Battery tops.

E-bike comfort

I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but here in Canberra E-bikes are really beginning to be a thing. I’m seeing lots of them out in the wild. They are great for the daily commute, keeping up with your faster and fitter mates on a weekend jaunt or pottering around the lake with the kids. As they allow people to spend more time in the saddle, I’m increasingly fielding questions about E-bike comfort.

The (E-)bike

E-bikes come in all shapes and sizes. From road racing style bikes where you’re hard pressed to tell that there is a battery and motor hidden in the frame to monster downhill bikes where the motor does away with the need for a shuttle to the top of the mountain. The most popular type seems to be the ‘commuter’ style – flat bars, fairly upright position, sensible tyres.

This is not an article about which E-bikes to choose – there are plenty of those already. Instead I’m going to focus on E-bike comfort. That is, how to achieve a comfortable position on your E-bike.

Like all bikes, it’s important that you get a frame size that fits you. One thing that I don’t love about E-bikes is that many models (including some of the expensive ones) have a very limited number of sizes available. This makes it even more important that you fit first, buy later to make sure that you will be able to get comfortable on your new bike.

The style of bike can also have a big impact on comfort. The geometry of a bike frame controls where you can be relative to the pedals and handlebars which has a big effect on hands, knees, neck – on everything really.

The saddle

It’s hard to overstate the importance of the saddle to E-bike comfort. The wrong saddle can make an E-bike (any bike really) akin to a medieval torture device. Perhaps more than any other part on a bicycle, the saddle is a very personal choice. What some people swear by, others swear at. That said, there are some general guidelines that can help narrow the field.

If your position on the bike is upright, with most of your weight resting on your posterior and you don’t move around much on the saddle then consider a wider, more padded saddle. The SMP TRK Large is a good option.

An SMP Trk Large saddle viewed from above.
The SMP TRK Large saddle

If you’re all about winning the commuter wars and like to get aero, then a wide and well padded saddle is likely to run you in all the wrong places. Look for something with less padding that supports the ischiopubic rami well. The Prologo Dimension and SMP Well saddles are two examples.

Another consideration is whether you will be wearing knicks (padded bike pants) when you ride. I can’t recommend knicks highly enough for those planning to spend hours at a time on the bike. But if your ride is a half hour commute and you don’t want to get changed at the end of it, not wearing knicks makes a lot of sense.(And you might not be able to stomach the ‘adult in a nappy’ look that knicks sometimes are accused of creating.)

Your saddle needs to reflect your clothing choice. With knicks, the padding for your rear end is attached to you. If the knicks fit right the padding is held tight against your skin and doesn’t move around. This helps eliminates friction problems and keeps the padding in the right place. With the padding in your shorts, the saddle should be fairly firm. Otherwise too much padding can lead to problems – like pressure on soft place you really don’t want squeezed.

If you aren’t going to wear knicks then you would want to consider a saddle with more padding on it or more give in the structure. My husband doesn’t wear knicks when he is commuting and finds he gets on well with a Brooks C17. But he doesn’t like it nearly as much when he has knicks on.

So how do you find the saddle that is right for you? Well that’s a whole article’s worth all on it’s own. But suffice to say that nothing compares to actually sitting on the saddle and seeing how you get on with it. Here at Winning Position we offer a Saddle Trial Service where you can do just that.

Oh and one final thing: many saddle manufacturers have now added a line to “E-bike saddles” to their range. Don’t feel like you need an E-bike specific saddle! What you need is the saddle that is right for you, not right for your bike.

The handlebars

Which handlebars come on your E-bike will depend on the style of bike it is (road, urban, MTB etc.). Handlebar shape, width and position can all have a significant impact on E-bike comfort.

A substantial portion of ‘commuter’ style E-bikes have flat handlebars (straight, like a broom handle). Many find this works just fine but there are some who suffer nerve issues due to the somewhat unnatural twist it puts in the arms. The neutral position for our hands/arms when held out in front of us is for the thumbs to be pointing upwards (think holding a ball). Flat handlebars force us to have the thumbs pointing inwards, potentially causing tension in the nerves in the wrists, arms and shoulders.

Another potential issue with flat handlebars is that the range of hand positions is limited. This can cause issues as the cyclist stays in the same position for extended periods of time.

If you are experiencing issues, there are a few things you can try. First make sure the handle bar is in the right place – not too close or far away, too high or low. Second (if you have flat bars), adding bar ends could be an inexpensive but very effective solution. They provide a second, more natural hand position. The third option is to change the bars to something with more sweep for a closer and again more natural position. I’ve had quite some success with the Jones H-Bar Bend bars.

Jones H-bar Bend voewed from above.
The Jones H-Bar Bend handlebar

The pedals

Whilst there is nothing precluding the use of clipless pedals on an E-bike, flat pedals are very common. The advantage is that you can wear your normal street shoes whilst riding. This means you can just jump off the bike and go about your business without having to change shoes.

Flat pedals do have some issues when it comes to E-bike comfort though. For one, because your foot isn’t locked into the same place every time you put a foot on the pedal, you need to be conscious of where you place your foot. Too far forward or back can cause foot or leg discomfort – and even saddle pain.

Another thing to consider is the shoe itself. Bike shoes have a sole that ranges from stiffer than average to ‘the Hulk couldn’t bend this thing’. When clipped into the pedal, the shoe acts as an extension to the pedal body, giving a large, firm platform for the foot to push against. The soles on street shoes tend to be softer, making walking more comfortable. What makes walking better can make pedaling worse, as the pedal can push into the foot and the foot can bend around the pedal. Numbness, pain and even injury can result from a poor pedal and shoe combination. Look for shoes with a stiff sole – and if problems persist, consider cycling specific shoes.

The pedals themselves are worth a thought too. Not all pedals are created equal with a large variance in size and contact area across different pedals. Grip is also a consideration, especially if you ride in the rain. Look for a decent amount of contact surface area to spread the load across the foot. Size is a Goldie Locks thing – not too big nor too small for your foot/shoe.

Putting it all together

Hopefully you can use this information to start your journey towards E-bike comfort. It can be a lot of trial and error to get everything sorted. You can fast track the process by getting a bike fit with us here at Winning Position. During the process we can explore position, saddles, handlebars and pedals and address any comfort issues you might have. Get in contact and we can discuss your particular needs.