Bike tweaks
September 14, 2011 8:22 AM   Subscribe

Cyclists, help a noob with some tweaks to a newly gifted bike.

Guys, I was just gifted a Trek Soho S. All in all, I really enjoy it but want to make some tweaks along the following lines:

1) I'm not really accustomed to skinny road tires, and I plan to use the bike for short, easy-paced, urban commutes but also as an all-purpose bike with some poorly or non-paved terrain time. Can you recommend a set of tires that are a somewhat wider, treadier and will also give me a more cushioned ride, but don't go so far as mountain bike-style tires? The bike comes with 700x28c's.

2) Along those lines I'm thinking of changing out the saddle and grips in favor of more comfort and cushion as well.

I haven't biked in years, so take it easy on me. If what I'm thinking is a bad idea, feel free to berate me as well.
posted by drpynchon to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Something from the Shwalbe marathon range is probably a good tyre for what you want:
posted by fatfrank at 8:28 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Adding more cushion to the saddle is not necessarily the way to go to increase comfort. Extra squishy padding just ends up squishing and pressing against your delicate bits, and a hard saddle won't do this and will only contact you on your sit bones (the bones in your butt you would sit on when sitting on a curb) if adjusted properly. Did this bike come from a bike shop? The place it was purchased from should be happy to fit you and help you adjust the saddle.
posted by slow graffiti at 8:34 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Actually I think the saddle is a pretty good fit, sits right on the bones without squishing anything delicate. I'd say the saddle issue is the least pressing of all. The bike came from a friend and was used lightly for about a year. I'm not sure which shop it was purchased from, but I have Trek dealers nearby.
posted by drpynchon at 8:38 AM on September 14, 2011

Yeah I came to say what 'slow graffiti' just did about saddles. I was going to suggest that you try it out before you swap it. But now I'm going to take that even further:

If you haven't ridden the bike yet, ride it for a month or two before you make any changes. I love tweaking and upgrading too, but you don't know yet where your major issues will be. See how the tires perform, see how the seat feels, you might be surprised. If you're still unhappy, you can always upgrade stuff later.

Hope you enjoy the bike though. I'm going to link you to Sheldon Brown's site, it's the best bike information out there.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:40 AM on September 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

Oh! Also, if you're not getting enough padding, rather than swap the grips you can try tossing on an extra layer or two of handlebar tape.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:41 AM on September 14, 2011

So one note, you're going to be limited on how wide the tires can actually go based on the rim size. May want to take a look at Sheldon's bit on Tire Width (Scroll down) (when in doubt take it to your local bike shop for help)

The Schawalbe Marathon's are what I have and they're beasts. Great city riders. Grips are always a personal preference thing. I've always found riding gloves are a better solution to comfort issues then grips.
posted by bitdamaged at 8:46 AM on September 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

As a roadie, I think the 28cc tires are plenty wide for urban/light trail use. I use my 23cc tires on gravel stretches (cautiously of course). Tires are going to be a comprimise, a treadier tire will be better on trails, but will be harder to pedal on pavement. I second the suggestion of gloves.
posted by fzx101 at 8:53 AM on September 14, 2011

Can you recommend a set of tires that are a somewhat wider, treadier and will also give me a more cushioned ride, but don't go so far as mountain bike-style tires?

"Treadier" tires cause bikes to go slow and have a bumpy ride. Road tires do not need or want tread. Tread on the road for bike tire reduces grip, increases the road noise and vibration. Knobby tires on bikes are less safe and less comfortable and slower. (This changes is you ride in dirt).

If that doesn't convince you, I'll note that, in my experience, people who switch to smooth tires from knobbies find their average speed increase by 2-3 kph.

I'd try riding the 28s for a couple of weeks. That's my standard width for loaded touring and I do find it comfortable for long periods. However, I do have a 38mm tire on my city bike.

If 28's aren't enough cushion for you, try going to a 32 or even a 38mm tire, but stick with smooth ones. Specialized Armadillos are liked by a lot of people. I use Nimbus tires on my city bike, but I don't know that I'd buy them again. My favorite current tire Panaracers. I personally like the Rivendell Ruffy Tuffy, but any of their road slicks are fine tires.

One thing you might add is bar ends. The main problem with flat bars is that they only offer a single hand position. When you stand to accelerate there's no upper position to hold on to for, instance. Further, a single hand position can lead to numbness on longer (30 min+) rides. Bar ends are a cheap solution for this problem.
posted by bonehead at 8:56 AM on September 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

(Just popping in to say that you've got yourself a really cool-looking bike. Nice!)
posted by resurrexit at 9:12 AM on September 14, 2011

Bar ends might be nice or you might like Ergon grips. I love fat molded grips.

28s are my tire of choice for around town. Note, if you have them pumped up to maximum pressure, you should try riding 10-20 pounds lower than that. It will give a softer ride in exchange for some speed. With 28s in there, you should be able to see if you have clearance for bigger tires, but I can't really tell the difference between 28s and 32s when riding at around 80 psi. My favorite city tire line right now is the Panaracer Pasela Tourguards, nicely flat proof and the folding tires are supple and light.
posted by advicepig at 9:16 AM on September 14, 2011

Hmm that bike is suspiciously similar to my Gary Fisher Wingra. Now that Trek owns GF, it makes sense! :)

As others have said, the saddle is probably fine. Mine seems to be the same or similar to yours, and it's very comfortable on my 5 mile commute (each way) to work. It might take some time to acclimate to it, and you might need to make some adjustments, but when you get it juuuust right for you, it should be fine.

I will probably be changing my handlebar soon, though. I'm 5' 10" and they are as high as they can go, but I still feel like I am putting too much weight on my hands. I don't need to be in racing position, so getting a handlebar with a little rise should make it more comfortable. That may be more along the lines what you need to do as well, instead of (or in addition to) different grips.

My tires look to be about the same as yours as well, and they are fine on gravel, packed dirt and pretty rough roads. I mostly ride on pavement, however.

Have fun! That's a nice bike! Once you get it tweaked to your needs, it will be great.
posted by The Deej at 9:22 AM on September 14, 2011

They won't make your ride more comfortable, but you might want to consider lights to make yourself more visible, some sort of mirror, and a road id in case something un-fun happens out there. Riding will give you a feel for what you want regarding things like gloves, saddles, and tires, but safety is something you should tackle early on, especially given your urban commute.
posted by eisenkr at 9:33 AM on September 14, 2011

Yeah, as eisenkr just mentioned: padded gloves. I won't ride without them. I have a pair of fingerless, and a full pair for chilly weather. (It's amazing how quickly your fingers can get cold, even if everything else stays warm.)
posted by The Deej at 9:47 AM on September 14, 2011

I still feel like I am putting too much weight on my hands.

I like the test an old racing coach told me years ago: if you can lift your hands off the bars, even a centimetre or two and hold them there while you pedal, your posture is good. If you can't, your bar hight may be wrong, or you may need to work on your posture.

This explictly doesn't work for modern forward-and-low racing postures, but it's always served me well for assessing bike fit on long rides. I'm just an old slow tourist, anyway.
posted by bonehead at 10:20 AM on September 14, 2011

28c's are pretty much the sweet spot for riding around the city. If you really want something bigger, there's nothing wrong with any of the tires everyone else has suggested.

I would go for Continental Gatorskins in 32c.

Trek doesn't list the maximum tire size for that bike on their website. A 38c might fit, but it might not. Ride over to your local bike shop and see what they have.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:25 AM on September 14, 2011

Nthing the Schwalbe Marathon tires. I have these on my folding bike and they're awesome for navigating nice pavement, crappy pavement and cracked roads, and the occasional detour through a gravel parking lot. I've had to experiment with getting the air pressure right, though, because they can handle a wide range, so you might want to talk to your local bike shop about the right pressure for you/your bike.

You should definitely invest in some padded gloves. I will be forever grateful to the friend who insisted I get some when I got my first bike back in February. If you're like me and overheat easily, get well-ventilated fingerless ones.

As far as grips go, the Ergon grips already mentioned have a huge and loyal fanbase; I seem to be the only person on the planet who doesn't like them. When I got rid of my Ergons I went for a set of ESE silicone grips. They're simple, untextured, cushy-but-firm, and super-comfortable, and you can cut them to whatever length you need, which is great if you end up going with bar ends or you have twist/grip shifters.
posted by rhiannonstone at 3:01 PM on September 14, 2011

Schwalbe Marathon's are great for city riding, there's a few models depending on what you consider important:
The standard commuting tyre is the stock Marathon, quicker, but less puncture resistance get the Racer, slow but very puncture-proof get the Plus.

Looking at your bike, you might have issues fitting a tyre much larger than 32mm given the clearance underneath the brake calipers, so I'd definitely check before getting something ridiculously fat.
If it were me, I'd stick a 32mm on the front to soften the vibrations from those straight-legged forks, but keep a 28mm on the back.

As for grips, Oury are super-comfortable and soak up loads of buzz. I have them on my Brompton and they're great.
Otherwise a double layer of cork tape is pretty effective. Bonehead's suggestion of bar-ends is a good idea also if you're riding a lot.
posted by SyntacticSugar at 4:27 AM on September 15, 2011

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