suit smaller hands, but I’d suggest giving some basic foam grips a try before you invest in women’s-specific handlebars – you never know, you might save yourself a lot of cash and bother.