Bike saddles can be a pain in the posterior, can’t they? If your bum hurts when you cycle and you’re looking for the answer, then you’ve come to the right place.
A cyclist’s backside can have a tough time on the bike because it’s one of only three points of contact with it – along with hands and feet – and that means it has to support a big percentage of the rider’s weight and soak up all the lumps and bumps in the road surface.
By comparison, hands and feet have an easy time of it. Hands? They’re cushioned with cycling gloves, rubber handlebar grips, possibly some front suspension forks, and an inflated rubber tube and tire. Feet? They’ve got their own protection with shoes and socks.
But your bum? It’s just a thin combination of shorts and underwear protecting your delicate rear end from an unforgiving saddle. Ouch.
And yet there are some easy answers and some quick wins here that can transform your cycling experience. Today, we’ll have a look at some of the most common issues that cyclists have in the general bum area and discuss solutions for each of them.
The issues we’ll investigate are:
- Pain in the perineum
- Bruising on the bum
- Inner thigh skin chafing
- Sore sit bones
There’s a quick summary table of the recommendations below. Because, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt in all my years of cycling, it’s that a sore bum needs soothing immediately.
Easy ways of stopping your bum hurting when cycling:
The best ways to stop your bum from getting sore when cycling
Okay, let’s have a look in more detail at each of these bum-hurting-when-biking problems and their, thankfully, simple solutions. Because cycling should be about grinning as you check out the scenery whilst pedaling along, and feeling the breeze gently push you faster down the road, and listening to the sounds of babbling brooks running along beside you…not grimacing as you shift about on the saddle trying to ease the pain in your bum.
There are basically four major types of butt soreness that you get from cycling. We’ll take a look over them now and check out the simple solutions for each one.
Ready for some bum-soothing? Let’s go!
Pain in the Perineum
The perineum is one of those parts of the body that doesn’t get a great deal of focus and that’s a shame, particularly when cycling, because the perineum can often take more than its fair share of a rider’s weight.
Stretching in a line from the anus to the vagina/scrotum, the perineum is packed tight with nerve endings making it a sensitive spot. And it’s the area that your typical saddle puts most pressure against. Over the long term this can cause a wide range of health issues such as erectile disfunction, bladder control and numb feeling. Speak to your doctor straight away if you start experiencing any of these issues or have concerns relating to this.
There are though some simple things that you can do to reduce the pressure on your perineal area when you’re cycling and these can help to improve the situation.
The first thing to do is grab a spirit level and check the angle that your saddle is at. Ideally you want your saddle to be perfectly horizontal. If the nose is too high it will press against your perineum. Too low and you may feel like you’re constantly slipping off the front of the saddle as you pedal. There are normally a pair of allen bolts that hold the saddle at the right angle (one in front of the seat stem and one behind). Using an allen key or bike multitool it’s then an easy task to drop the nose. Simply loosen the rear bolt a few turns and tighten the front bolt by a corresponding amount. Keep going till you get to the angle that feels right.
The height of the saddle might also need to be adjusted – too high will often mean that you’re rocking your pelvis from one side to the other as you reach for the pedals. Take the bike for a quick spin to see if it feels like your pelvis is steady or moving like this, if it is then take the seat post down little by little until you can pedal without moving your pelvis.
If you’ve carried out both saddle angle and seat post height adjustments and you still feel too much pressure on your perineal area, then it’s worth considering a different saddle. Saddles that have a flat top surface can cause the pressure and it may be worth a change to a different kind of saddle. Manufacturers have recognized this issue and have started to produce a number of new saddles that either do away with the nose altogether or have a groove running deeply down the middle of the top surface.
Both of these saddles relieve pressure on the perineal area by transferring it to the sit bones (more on these in a moment), which is where the pressure should be.
Finally, it might also be worth looking at the bike itself. Some bikes (particularly road bikes) force the rider into a position where you’re learning forward and this can put more pressure on the perineum, forcing it against the nose of the saddle. Compare this to other bikes that have a more relaxed upright or laidback riding position, where the pressure moves to the back of the saddle and is against your sit bones, not the perineum. Bike types here include mountain bikes, hybrids and cruisers. They might not be as fast as a road bike but you could be riding in more comfort, so it could be one to consider.
Bruising on the bum
Saddles tend to be fairly unyielding and this can be very uncomfortable if you just wear a standard pair of shorts on the bike. This is an easy one to fix – you need some padded shorts.
Bike shorts do a couple of things to improve you riding experience. Firstly, they stop chafing on your inner thighs (I’ll talk more about this shortly) and, secondly, they cushion your poor buttocks from that hard saddle.
And there are plenty of excellent options to choose from here. My recommendation is to get a pair of bike shorts that has a padded inner liner sewn in. You can also get bike underwear that has a similar padded lining. Padded shorts come in various different styles. There are tight lycra/spandex shorts (as you see Tour de France riders wearing) – alternatively you can get loose padded shorts, like these. In Australia they call these ‘shy shorts’, which I rather like. Padded underwear has the same styling as the tight bike shorts and you team these up with a normal pair of shorts, or a dress, or a skirt over the top.
I cover a lot of miles on my bike and I virtually never go riding without padded shorts/underwear. Try them and you’ll see what a difference they can make.
Inner thigh skin chafing
Inner thigh chafing is excruciatingly painful. The sad thing is that so many cyclists put up with it when there’s such an easy solution.
Chafing can happen in a couple of main areas. Either between your bum cheeks or the skin of your upper thighs. It’s caused by the skin rubbing together as you pedal and is often worse on hot and sweaty days.
You can also team this up with a chamois cream (basically a lubricating cream for cyclists), although for me personally, the shorts/underwear do a good enough job by themselves.
It’s worth giving chamois cream a try though, if you’re still getting chafing, as it’s cheap and comes in a variety of forms from sticks to creams and is easy to apply.
Sore sit bones
Let’s get technical for a second. The bits of your bum that you balance on the saddle with are your ischial tuberosity, more commonly known as your ‘sit bones’. Either way, these are the two bony bits at the base of your pelvis.
The perfect saddle for you is the one which supports your sit bones. Too wide or too narrow and it will feel uncomfortable to ride on.
If you feel that your saddle is the wrong size across the back (where your sit bones make contact) then there are two options. The first is to change the saddle for one which has a larger ‘sweet spot’ of sit bone support. The second, if it feels like your saddle is too narrow at the back, is to get a wider seat. This can often be a problem for women as the female pelvis is wider than the male for childbirth. So, women can often find a ‘unisex’ or male saddle particularly uncomfortable. Whatever gender you are, if you feel that you have more spaced apart sit bones, then you will probably get a benefit from a female saddle.
You can also get wider saddles which have deeper padding than average, some of which also have rear sprung suspension. These can be great for giving extra comfort for sore sit bones.