A New Place to Rest my Rear

I have had some pretty bad times with saddles that don’t fit. I won’t get into exactly which areas were bruised and swollen but I don’t think that I’m the only person to have experienced this. So far, at least as far as I’ve noticed, unisex saddles tend to be male-butt-oriented. It was really important for me to get a better fitting saddle right off the bat to put on Jenny. At the time I just grabbed whatever looked good on the wall, not really knowing what I was looking for. While it’s okay, I’m finding that the more time I’m spending on my bike on this 45 day challenge it’s highlighting the sore spots and shortcomings of my saddle.

On my commuter bike, Jimmy, I have a great saddle. Because I spend so much time sitting on it (compared to downhill riding) it was important to get a great saddle right away. I heard great things about Sidesaddle in Vancouver and headed in there to get fitted. It was a great experience. They actually have a ton of saddles to choose from and you can demo them all.

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After talking to you about your riding style, the lovely staff will recommend some saddles, put them onto your bike, and have you ride around the block to test it out.

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Once you’ve found the perfect one, you can take it out for a bit of a longer ride to make sure it’s the right fit for you. They happily adjusted angles and back and forth to make sure it was as comfortable as possible and I rode out of there a happy camper with an even happier set of ladybits.

I think this is an issue that a lot of female riders have. Everyone’s body is different and it’s important to find the right fit for you. To that end, I’ve reached out to Andrea from Sidesaddle to give some advice on how to find the right saddle for you.

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Andrea’s passion for bikes – and patience for bloggers asking questions – knows no bounds!

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Q: How do I recognize that my saddle doesn’t fit me well?

A: Any pain, discomfort, numbness, or even just a desire to continually shift your hips around is a cue that something’s not right. Many people, women especially, have never been comfortable on a bike so they accept discomfort as part of the experience. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Your bike should be comfortable. Not comfortable like a hammock or sweatpants, but comfortable in the sense that it feels good to ride the way you want. Whether you’re riding hard and fast or sitting up and cruising, your muscles may complain but your crotch should be quiet and happy.

Q: Do I need a different type of saddle depending on riding style?

A: You need a different type of saddle depending on how your body is positioned on a particular bike. Commuting cyclists sit more upright, which rotates the pelvis backward, requiring more support for the bones in the rear of the pelvis. Road racers lean forward over the bike, which rotates the hips forward and drives the front of the pelvis down, requiring more pressure relief at the front of the saddle. For mountain biking it can be nice to have a bit of upsweep at the back of the saddle to aid in climbing, and riders sometimes need to actually get behind the saddle which will be awkward if it’s too wide.

You should also consider what you’ll be wearing. If your shorts are padded your saddle needn’t be – you just need firm support in the right places. For commuting you’re likely wearing jeans or dresses so some padding might be nice.

There are also some practical considerations unrelated to fit. Mountain biking saddles should be abrasion resistant. If you’re commuting year round a water resistant saddle is much nicer than one that soaks up water like a sponge. Leather topped saddles are more breathable and are therefore nice for long days of riding.

Q: How do I know when a saddle fits well? What should I look for?

A: A properly fitted saddle is comfortable in a more or less level position – it doesn’t need to be tipped excessively forward or back. It carries most of your weight on the bones to the rear of your pelvis, directly under your butt cheeks. It relieves pressure on the soft tissue at the front of your crotch, and has a narrow enough nose to avoid chafing your thighs.

There’s no one saddle that ticks all these boxes for every rider – it’s about finding a company whose saddle shape works nicely for your unique snowflake bottom. It takes some trial and error, but once you find a manufacturer whose saddles work well for you it’s likely that various different saddles from their range will work for your various styles of riding.

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Q: What is the proper positioning for myself on the saddle and the saddle
on the bike? What should my body position be?

A: The question of saddle position is hard to answer succinctly – your saddle can be moved up and down, as well as forward and back, and the answer can get very technical quickly. All riders can benefit from a professional bike fit and serious cyclists, riding frequently and far, should certainly have their saddle position set by a trained bike fitter. If your saddle is in the wrong position your knees will hurt. How and where they hurt will give clues as to where the saddle needs to be moved, so make mental notes and share them with your bike fitter.

Casual riders should set their saddle so that their leg is almost straight at the bottom of the pedal stroke. On most bikes this will mean you can only touch the ground with your toes, which is why most casual riders keep their saddles too low. But try it higher! You’ll be faster and more comfortable. Note that if you start to hyperextend your knees or rock in the saddle to reach the pedals, you’ve gone too high.

Forward/back position is harder to adjust yourself but it’s basically about deciding where you want your body weight to be – forward over the pedals or back and relaxed? A secret tip is that moving your saddle back can take pressure off your hands because it moves your body weight back, like a skier going into a tuck.

Note that some fit problems are due to ‘point discomfort’ – do you have the wrong saddle, the wrong grips or handlebars, the wrong shoes? Some problems are due to ‘bike fit’ – where are the saddle and bars located in space, and how is your body weight distributed on the bike? Point discomfort is usually (but not always) fairly localized, whereas fit issues can cause radiating discomfort through your joints, limbs, and back.

Q: Anything you’d like to add?

A: Riding a bike is a feast for the senses – wind in your face, heart pumping, the world sweeping by – and pelvic discomfort is not on the menu. It is well worth the time and effort to make sure you have the right saddle in the right position.

If you’re not feeling good on your bike find a good bike shop with supportive, knowledgeable staff or a good bike fitter who also offers a comprehensive selection of saddles. Sidesaddle offers affordable, accessible fitting services for all kinds of cyclists from beginners to dedicated athletes, as well as a Saddle Library that allows you to try saddles before you buy. But there are many competent, caring people working in bike fit, and some physiotherapists even offer bike fitting as an insurable service which can be covered if you have benefits.

All of the points I’ve raised can be complemented by generally taking good care of your crotch. Wear clean bike shorts, avoid sitting around all day in the sweaty underwear your wore on your ride to work, use chamois butter to reduce chafing, and rest when you’re sore. Most importantly, trust your body and listen to it.

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Great thanks to Andrea from Sidesaddle for answering these questions for me. Hopefully this will help some of you out there who maybe aren’t sure if your saddle is working for you or not. I, for one, am so happy to have gotten a new saddle for Jenny to get me out riding for longer and in more comfort.

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Already my butt feels better, I don’t get pain or numbness, and even the knee pain I was experiencing is gone. If you are anywhere even remotely close to Vancouver, I recommend taking the time and going in to Sidesaddle to get properly fitted. Shred on, ladies!

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