Find out how to choose the perfect bike saddle. Put an end to discomfort, saddle sores and numbness and get back to enjoying your bike rides.
Are you sitting comfortably?
Riding a bike should not hurt. If you’re feeling pain anywhere, it’s your body telling you something is wrong. Don’t ignore your body – with the right advice there will be a solution.
Saddle sores, pressure, numbness are not a normal consequence of cycling, so don’t put up with them. Read on to hear our suggestions.
Saddle sores and intimate numbness can ruin cycling – don’t be afraid or embarrassed to get help. For men, pressure on the pudendal nerve, which runs through the middle of the base of the penis and perineum, can lead to numbness and erectile dysfunction. This can cause alarm as well as discomfort. Saddles designed with gaps or grooves support your body weight through your sit bones and reduce the pressure beneath your perineum.
Gap saddles can also work for some women, but not all – it really depends on your own shape and tissues. Women have far more variation in their soft tissues than men: for some, the sensitive areas fit within the gap, for others their tissue folds overlap the gaps and actually increase the pressure. For women, the first concern when choosing a saddle is getting the length and the width right, as women have wider pelvises than men.
Selecting the right saddle
Finding the right saddle – whatever your comfort issue – is annoyingly down to trial and error, as you need a saddle that fits with your own unique soft tissue presentation. However, there are some general rules of thumb for saddle choice,
Your saddle offers best support when its width correlates with the width of your sit bones.
You can measure the distance between your sit bones by sitting on a bit of memory foam and measuring centre-to-centre of the two dents left by the pointy bones of your bottom when you sit down. Some bike shops offer this as part of saddle purchasing. The length of the ‘nose’ of the saddle is also important, particularly for women who naturally tend to roll further forward onto this part of the saddle because of their hip rotation.
Men’s saddles tend to be narrower and longer, whereas women’s tend to be shorter and wider. Saddles and shorts are one of the few areas of biking where having gender specific products really matter.
Saddles don’t solve everything
If you cannot find a saddle that feels comfortable then there is likely to be something else at play. Look at the layers between your skin and the saddle. First up: cycling shorts. Are you wearing shorts with enough padding and protection in the parts you sit on? Do they fit snugly or move around as you pedal? Quick public service announcement – do not wear pants, boxers or briefs with cycle shorts, they are designed to be worn next to skin.
Using some lubrication on your skin, such as chamois cream or a medicated ointment like Sudocrem, helps your skin to slide smoothly, reducing friction and preventing aggravation of your hair follicles, which can cause saddle sores.
Perfect your position
How comfortable you are when sitting on your bike is about more than just your saddle. You can buy the best saddle, wear the best shorts and slap on the chamois cream, but if your position is wrong it will compromise every part of you. Posture is everything and you need good core strength to maintain your riding position. Think of your bike saddle as a bar stool you perch on, not an armchair that you slump in.
Saddle height and reach to the bars influences your pelvic angle and weight distribution. If you feel discomfort at the front of your pelvis, lower back, or in your wrists, the reach of your bike (how much you lean forward) toward the bars may be wrong. Discomfort in your ankle or knee joints suggests your saddle height may be wrong for you. If you have any aches, pains or saddle sores, start with getting your bike properly fitted to you by a bike-fit expert.
Check your saddle position frequently
Check your saddle as part of your regular bike maintenance, or after a crash, as it is easy to knock your saddle out of alignment. A saddle that is a few degrees off centre can leave you sitting twisted and a knock to the front or rear of the saddle can move it slightly nose-up or nose-down.
When you do find the saddle that works best for you, buy two so that you have a spare if your first is damaged or wears out. You can guarantee that if you don’t have a spare the manufacturer will discontinue that model and you will be back to square one!