Saddle discomfort is the most common complaint of all cyclists.
Numb genitals, burning pain in your crotch,
bruised buttocks, saddle sores and raw, inflamed skin are
some of the common problems cyclists have with their saddles.
The problems often get so bad they keep you off the bike-
especially for new cyclists. Add to these very real problems
a storm of sensation surrounding frightening claims of erectile
dysfunction and impotence. No single issue attracts the
amount of concern that saddle (dis)comfort does, and no
topic seems more immersed in cycling lore and marketing
The best solution to saddle comfort is saddle time.
|Every cyclist experiences some degree
of saddle discomfort. It is an inescapable feature of
the sport. Truth be told, the bicycle seat as we know
is a bit of a bad idea: It puts weight on parts of the
body never intended by nature to support weight. Since
the first rider came home with a sore crotch from straddling
a saddle there have been ideas for improvement, but
few saddle comfort quick fixes yield results.
Especially for new cyclists there are a few key, proven
rules to follow on the way to tolerable saddle comfort.
In general terms, they can be broken down into three main
- Allow adequate
time for adaptation to the saddle.
- Wear good quality
bike shorts, and wear them correctly including chamois
- Be certain your
bike fits you correctly and your posture is good.
More than anything else, those three steps
will help you cope with saddle pain. Saddle pain is created
by a conspiracy of three factors:
- Heat from trapped air
and from friction between skin, shorts and saddle.
- Pressure from the weight
of the body on the saddle and from road shock.
- Moisture from perspiration,
even on cool days and especially warm days.
You have to work proactively to get comfortable on
a bike seat. There is no short cut.
|If you can manage those three factors
you will be able to spend more time in the saddle more
comfortably. Let’s take a detailed look at each
of the three factors that can help you be more comfortable
in the saddle:
1. Allow adequate
time for adaptation to the saddle.
This is the primary problem for new cyclists. They
simply are not used to sitting on a bike seat. The
crotch and inner buttocks are not acclimated to supporting
a significant amount of your body weight. These tissues
are generally soft and sensitive. In Europe, the vernacular
used to describe the process of acclimation a cyclist goes
through is called “getting your seat”. This
means allowing adequate time for the density and sensitivity
of the tissues that contact the saddle to gradually adapt
to the load. It does not happen overnight. Cyclists usually
start to adapt to sitting on a bike seat between 400 and
600 miles of riding over a period of moderate, consistent
rides that may take months. It is always better to do a
series of shorter rides than a limited number of long rides.
For very new cyclists rides should be under an hour in duration
and include all the good habits of saddle comfort such as
excellent quality shorts, no underwear and use of chamois
lubricant/anti-bacterial cream. There are no short cuts
to adaptation or “getting your seat”. It simply
takes time, and it is usually uncomfortable time at first
accompanied by some degree of numbness and pain. Overweight
cyclists are particularly susceptible to saddle issues during
adaptation and must progress more slowly when adding time
and distance to their rides. It simply takes time to get
used to sitting on a bike seat.
These shorts are shown worn inside out to show the
padding in the front. Consider how you sit on the
saddle when buying shorts.
|Saddle adaptation can be accelerated
with good hygiene habits specific to cycling. Never
wear cycling shorts except on the bike. Do
not drive to and from events wearing cycling shorts.
If you are off the bike, get your shorts off. Wearing
shorts for an extended time under street clothes and
while driving produces a clammy, moist environment on
the skin making it more delicate and susceptible to
irritation. Put your shorts on right before you ride
and get them off right after- don’t stand around
in bike shorts before or after your ride.
|The use of drying, medicated powder
such as St. Luke’s Prickly Heat Powder or Gold
Bond Medicated Powder inside your underwear while you
are off the bike helps adaptation by keeping the skin
dry and providing an antiseptic, absorbent environment.
Using alcohol wipes or even baby wipes after a ride
also helps sooth skin and removes bacteria and moisture
through evaporation. St. Luke’s Prickly Heat Powder
is the best powder I have used but is hard to find in
stores. Do a Google search to find on-line drugstores
that may stock it.
Good saddle comfort habits off the bike like using
powder to keep skin dry and tough increase saddle
As a resident athlete at the U.S. Olympic Training Center
in Colorado Springs our coaches asked us to sleep with no
underwear and a loose T-shirt. This allowed the skin in
our crotch to dry out at night. Keeping your saddle area
dry and clean off the bike cuts your saddle adaptation time
in half and prevents problems.
2. Wear good quality
bike shorts, and wear them correctly including chamois cream.
Inexpensive shorts can't match the comfort and features
of high quality pro level shorts- especially for beginners.
|You rarely see new cyclists with good
enough quality shorts. New cyclists need them
the most. Many cyclists with saddle discomfort
will spend over $100 on a novelty “men’s”
or “women’s” comfort saddle, but won’t
spend more than $60 on high quality bike shorts. In
general, more expensive shorts from $90-239 do feature
tangible features and benefits that make them more comfortable.
These features usually work better than changing saddles.
High quality shorts use more precisely cut patterns
for better fit. High end shorts have sophisticated seamless,
anti-bacterial moisture wicking pads that help reduce
friction but are highly breathable. Many of the new
designs fit more precisely since the pad itself is molded
from stretch fabrics that fit tightly against the skin
and transport moisture effectively away from tender,
inflamed tissues. These stretch pad designs move with
the cyclist as long as they worn correctly and reduce
friction. Once you’ve used high quality shorts
you will understand the benefits- until you do its difficult
to appreciate why $150 bike shorts are a good value
and mandatory equipment.
|Consider the use of bib shorts for long rides. Bib
shorts feature a suspender that goes over the shoulders
holding the shorts up and keeping the pad in contact
with the crotch. It is less convenient to use the bathroom
with bib shorts since you wear the bib section under
your cycling top but it is well worth the minor inconvenience.
Every rider in the Tour de France is wearing bib shorts
and many high end cycling shorts are only available
Worn inside out, these Louis Garneau shorts feature
a molded pad with vents to provide cooling and evaporation.
The new generation of pads offer incredible comfort.
Never wear any underwear with bike
shorts. They are designed to be worn against the
skin for men and women. Underwear traps heat and moisture
and adds friction from chafing.
|Be certain your bike shorts fit snugly
enough. Moisture wicking fabrics and stretch pads are
design to be skin tight. Wearing shorts that have a
poor cut or are too large creates wrinkles. This creates
places for moisture to collect and for friction and
chafing to begin. Don’t worry about modesty with
bike shorts- they need to fit tight. Baggy shorts never
work as well as from fitting, stretch fabric shorts.
Cycling shorts used on a bike with aerobars should
use a pad that comes up higher in the front. These
shorts are shown inside out.
Always use a chamois lubricant with padded
bike shorts. Chamois cream is a lotion or cream that is
applied either to the pad of the shorts or directly to the
skin. This topical treatment reduces friction through lubrication,
provides an anti-bacterial environment for the skin and
reduces the accumulation of perspiration. Assos Chamois
Cream contains witch hazel that helps dry the skin and speed
adaptation. It also has an uncanny ability to last for even
the longest rides. Assos Cream is used by Tour de France
winner Lance Armstrong, an especially strong testimonial
considering his long hours in the saddle and his complications
from surgery for testicular cancer. Chamois Butter brand
chamois cream is a less expensive alternative that has no
drying agent but is reasonably persistent and provides good
lubrication. For triathletes who need a stickier, tenacious
lubricant that won’t rinse off in the swim Body Glide
is a roll-on lubricant that is thick and provides good lubrication
for the minimal padding in triathlon race shorts also intended
for running. Even a moderate application of chamois cream
greatly improves saddle comfort.
Apply chamois cream directly to the shorts and/or
Our favorite chamois cream is Assos with witch hazel,
but there are many brands and all provide relief from
firction and heat.
Be certain your bike fits you correctly
and your posture is good.
Bad bike fit and posture are two of the reasons cyclists
think they need a new saddle. The truth is, most cyclists
would be better served to use the money on a good bike fitting
and high quality shorts than a special saddle. In some cases
“comfort” oriented saddles can help bridge the
gap to more traditional saddle designs for beginning cyclists
but good shorts and accurate bike fit and positioning will
yield more permanent results. A saddle that is too high
or too low or angled incorrectly will contribute to saddle
discomfort almost instantly.
Triathletes with aerobars sit differently than road
bike riders: They are rotated farther forward on the
nose of the saddle.
These draft-legal road style triathletes in an ITU
race sit more upright and farther back, changing the
dynamics of saddle comfort for them.
Treating the problem with a novelty saddle
that has holes in it, “relief” slots and thick
gel padding is treating the problem symptomatically. These
are temporary fixes that could be better addressed with
good shorts, good habits and proper bike fit. Look at the
saddles used by racing cyclists and top triathletes: There
are no novelty saddles with holes, cut-outs or gel padding.
These cyclists have long hours in the saddle, use chamois
cream and practice good saddle area hygiene off the bike.
They also have good bike fit and position. Cyclists, especially
triathletes, often treat saddle discomfort symptomatically
by angling the nose of their seat downward. Saddle designers
will tell you it is fine to angle a saddle slightly, but
much more than a three degree change in saddle angle replaces
one problem with another, causing the rider’s weight
to shift and move placing on the handlebars and/or pedals
more than it should be.
|Saddle comfort can be moderated with
handlebar position. Handlebars that are too far forward
or too high can distribute the rider’s weight
too heavily on the saddle increasing the chances for
saddle discomfort. Sometimes the best treatment for
saddle discomfort is adjustments elsewhere on the bike.
A good bike fitter can get your saddle orientation correct
for optimal comfort.
Bike positioning is critical to good saddle comfort.
Unusual saddle designs can be a good tool for getting
accustomed to riding or for special problems but aren't
the final word in saddle comfort.
|Saddle selection is an important factor
in saddle comfort. There are very few saddles that work
well for large numbers of people and saddle selection
is a matter of personal preference. You really have
to try a saddle for enough time to tell if will work
for you in the long run. This can be an expensive process
if you buy several saddles to find one that works for
you by trial and error. While saddle choice may seem
like the most obvious answer to saddle comfort it is
sometimes the least effective. Once you find a saddle
that works for you stick with it.
Saddle comfort is like any other fitness activity. You
have to work proactively to achieve it. If you manage saddle
discomfort correctly you’ll be able to spend long
hours in the saddle comfortably enough to really enjoy the
of Good Saddle Habits.
- Get used to sitting on a bike
seat with consistent, short rides over a period of weeks.
- Always wear form fitting bike
shorts, the best you can afford.
- Be sure your shorts are tight
enough with no wrinkles.
- Never wear any kind of underwear
with bike shorts.
- Try bib style bike shorts for
better fit, especially for long rides.
- Always wash cycling shorts between
- Put your shorts on right before
you ride and take them off right after. Don’t stand
around or drive to events in bike shorts.
- Always use a chamois lubricant
cream to increase comfort.
- Use powder inside your underwear
in the saddle area when wearing street clothes to keep
your crotch dry and speed acclimation.
- Be certain your bicycle fit, position
and posture are correct.
- Focus on the fundamentals of saddle
comfort instead of giving in to to marketing claims of