I am a passionate cyclist and I spend most of my free time riding a bike. Over the years I have ridden lots of different bikes with lots of different saddles and although I have never had any serious discomfort ‘down below’ I have found on longer endurance rides a level of discomfort usually appears.
For some women this can be so bad they either limit or stop riding all together!
Most saddles are made with an average male rider in mind, although some manufacturers have started to create women’s specific saddles, some of these with cut outs don’t address the issues that are causing the discomfort.
Apart from the obvious difference between men’s and women’s ‘bits’ a women’s pelvis is usually wider than a mans to make way for childbirth. This means our sit bones are naturally wider, this has two issues the first is that the sit bones can be slipping off the sides of the saddle leading to less effective power transfer to the pedals, if you feel like you are always shuffling position this may be why.
The second and more damaging is that the pelvis must tilt forward, especially on a road bike with its aero position, this can put up to 40% (according to Cycling UK) more pressure on the vulva, an area of the body not meant to bear weight.
The issues can manifest as chafing, numbness, or extreme discomfort from pressure on tissues that get stuck between your saddle and pelvis.
So, all in all saddles are a pain in the vulva not backside as previously thought!
Investigate your saddle
First of all, there is no one size fits all. We are all incredibly different and so this takes a bit of investigation to find the saddle that works for you.
One of the simplest things to check is whether your sit bones are being supported, you can do this by measuring the gap between them in the riding position and then checking that against the width of your saddle.
Your saddle should be firm yet supportive. These sofa saddles found in Halfords and other retailers, can cause rocking and imbalance in your hips leading to coccyx and back pain. The rocking motion also means you are not effectively transferring power into the pedals no good if you are racing or trying to ride an endurance event. You should feel stuck to the saddle, it should support your pelvis to stay in one position. If you feel like you slip back or forward try to adjust the saddle back or forward on its rails, take a note of the distance between your head set and nose of the saddle then adjust and make a note of whether you slip more or less that way you can find the best reach from pelvis to handle bars.
Next up is that nose, no not the one on your face, the saddles nose should be narrow enough to allow your legs to move freely with no chaffing. Many saddles have a gap or relief in the front of the saddle to allow for the pelvis to rotate forward and the soft tissue of the vulva to not have to bear the weight. This comes with mixed reviews some find this helpful where others feel like they fall into the gap. Tilt can also come into play if you are slipping forward check the tilt of your saddle maybe the nose needs to point up a little further. My advice is make small adjustments write down everything and note how it felt, time to get yourself a saddle test loop!
The good news
The good news is a lot of manufacturers and shops now have ‘demo’ saddles you can try before you buy which is very handy when you look at the price of some of these ‘women specific saddles’. It is also worth noting a good bike fit is paramount to comfort on the bike if your bike is too big for you or too small it can cause lots of discomfort so if in doubt get yourself a bike fit!
Specialized and many other brands have come up with materials that support the soft tissue in a gentler way. You can read about Specialised mimic technology here.
A word on padded shorts, they are a must for anyone not just popping to the shops on their bike. Chamois come in varying thicknesses and shapes, it’s worth reading what the chamois is made of and how thick it is. Also buy Women’s bib shorts these are designed in a way which supports the soft tissue. Take into consideration the riding you are doing too, the longer you are in the saddle the more support you may want. Read the description it often gives clues as to the ‘ride comfort time’ for each pair of shorts.
Whilst we are talking about shorts lets talk about chamois cream and underwear, your padded shorts should be the only thing between you and your saddle, apart from a glorious layer of chamois cream if your ride is over 10 miles long. I love Muc Off’s luxury chamois cream.
I hope you found my article interesting and feel a bit more clued up on how to get a super comfortable saddle and optimal riding position.
Creating a stronger body on the bike could also help with discomfort when cycling, find out about my cycling specific Pilates here.