Saddle Discomfort : Solutions for Women Cyclists
featured in Womenscycling.ca and RBR Newsletter
Saddle comfort can be the deciding
factor between an enjoyable ride or a miserable one. It can stop some women from riding
there bikes all together, it's that painful. So many people have
beautiful bikes that they should love riding, but that darn saddle
discomfort ruins the whole ride. Why can the saddle be such a “pain
in the butt “?
The main reason is that the soft tissue
at the front really wasn't meant to be bear weight. We have sit bones, aka ischial
tuberosities, for that job. But on a bike, in a bent over riding
position, your body weight is shared between the 2 sit bones and the
pubic bone in the front, which means pressure on the soft tissue at
the front(the perineum)
Saddle discomfort is one of the most
difficult areas to address in a bike fit. It affects how you sit on
your bike, and it changes your posture. As a result, it changes all
the rest of the angles below and at the front of your bike. The
ensuing chain reaction of poor posture to relieve the pressure from
an uncomfortable saddle can lead to neck and back pain. It can alter
how the whole bike feels. It may be necessary to try a number of
saddles before completing your bike fit. Or you may have found the “right “saddle, but your position
on your bike is making it uncomfortable.
that Cause Saddle Discomfort
If your bike is the right size, here
are a number of bike fit faults that can cause saddle discomfort for
The most common cause of saddle
discomfort is a poor saddle. Some saddles are hard as a rock while
some are too cushy. A saddle that is too thick and soft will make you
sink down into your saddle, causing the middle of the saddle to push
up and place more pressure on your soft tissue.
A firmer saddle is usually better,
especially for longer rides. A proper woman's saddle should have good
padding for the sit bones and a cut-out or groove in front to
provide relief from pressure on the perineum and to allow good blood
flow. It is important that the cut-out or groove is extended far
enough forward to remove pressure in the correct region. A women
specific saddle is essential for most women. Bikes that are not
women specific are equipped with a men's saddles, which were not
designed for the female anatomy.
Width is also important. The sit
bones should be sitting in the middle of the widest part of the
saddle. Specialized and Bontrager both offer
saddles in different widths. Specialized has something called the
“ass-o-meter “ which is a simple piece of memory foam that
leaves an imprint of your sit bones to determine the correct saddle
width. A saddle that is too narrow causes the sit bones to hang off
the sides, creating uncomfortable friction at the sit bones where the
hamstring tendons attach. If your saddle is too wide, support isn't
where it is needed. Having a choice of saddle widths is important for
petite women that have narrow pelvises who would normally choose a
narrower men's saddle. Now they can get a woman specific saddle in a
Saddle selection however is such a
personal choice. Everyone's anatomy, weight and style of riding
is unique. As a result, one person may love a saddle, while another
will hate it. When purchasing a saddle, make sure the local bike shop
will allow you to return it if you don't like it. Otherwise, you can
spend a lot of money trying to find a saddle that's “just right “
for you. Here are a few examples of popular women's saddles that many
women find comfortable:
- Specialized Lithium Gel, Sanoma,
- Selle Italia Lady Gel Flow
- Terry Butterfly, Liberator, Damselfly
- Selle SMP
- WTB Deva
A saddle tilt that is too nose-up will
put additional pressure on the front soft tissue. This usually causes
poor slouched posture on your bike.
A saddle that is too nose-down will
cause you to slide forward on the saddle and make you sit on the
wrong part of the saddle. The sit bones will no longer provide
adequate support and more weight will be placed on the hands,
causing numbness and pain in the hands.
The saddle on a bike should be either
level for a more upright rider, or slightly nose-down, just a degree
or two down from horizontal, for a more forward riding position. On a
time trial bike, the saddle should be more nose-down, as the pelvis
is rotated more forwards at the front of the bike. A seat post with
infinitely adjustable angles is ideal, as it allows you to find that
perfect tilt. Many posts have saddle clamps with notches that often
leave you with the choice of being either too nose-up or too
Saddle is Too High
A saddle that is too high will take the
weight off your pedals and place more weight on to your saddle. It
will also cause your hips to rock, causing side-to-side movement
across your saddle, and chafing.
Saddle is Too Far Back
Moving the seat forward, so that the
knees are over the pedal axis, changing the pedaling angle usually
improves saddle comfort.
Between the Seat and the Handlebars is Too Large
A more aggressive position at the front
of the bike will put more weight on the hands and the perineum at the
front of the saddle.
Reach is Too Far
Too stretched out at the front will
reduce the support from the arms at the front and place more weight
on the front of the saddle.
Tips for Preventing Saddle
Wear Good Bike Shorts
Wear a good pair of cycling shorts with
a good quality seamless chamois. As with the saddles, shorts and the
thickness of the chamois can be a personal choice. The chamois
material should wick away moisture. Some have anti-bacterial fibers
to reduce bacterial buildup.
Do not wear underwear. Put your shorts
on right before you ride to keep them clean and dry. Remove them as
soon as the ride is over. Never wear the same pair of shorts 2 days
in a row with out washing them.
Use Chamois Creams
Similar to a runner uses vaseline on
areas of repeated friction to prevent chafing sores, the same need
applies to the saddle area in cycling. The pedaling motion creates a
certain amount of side-to-side movement on the saddle, which can
cause uncomfortable painful chafing of the soft tissue. It is this
friction more than pressure that causes saddle sores.
Some sort of cream is a must,
especially for long rides and rides on consecutive days. Chamois
creams prevents chafing by creating a thin lubricating layer between
the shorts and your skin. I use Bag Balm ( also used on the udders of
milk cows and Shania Twain's skin) and rode 6 days in a row in
France with out any irritation at all. Other popular creams include
Penaten or other diaper rash creams and commercially-made cycling
products such as Chamois Butt'r or Bliss, to name a couple.
Get off the Saddle Regularly
Every 10-15 minutes or so, get off your
saddle and stand to either stretch or take a few pedal strokes to
stretch the legs. Similar to moving your hands around regularly to
prevent pain and numbness in your hands, getting off your saddle will
relieve constant pressure and improve blood flow. Make sure you stand
on the pedals or lift yourself up a little when you ride over bumps.
Allow Time to Addapt
The first ride of the season never
feels very good. The saddle area needs to get used to that new
pressure again. Start with short rides and gradually increase your
distance and time.
Practice these preventative steps
rather than waiting until you are uncomfortable and it is too late.