What’s the best saddle? Why does my bum hurt when I’m riding? Saddle pain can affect both new and experienced riders. Here’s our guide to getting comfortable on a bike.
There are many things that can cause saddle discomfort. If you are struggling with pain or chafing, work through these steps to try and eliminate the issue. It may be that there is a combination of small changes that you can make that will make your rides more comfortable.
Bear in mind that your ride position will affect the position of your hips – this can explain why you might have been comfortably riding around on one saddle in an upright position on a hybrid, but that same saddle become torture when you switch to a mountain bike or bike with drop bars.
You are aiming to have your sit bones on the body of the saddle, so that your weight is on this most supportive part of your bottom. You want to keep your soft and sensitive tissue up front away from any weight bearing, and also free from rubbing. While these steps are written from the perspective of women’s saddle comfort, men may find some of them helpful to consider too.
These checks can be applied to the saddle you have now:
- Saddle height – you should be able to reach your pedals without stretching.
- Fore/aft position of your saddle – are your sit bones on the body of the saddle?
- Tilt of your saddle – flat or slightly tilted forwards will help keep your labia clear of pressing into the nose of the saddle.
Small alterations can make a big difference, so make tiny and iterative changes until you feel you’ve found the right position.
Features to look for when buying a saddle:
- Saddle width – saddles come in different widths, and you should try and match these to your sit bones. You can measure your sit bones at home: put a piece of tinfoil on the bottom stair, sit on and lift your feet off the floor so your weight goes through your sit bones. When you stand up, you will see two dimples where your sit bones are. Measure the distance between the centre of the two dimples, and then look for a saddle designed for that width of sit bones.
- Saddle profile – If a saddle is too curved it may fit up between your legs and push into your soft tissue, rather than keeping a space between there and the saddle. A flatter profile may well be helpful.
- Cut out – a cut out or recess in the centre of the saddle may help keep your soft tissue from pressing into the saddle. Look for one that is long enough to create that space even as your hips roll forward as you reach out to the bars.
- Finish – you don’t want anything that is too slippery, or with raised seams that might cause pressure points, or with anything that might catch on your shorts just as you go for that tricky drop.
If you do buy a new saddle, remember to go back and check the position of it when you fit it, and make alternations if needed.
If it’s your sit bones that hurt, make sure they’re supported on the body of your saddle. Make sure your saddle isn’t too high. Try a chamois short and chamois cream.
If you’re getting chafing and blisters, something is rubbing. Is your saddle supporting your sit bones? If they’re hanging off the edge because your saddle is too narrow, your sit bones may rub. If your saddle is too wide, the edges may be rubbing your inner thighs.
If it is your soft tissue – perineum and labia – that are hurting, definitely no! You should look to make sure you’re not supporting your weight on this area, and consider a chamois short and chamois cream to reduce chafing.
The next issue to look at is clothing:
For longer rides – perhaps anything more than half an hour long, especially if you’re not in an upright position – you will probably feel the benefit of a cycling specific chamois lined short. Here are some features to look for.
- Seams and stitching – a higher quality short will have neater seams, and fewer potential points of chafing on the edge of the chamois. It’s worth investing in a decent chamois, rather than relying on one which came free with a pair of outer shorts.
- Chamois fit – you want the chamois to fit snugly, with not so much bulk that it is folding or moving between your legs. It may provide a bit of padding around your sit bones, but up front you want it to provide a stable layer that doesn’t rub, rather than cushioning.
- Chamois shape – a women’s specific chamois is moire likely to have padding in the right places – it’s likely you want something that is thinner up front, and thicker by your sit bones. Some have grooves or contours in the chamois – these may be comfortable for you, but they may provide tough spots in the chamois that chafe your labia.
- Go commando – your skin should be against the chamois. Don’t wear underwear with you chamois shorts. Change and wash your chamois daily – don’t reuse it – just as you would underwear, and try to get out of it quickly after your ride to maintain good hygiene down there.
The last thing to look at is chamois cream.
Particularly if you’re struggling with chafing, a chamois cream can help a lot. You need to choose something that is going to suit your skin, as it’s important that you smear it everywhere down there! Don’t just put it onto the skin on you bum cheeks – you need to put it all over your labia and anywhere that you’re find gets chafed. The chamois cream will help lubricate the area and stop things rubbing together.
A few final (intimate) points.
Don’t be shy about having a bit of a rearrangement of what’s down there. Once you’ve got your chamois on, and your chamois cream, tuck that bit of labia in if it feels like it’s out of place. Arrange things so you’re not sitting on a fold – guys aren’t shy about rearranging their balls!
Whatever method of hair removal you use, it will likely affect your comfort. Try to avoid doing any hair removal or trimming the day before a long ride and you’ll help avoid any extra sensitivity issues.
You may well find that your body changes with your menstrual cycle, and sometimes it’s all but impossible to get comfy. Take extra care in getting ready for rides at those times – pick your favourite shorts, take a bit of extra time to get the chamois cream everywhere, tuck the tampon string out the way, and don’t try to ride for any distance with a sanitary towel.
Now get comfortable…
It’s all down to your body and your ride position as to what you’ll find comfortable. Just as one pair of shoes can seem great to you and killer to a friend, saddles are a very personal choice. You need to find the perfect combination for you, but hopefully the pointers above will help guide you to a smooth ride.
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