Having trouble finding comfort in your saddle?
Saddle pain is a very common ailment in all levels of bicycling, if not the most common, which can vary from mild chafing, hot spots, tingling/numbness, and even very sharp pain in some very sensitive, pressure-prone areas!
Saddle pain is due to many factors, including our body’s own unique anatomy, men vs women pelvis shapes, pelvic arch shape/height, and not to mention the 100s if not thousands of different saddle shapes, sizes, cutouts, and materials available these days!
And then, throw in the repetitive motion of pedaling, sweat, friction, and pressure- It can get very complicated and muti-faceted . . . very quickly!
The purpose of this article is to bring awareness to the fact that saddle pain occurs both as a result of the actual saddle itself, yes, but perhaps even moreso from poor saddle positioning and Bike Fit of said saddle.
In other words, one could have the ‘perfect saddle’ for your body shape/size/pelvis but can still experience saddle pain with cycling, if the saddle positioning and weight distribution (saddle vs hand pressure) are not correctly positioned to begin with.
Although there’s a LOT to evaluate with any fitting of your bike and saddle positioning, here’s our TOP 3 concepts we look for when dealing with saddle-related symptoms before advising our clients to purchase a different saddle:
#1: Your saddle needs to be ‘level’
The first key is to ensure that you are not sliding forwards/backwards on your saddle when pedaling. This might seem like a no-brainer, but when we pedal on an unstable surface, it increases friction, leading to chafing, and unequal pressures on the bum. Please note: This does not mean you measure your saddle with a bublele-level. This age-old bike shop fit lore really does not do a decent job since saddle materials flex, bend, and break down over time- all things a bubble level can’t measure! Here’s how to check if your saddle is level:
- Place your bike on a stationary trainer, of have someone hold your bike so you can sit on your saddle without pedaling
- Sit on your saddle, and with crank arms level (3:00 + 9:00 position), sit up with your hands off the bars
- As you let your body relax and go limp, ask yourself: Am I sliding forwards or backwards? Do I feel like I could ride my bike without hands, and stay stable on my saddle?
- Adjust your saddle tilt nose up/down until you feel completely level, and that you will not slide when sitting upright w no arms on the bars.
#2: Consider the width of your saddle
The majority of our weight on the saddle should be through our sitting bones (well, more specifically our ‘inferior pubic ramus’ on the saddle itself, or more ‘front’ part of our sitting bones see Fig 1) known as the ischial tuberosities of our pelvis. Since these sitting bones taper into the pubic rami -which makes the actual contact with the saddle- the width of these bones is often key in determining saddle comfort. For example, if someone had a saddle that is narrower than their sitting bones, the resulting pressure gets put on the perineum, or the tissued in-between the sitting bones– yep, not comfortable! In general, women tend to have wider pelvises than men, but there is a great variability, as we’ve seen very small riders with a wider-than-expected pelvis.
Thus, if you can get an fairly accurate width measurement of your sitting bones, you have a lot better knowledge of what saddle should, in theory, work for you. We’ve been assessing this distance in the clinic with a nifty tool referred to as the “Ass-O-Meter“, which is basically a memory-foam pad with a sliding measuring gauge (in millimeters) directly above it. Sit on the pad, knees higher than hips, lean forwards, and it leaves a depression to measure of your sitting bones width.
This data can then be useful when looking for a new saddle, or comparing it to your current one w a flexible measuring tape. Your sitting bones should land squarely on the widest part of the saddle, and most sitting bones width range from 90mm, up to 160mm. Generally, the more upright the bike rider’s position, the wider the saddle you’ll want. Women tend to prefer wider saddle, with shorter nose.
#3: A good saddle can still cause pain if the height is not optimal (or, if handlebars bars are too low compared to saddle)
So, you’ve done your homework, identified that your saddle is level, and your sitting bones match up well, but your still having problems.. What gives? Enter the almighty saddle height. This should be fairly easy to sort out, but the main point is to ensure that you have sufficient knee bend at the bottom of the pedal stroke — to the tune of about 35degrees of knee bend at the straightest- more than you’d imagine.
The all-too-common scenario we see is this: Your saddle is positioned correctly for the most part, but because it’s positioned too high, the knee straightens completely, causing a side lean. When that happens, more direct pressure and friction onto the saddle. With the repetitive nature of bicycling, it takes only a short distance to experience chafing, numbness, and pain.
Fix it: Lower your saddle in small, 5mm increments until you feel that you are not leaning or shifting your bodyweight while pedaling.
Correcting saddle issues are just a part of our comprehensive Bike Fitting service at Pedal PT.
With a proper bike fit, it can help make your bicycling much more than a constant pain in the. . .
– Kevin Schmidt, PT, MSPT, CMP, Cert. Bike PT, and Founder of Pedal PT in Portland, OR