If your bike seat is causing you pain and discomfort, then I know how you feel. That’s because, for many long years of cycling, I suffered from a variety of aches and pains brought on by my saddle.
Your butt has a bit of an unfair deal when it comes to cycling, to be honest. Look at someone on a bike and you’ll see that there are only three points of contact between them and their bicycle: their hands, their feet and their butt.
When you’re cycling, your hands will be protected by a variety of things including the front tire rubber and inner tube, maybe some suspension on the front forks, the handlebar grips, and possibly a pair of gel-cushioned cycling gloves. Similarly, feet will be probably be in a pair of cushioned sneakers, potentially teamed up with a comfy pair of socks.
But, you’re butt? Not so much. You’ve got your saddle (which can be fairly hard and unyielding), a thin pair of shorts, your underwear…and then your butt. And that’s not a lot to protect you from road vibration or skin chafing.
It doesn’t have to be that way though.
We’re going to take a look at four different types of soreness caused by bike saddles and see what the solutions are for each. These are:
- Bruising and butt pain
- Chafing on inner thighs
- Perineal pain
- Sit bones soreness
Quick solutions to making your bike seat more comfortable:
How to make your bike saddle more comfortable
When it comes to soreness from bike seats, it’s fair to say that I’ve been there, done that, and got the bruises to show for it.
Go cycling when you’re sitting on a saddle that’s uncomfortable and that’s all you’ll be able to think about. Go cycling when you’re sitting comfortably and you’ll be smiling as you watch the world go by, enjoying the feel of the cool ocean breeze on your face, and listening to the birds tweeting. And, frankly, we all need more birds tweeting and less pain.
You can categorize saddle soreness into four distinct problem areas. For each of these there are at least one easy solution and we’ll go through these in detail now.
Bruising and butt pain
The first line of defense is to give your butt some extra padding. This will do a number of jobs including cushioning your cheeks from rough terrain, and also (as we’ll come onto in a moment) protecting your inner thighs from chafing.
There are some great options for this, with the best being padded short pants and padded underwear. These are both garments that have a padded cushion liner sewn into the inside layer. Padded shorts come in a number of different styles. You can either choose the type that pro riders wear – a tight spandex item – or you can choose a looser style of padded bike shorts similar to what you’d wear to go hiking or to the beach. Padded cycling underwear looks the same as the pro rider style shorts but you’d wear it underneath a standard pair of short pants or a dress/skirt.
These days, 99% of my bike riding is done wearing either padded shorts or padded underwear. I totally forget that I’m wearing a padded layer on those occasions. The other 1% of the time? Yeah, you guessed it. I’ll jump on the bike to pop round to the store or a friend’s house and I’m like, “Ow! This saddle is uncomfortable!”
Padded bike shorts/underwear can make a massive difference to your comfort levels on a cycle and reduce or eliminate any bruising that you can otherwise experience.
Chafing on inner thighs
Another problem that cyclists often experience is chafing. This can either be between the upper thighs or sometimes between the butt cheeks. It is intensely painful and is caused by sensitive areas of skin rubbing together as you pedal along.
Padded cycling shorts or cycling underwear made from spandex or lycra can go a long way to protecting against this chafing as the fabric of the shorts rubs against itself rather than your skin. Another great option is to use a chamois cream. This is a a lubricating cream that you apply to the problem areas and/or the inside of your bike shorts before you set out for a ride. It is inexpensive and comes in a number of forms, including tubes of cream, tubs or sticks.
The perineum is a broad line that runs between the back of the scrotum or vagina and the anus. It’s an area that is packed full of nerve endings and with traditional bike saddles is the spot that tends to have the most pressure put on it. This can lead to a range of problems over the long term including numbness, bladder control, and sexual issues. You should obviously speak to your doctor if you have any concerns regarding this. However there are a number of things that you can do to relieve pressure caused on your perineum, which may reduce or alleviate some of the symptoms.
Firstly, check to see if your saddle is set to the correct angle and height. If the nose of the saddle is too high relative to the back, then this will put excessive pressure on your perineum. This is easy to fix, so long as you have a bike multitool handy. Most saddles are easy to adjust by loosening (then re-tightening!) the bolt holding the saddle to the seat post. Ideally the angle of the saddle should be parallel to the ground. Try this first to see how it feels then adjust the nose down by a degree at a time to find the best fit for you.
In terms of saddle height, sometimes this can be set too high and this can cause you to rock your pelvis side to side as you pedal. Try dropping the seat post down in small increments until your pelvis stays horizontal whilst you’re cycling along.
It can also be the saddle itself that is putting too much pressure on the perineum. This generally happens when the top of the saddle is flat and it’s worth looking at saddles that have a deep groove down the center line of the saddle, or even a noseless saddle.
As a final measure it’s worth considering the type of bike that you ride. Many road bikes, for example, tend to force a riding style that is hunched over the handlebars and this will tend to put pressure on the perineal area. By comparison, a mountain bike, hybrid bike, or cruiser bike will put less pressure on the perineum as you’ll be riding in a more laidback position. Slower, for sure, but if it means the difference between fast riding in pain vs slower riding in comfort, then it may be one to look at.
Sit bones soreness
The specific contact points in your butt are, to use their technical term, the ischial tuberosity. In more everyday language, these are known as your “sit bones”. Whatever you call them, these are the two bone protrusions at the bottom of your pelvis. You’d feel them instantly if you sat down on a hard wooden bench. The perfect saddle is one which supports your weight right at these two points. Just like Goldilocks and her breakfast bowl, if the support is too narrow, or too wide, this will end up feeling uncomfortable.
There are a couple of solutions available here. One is to replace your saddle with one which has a wider “sweet spot” of support in order to cover all the bases. The other, if you feel your saddle is too narrow, is to choose a wider seat. A tip here is that women’s specific saddles are wider at the back of the saddle, as the female pelvis will normally be wider than a man’s. Man or woman though, if your sit bones are wider than average, then you will likely feel a big benefit from a female specific saddle.
In terms of wider saddles, you can get larger saddles that are more deeply padded than average and also some that come with additional spring suspension along the back edge. These can be very useful in cushioning your sit bones and relieving this area of soreness.