The Benchmark Bikes of My Vibration Comfort Tests

I’ve been conducting my comfort challenge project for many years now. My aim is to find the most comfortable gravel bike that’s also fun to ride.

This means equipping what I call my benchmark bike with the best, vibration-reducing components like suspension seatposts, suspension stems, supple tires, carbon handlebars, and a comfortable saddle.

I use my benchmark bike as a point of comparison when testing any new bike or components. Any components that do well in my outdoor vibration tests will often find their way onto my benchmark bike for future tests. As a result, my benchmark bike continuously gets more comfortable, making the comfort standard harder and harder to beat.

But importantly, I always make sure any new comfort components don’t take away from the bike’s feel, agility, and responsiveness.

Benchmark Bike #1

I started my comfort challenge project with a steel Jamis Renegade gravel bike.

A steel frame seemed like the best choice because it’s known for its smooth ride feel. And the Jamis was certainly comfortable, especially when it was equipped with a Redshift ShockStop suspension stem and Ergon Allroad Pro seatpost.

Frame: Jamis Renegade Exploit
Fork: Jamis ECO Carbon
Groupset: Shimano 105
Handlebar: Coefficient Cycling Wave
Redshift ShockStop
Ergon Allroad Pro
Saddle: Brooks C17
Wheelset: Alex ARD470 700C Disc
Tires: Panaracer GravelKing SK 43mm

When I started this project, I thought that there was no such thing as too much comfort. But I was not aware of the sacrifices I was making along the way. I realised this only when I started testing carbon gravel bikes that felt quicker to accelerate and extra fun to ride.

The Jamis felt more like a cruisy Cadillac rather than an agile Porsche, so I started to look for something more to my taste. Enter the Titanium period of my comfort project.

Benchmark Bike #2

The titanium Enigma Escape felt much better than the Jamis in terms of up-and-go responsiveness. The general feel and handling of the bike was very enjoyable too.

Frame: Enigma Escape Titanium
Fork: OPEN U-Turn Carbon
Shimano GRX
Handlebar: Coefficient Cycling Wave
Redshift ShockStop
Redshift ShockStop
Saddle: SQlab 612 Ergowave Active
Wheelset: Spinergy GX 700C
Tires: Rene Herse Barlow Pass 700C x 38mm

With a proper set of wheels (Spinergy GX), a good Redshift ShockStop stem, Redshift ShockStop seatpost, and a carbon Wave handlebar, I was in comfort heaven. Or so I thought.

I had the opportunity to test many great carbon gravel bikes like Argon 18 Dark Matter and Cannondale Topstone. These bikes felt faster and even more responsive than my Enigma.

So I fitted my favourite comfort components to these carbon test bikes to see if I could make a fast-feeling bike that was also comfortable.

I ended up really liking the combination of a stiff frame and vertically compliant components. So I sold the Enigma and bought a carbon OPEN WI.DE gravel bike.

Benchmark Bike #3

The OPEN WI.DE offers a lot of possibilities in terms of tires – in both 700C and 650B. It has a slim 27.2mm diameter seatpost (the most comfortable size). It has a standard-sized steerer tube so that I can easily swap in other comfort-improving forks and stems. And I’ve vibration tested the OPEN carbon forks to be excellent at soaking up gravel road chatter.

Frame: OPEN WI.DE Carbon
Fork: OPEN U-Turn Carbon
Groupset: Campagnolo Ekar
Handlebar: Coefficient Cycling Wave
Redshift ShockStop
Redshift ShockStop
Saddle: SQlab 612 Ergowave Active
Wheelset: Fulcrum Rapid Red 3 650B (27.5″)
Tires: Rene Herse Umtanum Ridge 650B x 55mm (2.2″)

I have two sets of wheels. The Spinergy GX wheels in 700C (synthetic fibre spokes!) and Fulcrum Rapid Red 3 wheels in 650B. Both are quite lightweight, so they are great for quick acceleration.

But they feel very different. The Spinergy wheels are strong, comfortable, and fast-rolling enough to make the OPEN WI.DE feel like a proper road bike with slicks.

On the other hand, the 650B Fulcrum RR 3 wheels are less vertically compliant. But they’re more fun to ride on rougher roads with wider tires – they transform the WI.DE into a proper gravel hooligan, ready to take on any adventure. I think the 650B wheels suit me best because I like knowing I can go anywhere and have fun while doing it.

I have tested many different tires and have settled on the Rene Herse Umtanum Ridge with standard casing (650B x 55mm). They are knobby tires that are not super fast on the road but are fantastic everywhere else.

The Rene Herse tires are famous for their ‘suppleness’, and I can confirm that they dampen far more vibrations than a regular tire. You can choose from three different tire casings: Endurance for the best protection, Extralight for the best comfort, and Standard for a mix of both attributes.

The Standard casing works great for me, especially in a tubeless setup. Tubeless allows me to lower the air pressure to 25psi and enjoy more comfort, however, with sufficient responsiveness and good handling too.

A suspension seatpost is a component that will truly transform the comfort of your bike. They also offer the possibility to ride seated almost constantly, which I’ve found translates into more effective pedaling.

I have tested a lot of suspension seatposts, and for now, the Redshift ShockStop Pro is the best. I have tuned it perfectly to my needs, minimizing the bouncing and maximizing how compliant it is over bumps. It also looks nice (in my opinion) and can easily attach a seatpost rack to carry a bikepacking dry bag (carbon seatposts cannot do this).

A suspension stem is another no-brainer if you want to increase ride comfort. There are a few different models, but I’m using a Redshift ShockStop.

The ShockStop stem uses elastomers to provide a good ride feel and noticeable comfort improvement. Unfortunately, more and more bike manufacturers are using proprietary stem solutions that prevent you from fitting a ShockStop. This is a pity – please, pay attention to the stem of your chosen bike to make sure it is not proprietary.

The handlebar is another component that can greatly improve comfort both in terms of ergonomics and a reduction in vibrations.

The carbon Coefficient Wave handlebar is great at both of those things. Its unique shape offers a great selection of hand positions that reduce fatigue. The Wave handlebar is also designed to properly flex at the drops. For me, it’s a near-perfect handlebar, even if internally routing the cables is a big pain in the ass (due to those curves).

A saddle should be chosen with ergonomics in mind. It must have a proper width, but also a shape that works well for you. Everyone is different, so there is no one solution for everyone.

I’ve tested many different saddles and have settled on an SQlab 612 Ergowave Active for now. It has a very ergonomic shape, providing relief to sensitive areas, and a unique elastomer to allow the saddle to flex with the movement of your hips while you ride.

Moving Forward

In terms of ride comfort and enjoyment, there are so many interesting bikes and components to evaluate against my benchmark bike. As always, if I find a better product, I will keep it on my benchmark bike.

I have a great list of products to test over the coming years. If you know of a comfort product that should be vibration tested and analysed for its ride enjoyment, please leave a comment below. All ideas are very welcome!

Let the comfort-improving journey continue.

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