Saddle pain / discomfort is an all-too-common complaint amongst cyclists but one many cyclists are reluctant to talk about or believe is just an unavoidable part of their sport! Below we discuss the different types of saddle pain cyclists might experience and how to become comfortable when riding your bike.
Types of saddle pain
Cyclists may experience different types of saddle pain / discomfort. Four of the most common are:
Painful sit bones – For more upright riding positions (similar to the position adopted by commuters or those embarking on multi-day adventures) your sit bones should be taking most of your body weight and as such may start to feel a bruising sensation.
Saddle sores and chafing – These are both very common ailments amongst cyclists and can be caused by excessive contact / friction with the saddle. This contact leads to the skin and clothes rubbing causing damage to the skin.
Soft tissue discomfort – Pressure on important nerves and arteries in the soft tissue can lead to some very serious complaints including extreme discomfort, numbness and even erectile dysfunction!
Pain around the pubic bone – More aggressive positions with a greater forward lean (particularly those adopted by time-trialists and triathletes) can lead to the crotch area resting on the nose of the saddle. This can result in a lot of pressure on both the soft tissue and the pubic bone which can again lead to a bruising sensation.
There are a number of aspects of the bike position that you can change in an attempt to alleviate saddle pain / discomfort. Below are three changes that you can look to make:
Saddle height – It is really important that you get your saddle height right (i.e., a knee angle of around 140 to 155 degrees is generally acceptable) as an incorrect saddle height cannot only cause saddle pain but an array of other issues. A very common cause of saddle discomfort is the saddle being too high. This can lead to your pelvis swaying side to side as you pedal which can lead to saddle sores, bruising and general discomfort.
Saddle tilt – Generally, it is recommended that the saddle should be level or tilted slightly nose down. However, it can be very tempting when experiencing saddle pain / discomfort to tilt the nose excessively down. This can not only lead to knee pain but also chaffing due to constantly pushing yourself back onto the saddle.
Handlebar height – The correct handlebar height is not a universal measurement it will depend upon your seat height, riding style, and strength and mobility. For those not preoccupied with speed an easy way to reduce saddle discomfort, and particularly pressure on the soft tissue, can be to raise the handlebar height.
Unsurprisingly, the first thing that people look to change when experiencing saddle pain / discomfort is the saddle itself. The general rule of thumb when choosing a saddle is to think about how you want to sit (i.e., how aggressive your position is). For less aggressive positions, with a more upright posture, most of your weight should be on your sit bones and thus a wider saddle at the back may work well. However, for more aggressive positions, with an increased forward lean, a narrower saddle at the back but a wider / more padded saddle on the nose will often be needed. When choosing a saddle you also need to consider:
Soft vs. hard saddles – When experiencing saddle pain / discomfort cyclists often wrongly assume that a softer saddle will be more comfortable. However, this is not always the case as a softer saddle allows increased movement which can lead to more chafing.
Cut-out saddles – Although a cut-out saddle is a popular choice for cyclists experiencing pain in the soft tissue area and can solve some cyclists’ problems, for others it can just result in the pressure being concentrated over a smaller area. If a cut-out saddle does little to resolve your issues, a split-nose saddle (e.g., ISM) can be another good option to try.
Finding the correct saddle can be an expensive endeavour if you find yourself needing to try lots of different options. However, saddle pressure mapping can drastically speed up this process and allow you to make far more informed decisions on saddle-choice based on actual data.
Other things that you may want to consider when addressing saddle pain / discomfort include:
Cycling shorts – A good pair of cycling shorts with a high-quality chamois (i.e., padding in the crotch area) is arguable one of the best investments you can make for improving comfort on the bike. However, try to avoid a chamois that is overly thick as this can lead to more pressure on the soft tissue.
Chamois cream – Chamois cream acts as a lubricant that you use on your skin to reduce friction and for some can be very effective at reducing chafing and saddle sores. It doesn’t work for everyone but it can definitely be worth a try!
Saddle pain and discomfort is something many of us as cyclists have experienced and something we definitely should not be shy talking about. Pain and discomfort are signs that something is not right so make sure you don’t just put up with this as this can cause even greater problems!
If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch 😊
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