Skip to Content

Why Are Road Bikes So Uncomfortable? What Can You Do About It?

A road bike race with a man hunched over his handlebars, riding fast.

Getting on and riding a road bike for the first time or a few times after that can be tantamount to torture in your legs, back, shoulders, arms, wrists, and tenderest parts. But why are road bikes so uncomfortable, and what can you do about it?

Road bikes are uncomfortable mostly because you have not been set up properly on the bike. This means that you may be:

  • too far from the handlebars
  • too high
  • too low
  • too far forward or backward on the saddle
  • too close or too far from the pedals

Many first-time road bike riders aren’t aware of the need to get set up properly before taking the bike out. Plus they may have chosen the wrong size frame or bought shoes that aren’t correctly sized or aligned to their riding position – so let’s get in the saddle and find out how you can make your road bike more comfortable.

Pick The Right Size Frame To Be Comfortable On A Road Bike

Before the advent of modern technology, you bought a bike you liked and got on it in the store or took a quick ride around the block to see if it felt okay. While it may have seemed fine at the time, you suddenly felt pain in your body after a few rides and didn’t know why.

As cycling became more technologically advanced in design and understanding how different bodies fit and move on bicycle frames, cycling mechanics or technicians began to look at providing the optimum comfort for both professional and amateur riders.

Using lasers and specially designed setup tools, good bike shops will have a setup room, where all the essential aspects of the rider and the bike will be measured and matched to provide maximum efficiency and comfort for the road bike rider.

The first step in having a comfortable road bike is choosing the right frame for your body size. The taller you are, the larger frame you will need as the frame geometry allows you to be on the bike without having your arms too close or too far from the handlebars and legs too cramped or too stretched from the pedals.

NOTE: Finding the correct frame size is critical, and many online and in-store options are available to ensure you get the frame best suited to your own geometry.

Choose The Right Saddle For Your Road Bike To Avoid Discomfort On A Road Bike

The next step is to find the right saddle. Humans are a strange bunch as we think by default that the softer the saddle, the more comfortable the ride will be. But with road bikes, the converse is usually true.

A soft saddle may be an option if you aren’t going to ride long distances of more than a few miles, but anything longer than that will require a harder saddle for support and comfort.

TIP: While saddles are mostly a question of personal choice, you can certainly get properly fitted for one at most good bike shops.

This process involves measuring the seat bones, or the distance between them so that the saddle you buy will be matched in width to your seat bones, and this works for men and women.

More importantly, the correct saddle will prevent major ‘nether region’ sores and discomfort, which can be agonizingly and debilitatingly painful! Most bicycle stores will allow you to ‘test drive’ a saddle for a few rides; if you find it isn’t comfortable, you can return it and try another one.

Do not skip this step and settle for any saddle; spend the money on a good one; your body will be eternally grateful!

Saddle Height Is Critical To Comfort And Pedalling Efficiency On A Road Bike

Once you have a saddle that works for you and is positioned at the right distance from the handlebars and the correct angle, it’s time to set the saddle height. Too often, road bike riders are too far away or too close to the pedals, affecting their pedaling efficiency.

Having your road bike saddle at the correct height for your body is essential, and even having it an inch or two too low or high will cause you to lose power on your up and downstrokes, making you work too hard to propel the bike. Plus, while riding you can experience discomfort in your:

  • knee
  • hip
  • foot

The height of your saddle will directly affect the ability of your hips and legs to push power through your shoes and into the crank, so make sure the saddle height and the stroke length are correct. Not only will this make your cycling more energy efficient, but also a lot more comfortable.

A woman on a road bike riding next to a path with green trees, side view showing proper arm reach.
The correct arm reach is critical for comfort

Adjust Your Handlebar Reach For Comfort On A Road Bike

The next step in getting comfortable on a road bike is to adjust your reach on the handlebars. Cycling technicians will measure your arm reach when in the riding position and set the handlebars to a position where your arms are not straight out but slightly bent for maximum comfort.

Like the saddle, this is a critical aspect of road bike comfort. If you are too far from the bars, you may:

  • struggle to control the bike
  • not be able to reach brakes and gears
  • have back and shoulder pain
  • have neck pain from overreaching

Conversely, being too close will cause your body to be cramped and uncomfortable when riding, much like being crunched in the front seat of a very small car with your knees under your chin!

If the road bike handlebars are too low or too high, you will find yourself angled down or up too far, creating an uncomfortable riding position. Change the handlebar stem to raise or lower the handlebars to reach a more comfortable position.

TIP: The correct reach on your handlebars makes your road bike more comfortable and reduces the stress on your back muscles and spine when riding.

If you are going to be doing long rides, you don’t want to have back issues. Often when the handlebar distance is fractionally short or long, riders will experience lower and middle back pain and shoulder issues – which are not pleasant at all.

Choose Proper Riding Gear To Make Your Road Bike Comfortable

Now that your road bike is correctly set up for your body geometry, you need to invest in good shoes and riding shorts. The pudendal nerve affects both sexes, and to avoid a numb feeling that will affect any intimate activities, INVEST in good riding gear.

If you buy cheap riding shorts, within the first few miles of your first ride and most definitely afterward, you will be well motivated to invest in better gear. Or do it the first time and save yourself a lot of suffering.

Riding shorts that provide high-quality chamois will support your body on the saddle and prevent discomfort to your genital area during the ride. They are worth every cent; the same goes for investing in good-quality riding shoes.

To Make Your Road Bike Comfortable, Buy Proper Riding Shoes

Riding shoes come in various materials and widths, and when it comes to riding, you need to be certain that the shoes you buy are well-suited to your feet.

TIP: Do not buy your first pair of shoes online unless you know exactly what size riding shoe you would take or have tried them on in a store.

The shoes need to fit the length of your feet and stretch to accommodate width due to the swelling of your feet as you ride. Road bike shoes and the cleats you use need to be tuned and aligned with your pedal stroke, which is also done in the setup process.

Having them even a few degrees off can mean the difference between getting off the bike and having to soak your aching feet for a few hours or being able to ride the next day again pain-free. Positioning the cleats in sync with your leg geometry can make a difference in:

  • power
  • efficiency
  • comfort
 A woman on a road bike in the country with good posture and technique.
Proper technique will reduce discomfort while riding

For A Comfortable Road Bike Ride, Use Proper Technique

Lastly, once you have your bike set up to match your bike frame and body, take the time to learn and practice good riding techniques to maximize your efficiency when in the saddle.

There are tons of excellent tutorials available, and with a little practice, any discomfort experienced will fade as your technique catches up with your setup.


If your road bike is uncomfortable, chances are that you are not set up correctly on your bike, and you need to get that done as soon as possible. The difference in the riding experience when your road bike is comfortable to when it’s not is indescribable and could mean a lifetime of great cycling and quitting the sport for table tennis!

If you are going to ride a road bike, make the investment and take the time to choose the right frame, and then do the setup at the store you buy the bike from.

If you purchase a bike second-hand, take it to your local bike store and have them help you get set up. Either way, you will save your body and your butt a great deal of unnecessary pain and suffering!

You might also be interested in:

Share me if you found me helpful!