Let’s be honest, bums weren’t made for saddles.
And sometimes I feel, saddles weren’t actually made for bums. And that’s before we even discuss genitalia that really doesn’t like being squished for hours on end. Or even for a thirty-minute commute.
In the ten years I’ve been cycling I’ve learned many things and one of them is that huge numbers of women suffer from saddle soreness, whether that’s numbness, chafing, irritation or any of the myriad other things that affect our nether regions.
A lot of new cyclists think big, hugely padded seats are best as they look so comfortable
It affects beginners and professionals alike, spoiling rides for those of us who know plenty about cycling as well as people who don’t care to know anything other than how to pedal.
Team GB famously held in-depth consultations into the issue after discovering the impact it was having on rider’s performance, health and happiness. And after 18 months working 10 hour days as a bike messenger I can understand why.
It’s crucial that we discuss the issue and share tips, insights and evidence about how to best deal with saddle soreness or being uncomfortable in the saddle so with that in mind, here’s some advice I’ve picked up along my cycling journey:
1. Padded cycling shorts or bib shorts are worth every penny you spend on them
Choose wisely. There are some bargain priced shorts that will be fine for spinning but if you’re planning on spending hours in the saddle it’s worth investing in a pair that will last a long time and provide high levels of comfort.
Cycling shorts worth investing in
2. Don’t wear underwear underneath your shorts
The pad is designed to be worn next to the skin so wearing knickers will chafe.
[The only exception to this is padded cycling pants which can be worn under any normal bottom half]
Pants you CAN wear on a bike
3. Use chamois cream
This wonder balm is for me, absolutely vital. Apply liberally where you’ll come into contact with the saddle, either directly on your skin or onto the pad of your shorts.
Ointments for us girls
4. Use a saddle with a cut out
Using a saddle with a gap where most of the rubbing used to take place has revolutionised my rides. If your saddle has a deep channel down the middle that can be as good a cut out, depending on the placement.
5. Shorter nosed saddles can be better
Much like with a cut out, doing away with the nose of the saddle means there’s nothing there to rub you. Whether you’ll like this kind of saddle definitely depends on the kind of riding you favour.
6. Try a few saddles out
Some bike shops (and London Bike Kitchen) have a collection of saddles you can borrow to try out before you invest. They can also advise on what might best suit your body and/or riding style.
7. Wider is not necessarily better
As I race bikes (and have narrow hips) I like slimline, narrow saddles that align perfectly with my sit-bones - balancing on my sit-bones means the rest of my bum isn’t squished/spread across the rest of the saddle.
A lot of new cyclists think big, hugely padded seats are best, largely as they look so comfortable, but they offer little support and can actually really chafe.
8. Try a gel cover
If you regularly hire bikes or aren’t able to invest in a quality saddle of your own, a gel saddle cover can make a big difference to your comfort. Pair it with padded shorts and chamois cream and you could find your saddle soreness banished.
9. Get a bike fit
It could be that your bike is set up all wrong so you’re putting too much pressure on the seat area, or at least the wrong part of the body.
As I mentioned, you really need to be sitting on the sit bones and glutes - this will minimise pressure on soft tissue.
Saddle angle and height can also play a part so consider playing around with these, either at home or with the help of a fitter or bike shop assistant.
10. Get pressure mapped
If you want to go the whole hog, you could go to see a bike fitter or specialist for saddle pressure mapping that will identify where the problem lies.
Along with ensuring your sitting correctly, at a pressure mapping consultation you should have the chance to try multiple saddles to see which ones work best for you.
I hope that some of these tips and help you in your quest to ride bicycles entirely pain free! Cycling doesn’t need to hurt so if you’re experiencing discomfort, don’t put up with it. I’d love to hear from you if you have any other tips you’d like to share as I’ve found that we don’t all find success with the same approach. Let me know in the comments below and tell me about any products that you swear by!
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