If a part becomes a transparent part of your daily riding routine,
It was quite the coincidence that I spoke to a customer on Saturday about the importance of a properly fitting shoe and he responded with 'Spending money on a solid seat and shoes is always worth it' and at that moment all of this dawned on me. Then Saturday night stumbled onto G-Ted's review of some grips where he made the statement above and everything clicked. In my mind, the 3 essential things to be dialed in on any bike are first ones saddle, then the grips and shoes [in whichever order you want]. Outside the saddle, the other two are often overlooked as essential items to have dialed in.
Now, there are plenty of differing thoughts on what makes one saddle better than the next. From Bontrager's Inform to Specialized Body Geometry to the 'try it and ride it' approach, each hold some truth although I would lean more towards Bontrager's approach more than anything. Stressing that specific size, adjustment and padding is more important that removing saddle structure or cut out. Saddle width is the key measurement I have found for saddle comfort. Figuring that out, as you can see on either on the Bontrager or Specialized website, while considering the typical riding position adds up to the right saddle. But there is one solution to all saddle problems... getting out and riding it. And most saddle companies now offer a 30 to 90 day like it or return it policy, take advantage of that! But you owe it to yourself to ride a saddle more than once and to try different positions on the saddle. I have found that if you have to adjust a saddle more than one or two 'clicks' from level you might have the wrong seat and that sliding the saddle along the rails does more for comfort than anything else.
Grips. Now, I'm extremely bias. I believe Ergon Bike Ergonomics put out the best product on the market. Period. This is an area that until companies like Ergon came around a few years ago, very little thoughts on how to relieve pain to a riders hand were considered outside of using bigger grips or a riser bar. I discovered Ergon via Jeff Kerkove back when Ergon decided to sponsor Trans Iowa and provide all 50 of the riders with free grips. This created quite the buzz around the shop and from that moment on, I believe all of us at Europa have been sporting them. Why? Because they simply work. There is a reason why companies are copying their design. These grips relieve the stress from the nerve that goes through your palm that creates the numbness and pain when pinched during riding. From the casual rider to the endurance racer, one can not go wrong with these grips.
Shoes would be the last on my list of must have or must do between these 3 Essentials. Why? The novice cyclist simply wants to jump on the bike and ride where as the more avid rider or racer understands the improved efficiency and control one gains with a cycling specific shoes. Of course, when you bring up shoes, it is more than that and brings into the discussion of pedals but for the sake of this argument we'll simply concede that each have different preferences on what pedals a rider should use. A solid shoe for me, has a stiff sole, a 3 strap system with one ratcheting buckle. Each company out there offers products that have these options and depending on your foot type, how they fit comes into play. But when trying on shoes the two things I stress to customers is to look for and feel a good snug heel and plenty of space in the toe box. From there, to each their own on what works for them.
But in then end, with these 3 essentials it comes down to exactly what G-Ted said 'If a part becomes a transparent part of your daily riding routine, then I would say it is doing its job'. So if you notice it, it's probably not a good thing and you might want to consider changing it. Before you just start buying more and more shoes and saddles, take time to think of what exactly bothers you, what part of your hand, foot or hind side hurts and talk it over with someone at your local shop. They should be able to give you a few options for finding ways to making these parts 'transparent'.