Is saddle pain normal?

by Alina

It is no secret that I love cycling, but to be honest, I did struggle with the teeny weeny seat when I first jumped on a road bike. When you look at the saddle on road bikes, your mind instantly (and logically) tells you that this will hurt. The good news is that with a few tips and a little bit of time, your bum will come to love your saddle, and you will find yourself being able to sit on it for hours on end in pure bliss (then you have to start worrying about the pain in your legs haha).

Let’s just get it out the way: Do NOT wear underwear under your bib/padded cycling shorts. Honestly, no one told me this initially, and I was too embarrassed to reach out and ask anyone. Believe me, it is much more comfortable wearing bib shorts without underwear. If it were not for looking crazy, I would shout this from the rooftops and sing about it outside bike shops.⁠

Your butt is like a muscle

In a sense, your butt is a muscle. Your gluteus maximus are powerful muscles that help you pump your legs up and down on the bike. However, what I mean is that your bones and delicate areas are like a muscle. The more you use (or abuse) them, the better they handle the strain and pressure. To start with, there may be some pain when you first sit on a saddle for a few hours. But, with a little time and know-how, this pain subsides, and you are left to think about and enjoy the beauty of cycling. 

If you stop training for some time or embark on an adventure that leaves you sitting in the saddle for longer than your body is used to, it will start hurting again. On my bike packing trip from Düsseldorf to Amsterdam, I’ve was in the saddle for 8 hours a day. After that, it hurts a little, but I guess that is normal because I never trained like this before.

Saddle Up

That being said, no matter how much you condition your butt, if you have the wrong saddle for your bone structure and anatomy, you are fighting a losing battle – or a sitting duck to the inevitable discomfort that comes from ill-fitting equipment. 

Finding the right saddle is not an easy task, but(t) it is totally worth it in the long run. Especially as a woman, it can be challenging as most ‘unisex’ bikes are equipped with men saddles. I have tried a men’s saddle once, wouldn’t recommend it. 

The main differences are that women have wider sit bones, so you will find that women’s bike seats are a little wider at the back. Women’s saddles also have a friendly wide cut-out channel in the middle of the seat to relieve pressure on sensitive areas. This cutout is essential if you are riding in an aggressive position (leaning further forward to reach the bars) on a road bike or taking part in a time trial. While I would never recommend cutting off your nose to spite your face, some pro-female cyclists prefer the saddles that have had the nose cut off completely. 

Don’t be too quick to throw in the saddle 

Similar to a blind date, you need to give yourself and saddle time to get used to each other. Think of your initial experiences on a first date. You may not be convinced you will be a great fit straight away. That is fine, perfectly normal. Take the time to get to know it (talking about the saddle here) a little bit longer and if you are new to cycling altogether, let your body get used to the sensations and riding experience before you invest in a brand new saddle.

Also, the saddle sores and aches, and pains are just as often caused by a poorly fitting bike as they are by the saddle itself. Going back to the dating analogy, maybe the bar or cafe you choose was not the best place to get to know each other, get back to the drawing board, make a few adjustments and go again. Often people talk about the height of the saddle. While this is incredibly important, you can also play around with the seat’s position on the seat post. Most modern bikes and seat posts allow you to tilt the seat slightly and move it forward or back on the rails. These micro-adjustments can make a world of difference. 

Once you have given yourself some time to get to know each other, made a few micro-adjustments based on Youtube videos you have seen online, and something still doesn’t feel right. It is time to consult the experts. A professional bike fitting service can seem expensive, but it is worth every penny. In addition to ensuring that your bike is set up for optimum pedalling efficiency, they will also work with you and your body to ensure you are comfortable on the saddle. 

Saddle sore no more

You have the perfect saddle for your butt. It feels like you are sitting on a cloud while exploring your area on the bike. When suddenly you realise there is some discomfort rearing its ugly head. This time, it is not your muscles or your sit bones, but your skin. Saddle sore is a very common ailment for cyclists. It has little to do with ill-fitting saddles but is something you need to be prepared to prevent before it forces you off the bike. 

It is essential that you use protection to avoid any nasty rashes (talking cycling, guys!). I am sorry, I regret that already – my typing and hypothetical storyline – although I would imagine you would also say that the next morning.  

Due to the nature of the areas we are talking about and the words I am about to use, I will not use the dating analogy again. We are talking about the joy of cycling here!

Pro tip:

Apply coconut oil in the saddle area before the ride. It’s a budget and naturally anti-bacterial option. You can also use it for your legs to prevent dry skin and, if it’s a cold day, to stay warmer. Incidentally, I also use it as a hair treatment, as a hair mask to care for my hair during a ride (this also saves some time).

You can also buy specific chamois creme. It works the same but is a little more expensive and often has unnatural ingredients. This layer of lubricant prevents any chafing, and the best options out there are also antibacterial. The worst part of saddle sores is if you allow them to get infected. By adequately treating your cycling shorts and delicate areas, you can prevent a small rash from developing into an extended break off the bike. Another tip is to keep your bib or cycling shorts clean. Ideally, you already have a couple of pairs of bib shorts, so that regular washing will not leave you having to wait for them to dry. 

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