Contact Points: Fulfilling Function and Fashion

It’s been said that our bikes are our babies, but a more accurate comparison would place bikes as a prized tool. Ideally, our children would be free to figure out their likes and predilections on their own, without having us constantly refining them into what we think is perfect. In the case of our bikes though, that’s exactly what we do, what we should do, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Not surprisingly, the most personal parts of our bikes are where we lay our hands, feet, or butt, with every rider having their own preferences arrived at after miles and miles of experimentation. The conglomerate of grips, saddle, and pedals, along with the interface between human and machine (gloves, chamois, shoes)—referred to as “contact points”—can be a revolving-door experiment or a fixed-in-stone list of parts.

Contact points, including tires, are responsible for a large amount of your comfort on the bike, and thus greatly influence your riding experience. Riding’s no fun if your feet hurt, your wrists are tweaked, and your soft spots aren’t feeling so hot. Using the correct grips, saddle, and shoes for your anatomy and preferences will help keep you comfortable, relaxed, and alert, ready to effectively engage whatever challenge the trail presents. Beyond the obvious importance of fit and comfort, contact points offer a chance to add some style to your ride, and, as anyone with a kid knows, keeping our babies looking good is as important as keeping them feeling good.

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ODI’s Aaron Gwinn lock-on grips

Grips- Thin, thick, firm, cushy, low-pro, blocky, round, ergo, push-on, and lock-on are all decisions that must be made when selecting which hand perches to put on your bars. Grip diameter often comes down to rider hand size: larger hands usually fit better on larger diameter grips, while smaller hands get more purchase on grips with less volume. Correctly-sized grips leave a slight gap between fingertips and palm when your hand is curled around the grip.

Cushy grips absorb more trail chatter and can reduce fatigue if, and it’s a big one, you are able to resist the urge to grasp cushy grips harder, which leads to hand fatigue and arm pump, Firm grips provide more feedback than softer grips, but also absorb less vibration.

Ergonomic grips provide extra support, possibly reducing hand fatigue and enhancing control. Since the subtle differences of ergo grips can greatly affect your experience, be prepared to try several pairs before finding one that works for you.

Lock-on grips enable effortless installation and removal, but weigh more and cost more than push-on grips.

Weight and cost savings, along with a different feel are standout features of push-on grips. Push-ons usually require some sort of adhesive to affix them to the bars.

For the ultimate in XC weight-weeniedom, wrap drop bar tape around your handlebars in place of grips.

In order to get the most out of your grips, they should match your other contact points, including handlebar accents and frame graphics.  Correct contact-point coordination makes everything from a murdered-out, matte black bike to a powder coated neon yellow frame with matching rims look better.

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The Spike flat pedal by Spank Industries

Pedals- Flats or clipless? XC, DH or trail? Now, when it comes to performance benefits of flats vs. clipless, you’ll find arguments on both sides of the platform. In my opinion, clipless pedals are easier to ride. Since your feet are permanently attached, there’s never any worry about positioning adjustments, and if you get sloppy in your descending technique—weight centered, heels dropped—there’s no penalty; your feet are not slipping off! Clipless pedals eliminate the need to burn calories maintaining proper foot position and pedaling technique, allowing you to power through rock gardens, both climbing and descending. On an actual trail with irregularities in terrain and especially technical sections, there’s no doubt that clipless pedals are more efficient, but the freedom and opportunity to experiment afforded by flats make them the better choice for many cyclists. For style, though, its flats all the way, baby.

On that same note, if color coordination is your main concern, flats are the way to go. Many models of flat pedals come in an array of hues to match up with your grips and/or frame graphics. Even if you are a dedicated clipless rider, you still have an avenue for self-expression in Crank Brothers pedals. Eggbeaters, Candys, and Mallets all come in versions with various plumage displays, one of which will fit into your bike’s colors.

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Chromag’s Moon saddle in red trim.

Saddles- Making sure your undercarriage is supported correctly will do wonders for your comfort and peace of mind. There are almost as many variations in saddle shape as with grips. There are flat, hammock, and ramped fore/aft profiles, along with round, semi-round, and flat side-to-side profiles, and every combination of the above. Don’t forget about padding; firm, soft, thin, thick, and even multiple density foam will change the way your nether regions feel on a long ride. Not too long ago, finding the correct saddle was an often painful and always protracted process of trial-and-error.

These days however, it’s easy to find the correctly sized saddle. You can even do it in the comfort and security of your own home with our method shown here. Once your saddle is installed, follow our tips here to make sure it’s in the optimal position. Generally, observing a saddle’s shape will help you choose a candidate for your bike. Flat fore-aft profiles find favor with riders who like to change position a lot, and are often well-suited for shorter, more intense rides. Curvier fore-aft profiles are usually preferred by cyclists who like to find a sweet spot on the saddle and stay there as much as possible. Dropped noses make it easier to slide off or back on the front during steep, technical climbs where standing or crouching can help get you up the hill. Put all the variables together and then look for a saddle that matches your color scheme!

As important as fit though, is appearance, and coordinating your saddle, pedals, and grips will keep you on the leading edge of style. Because if your bike’s not looking good, it’s not feeling good.