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Becky Jo’s Carfree Life: Seats and Undercarriage Issues

Posted by on January 28th, 2020 at 11:30 am

After riding 10 miles on my stock seat it was like bad teen sex. I had to walk around doing the cowboy-waddle.

I got my bike in February 2016; it was a 2015 close-out. I had no idea what I was buying. It was deeply discounted, in my size, and I wanted something modern and light weight.

A friend, Em, also got a road bike at the same time, and we both starting chatting about it. Em, whose kids have all grown, was investing way more time into her rides, and was swapping out gear and putting on miles. I commented one day that after riding 10 miles on my stock seat it was like bad teen sex. I had to walk around doing the cowboy-waddle. Em said she had done this thing where you can check out seats, like at a library, and see which ones you like. Em ended up choosing a $300 seat she was so excited about.

That was a bit above my tax bracket. Instead, I went to the sporting big box store and got some gel-seat-cover-thing. It’s like someone took gummy worms, smooshed them together, and covered them with leftover 70s velour. After a couple years, it started to look like the seats of my Zipcar, so I took it off. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, but I really just couldn’t look at it anymore.

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white road bike saddle

Stock seat.

You want to know something weird? My stock seat doesn’t bother me now. What does that mean? No, don’t be gross. If that was going to go numb, it would have happened a few kids ago. Was I riding differently? Am I riding differently now? Zen Road Bike human always has a tiny barely-there seat, but the Zen Cruiser always has a big cushy sea… I am confused. I know I have not reached any level of expertise in form, so why does my tiny seat not bother me? Is there some seat-technique I’m unaware of that somehow I’ve stumbled on to? I learned to ride Western style on horses as a kid, and saddle position has some bearing, but often it was just learning the difference between a cantor and a trot that would save your hind.

I want to know because I don’t want to put the weird gummy-worm cushion back on and I don’t want my undercarriage to start hurting again. Also, the article about labia surgery makes me think this is a topic we should be discussing more. I don’t wear padded (chamois) pants – just my usual pants or jeans. That’s actually why my stock white seat is now slightly stained blue from my jeans. But this isn’t the first topic by a long shot about sports equipment original made for one body type being used by all body types, and the issues that may cause.

So here’s what I’m curious about this week: What seat do you have and why? Do you think it’s one of those things that people spend too much money on for no reason or are you a believer in investing in the bottom line? Are there legitimately amazing seats we should all know about? Do I need to change my tax bracket to afford such seats? Do you wear padded pants/shorts?

Possibly needed notes about this post: I’m a cis-gendered female. I can only write from that perspective as it’s the only perspective I’ve had. While I do tend to be irreverent about my life, I do acknowledge and absolutely respect that people of all genital equipment and gender identities may or may not have the same experiences. You’ll get no TERF from me.

— Becky Jo, @BeckyJoPDX
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Lowell
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Lowell

I also used Gladys’s saddle library early last year to pick out a new seat. I think I tried maybe 5 saddles before picking the Brooks C17. It’s definitely a little pricey at $120, but that’s far cheaper than the $300 your friend paid, and being able to try each saddle for a week was enormously helpful. I like the C17 over Brooks’ signature leather saddles because I don’t need to worry about rain messing it up.

As for why you don’t find your old seat as painful anymore, I do think butt pain is something most people experience when they first start riding, and it reduces over time regardless of saddle selection. I always figured it’s a matter of your butt muscles getting a bit stronger and tougher over time.

And lastly, I think padded shorts are enormously helpful when you are riding longer distances.

turnips
Guest
turnips

I’ve got a Brooks C19 that I like a lot. rode a C17 before the C19 was made. great saddles, but they both destroy trousers in short order. the all weather models seem a bit more slippery and may not have this problem.

JONAS
Guest
JONAS

Everyone sit bones are different, but in my experience, low end saddles now offer some of the most comfy experiences equal to or better than $200 plus saddles. Specialized Lithia saddle comes to mind, for me at least.

Figure out if you like flat saddles, or banana shaped saddles. Find your sit bone width?

BTW, just say no to white saddles. lol

dan
Guest
dan

I’ve never had a problem to speak of while wearing padded shorts for road rides, but my daily bike commute in jeans has definitely lead to saddle sores. I bought a new saddle at Gladys Bikes for my commuter and it helped but didn’t 100% fix the problem, though it’s good enough that I can still bike commute in jeans every day.

Conclusion: maybe jeans aren’t the best pants for cycling…who knew? 🙂

Jason
Guest
Jason

One word: assometer. This is unfortunately a Specialized product. Remember, friends don’t let friends pay for Specialized lawyers to sue small businesses over trivial use of words. River City Bicycles will let you try one for free, and it’s good to know the proper saddle size.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zMbZ2Q8VqOo

Fortunately, my butt is average size. Meaning, the standard, middle of the road size saddle that comes on most men’s bikes fits me just fine. I was still happy to identify the fit though.

In your case, it’s likely that the soft tissue around your sits bones responded to the pressure and developed a tolerance for it. It’s very common for someone to have saddle sores on a bike, if they haven’t been riding frequently.

For my own self, I have a virtually rock hard saddle on my gravel bike and a fairly cushy on on my e-bike. There are a lot of factors. My e-bike goes much faster so a cushy saddle is required, due to the amplified force of bumps and such. On my gravel bike, I could probably get away with a softer saddle.

However, with saddles, there is such a thing as too soft. If it’s too soft, the soft tissue between your sits bones become load bearing. This can cause harm, as well as discomfort. So, I err on the side of hard and figure, I can soften it with a chamois. For just tooling around town, I don’t worry about additional softness.

9watts
Subscriber

I buy seats at City Bikes in their used bin. Some of them have been very comfy. And I think I have generally paid about $8 for those in that bin. Almost as cheap as a seat library, and you don’t have to return anything.
My experience with comfort/discomfort has been a mix of
– some seats are just terrible, not worth trying to get used to them, and
– patience yields dividends. If you have a seat that works, OK, then it might improve as your undercarriage as you put it gets used to the seat geometry.

Dave
Guest
Dave

You have discovered why there are so many saddle companies out there, and why they can all stay in business. I have been a rider for 50 years, worked in the industry for 45 and only seen one, count ’em, one, saddle company go out of business–and they have recently revived!

Matt
Guest
Matt

Are you referring to Idéale?

ed
Guest
ed

Not sure what Dave is getting at – a number of brands long gone over the last 50 years. There’s Saddleco more recently, then Persons Majestic. In addition to Ideale (French) there were many venerable European saddle brands now gone when the switch to nylon bases started happening in the 70’s. Then the influx of Asian brands in the 90’s. Several old names have been bought and product made under old name but usually by existing makers not the original company. But no matter; he’s right that there will always be a zillion variations because… we all seem to be different down there!

Rebecca
Guest
Rebecca

I can’t think of anything that has improved my experience on a bicycle as much as finding my perfect saddle. On my first longer ride with it I felt like Princess Jasmine singing “A Whole New World.” Expensive does not mean “best” by any means! Fit is the most important thing.

Joe Holcomb over at West End Bikes downtown helped me figure out my situation. We started out by measuring sit bone width to narrow the available options – you sit on a pressure-sensitive pad that creates a digital impression of your weight distribution and then a knowledgeable person can recommend saddles that offer support where you’d need it. It was super helpful.

rick
Guest
rick

the Spongy Wonder bike seat combined with the Kinekt seat post has make riding a bicycle comfortable again. It took some time to get used to it, but I did a 90 mile bike ride to the Oregon coast and some of it was over tough terrain but I wasn’t sore after it. I previously had bad pain on daily commutes in the past.

Jason
Guest
Jason

The Kinekt is a game changer for a bike with no frame suspension. It will set you back, but I’ve got one on my ebike and it allows me mercilessly plow over bumps. Muwhahahaha!!!

Jason
Guest
Jason
joan
Subscriber

Time on the bike makes a big difference. I didn’t ride for several months a few years ago when I was out of the country, and it took a while for my bike to be comfortable again when I got back to town; it had been comfortable before, and became comfortable again after a few weeks. But those first few rides were tough. So you were likely just better accustomed to riding when you took the cover off.

But our bodies are all different, and no one one saddle will work for everyone.

I’m not sure all of the Gladys saddles are that expensive, and I’d really encourage you to try it out next time you want a new saddle. It’s a fantastic service, and you aren’t obligated to buy anything. At the very least, maybe give them a call and ask them about price ranges?

If not: I’d go to a bigger local bike shop and get a lower cost women’s specific saddle, which should be around $40 or $50. But Gladys might have some of those lower cost saddles in stock too, and, since they’re a bike shop that caters very well to women, has an excellent range of options. I’d also suggest avoiding anything that looks really expensive for your in-town bike that will be locked up outside while you run errands, shop, etc.

I generally only wear padded shorts on longer recreational rides.

ADD
Guest
ADD

I second everything Joan said, when I first started riding daily it took a good 3 weeks for me to not wince when I sat, but then magically it was fine. Is it nerve damage? Sit bone callous? I don’t know, but I was very glad when it happened.
There’s a school of thought that the gel seats aren’t great long term solutions anyway, as your body weight will press down through the sit bones, strongly compressing the gel underneath, but then leaving the rest of the gel seat to press up against your tender soft tissues. If you get a more minimal seat and give yourself time to adjust, it might actually be more comfortable in the long run.

Dave
Guest
Dave

ADD, your observation on gel is something I have observed myself. Also, some gels will, after a couple of years, set up hard like plaster in the amount of time where a leather saddle will break in or a leather covered plastic saddle just look a little used.

Kagi
Guest
Kagi

In my experience, leather is best. My wife swears by the Brooks Imperial B17S; I’ve had a lot of different leather saddles, but I find that if they don’t fit at first, time and water will mold them to my particular anatomy.

maxD
Guest
maxD

I was long-time bike commuter, and was looking to upgrade my saddle due to riding more to haul my daughter around and because I started doing longer recreational rides. I used the Gladys saddle library and for me, the clear winner has been the Selle Anatomica. I have a fast bike, a summer commuter and winter commuter and I have Selle Anatomica saddles on each of them. I highly recommend trying one.

Candor Cane
Guest
Candor Cane

I had a stock saddle forever that I got used to, then I got a new job and splurged on a lovely Brooks Cambium Saddle (C15).

One day the next week, I decided I needed a pint of ice cream at 10 pm. Locked up my bike and wheels, made a 5 minute stop to purchase the aforementioned ice cream.

Came back out to find my seat, seatpost and seatpost collar had been hastily taken. 🙁

Now I’m riding on a Charge Spoon (~$30). PathLessPedaled on Youtube says it’s their favorite saddle, and I see why! Light, comfortable and I could buy 5 of them for the price of one Brooks. More importantly, though, I don’t HAVE to buy five of them because nobody is gonna steal it.

Jason
Guest
Jason

ABUS makes a seat post lock. https://www.abus.com/eng/Mobile-Security/Bike-Safety-and-Security/Locks/NutFix

I’ve got it and it is solid. As long as the bike cannot be laid on the ground, it wont open.

clodhopper
Guest
clodhopper

Getting comfortable in the saddle is 1/3 proper bike fit, 1/3 riding often to condition your butt and 1/3 experimenting to find a saddle that feels right. All of this only comes with miles of riding and experience.

raktajino
Guest
raktajino

I agree, overall bike fit should not be discounted re saddle soreness! Now that I have a bike that actually fits, I found that I don’t need the wide, cushy saddle that used to be the only thing between me and a sore crotch.

BikeRound
Guest
BikeRound

While in general I believe that you should buy all things on craigslist, the one exception I made is my noseless Nexride seat (about $120). It is by far the best bike seat ever. Only after experiencing a Nexride seat do you realize how much traditional bike seats restrict your leg motions. I don’t know why anybody ever decided that when riding a bike we should sit on a rididulous wedge, but I am very glad that I found Nexride.

John Lascurettes
Subscriber

Why? Because the horn or nose of the saddle gives your thigh something to press against when you’re leaning into a turn. Ultimately, it gives you more control over the bike.

BikeRound
Guest
BikeRound

In my experience, this was not the case.

idlebytes
Guest
idlebytes

I think it would be most noticeable if you tried turning a corner with no hands. Not that you need a saddle with a horn so you can do this but that’s just how I imagine you could notice the difference best. Maybe also with a lot of weight on a rack I definitely use my legs around my saddle to keep my bike stable then.

Jason
Guest
Jason

When I corner, deep cornering, I don’t think the saddle nose is in play. Let me explain. My outer leg is extended and I’m pressing that foot into that pedal. This is so I can lift my inner foot as high as possible. That inner knee is either winged out for counter weight, or tucked in for clearance. That’s the kinetic setup. Seems intuitive so far, right?

What I’ve learned from yoga is that it is very unlikely you are at once pressing through your foot and squeezing your thigh, when your leg is extended. I’ve done exercises with a foam block between thighs, and it is a difficult stand through the foot and squeezing the thighs against the block at the same time. Unless you’re a gymnast or a dancer, most people don’t command their body so deftly. We do well enough to sit in chairs and walk. 😀

Especially since your legs are never in a symmetrical position, I am skeptical that you can effectively leverage the bike through a corner by way of squeezing the saddle. Also, you have greater leverage closer to the center of mass. I.E. at the bottom bracket. Back to my outer leg, it is the locking of this leg – the forming of a solid and hefty lever – that stabilizes my corners. This engages my core and upper body.

Those are my thoughts at least.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

That’s the conventional wisdom about nosey saddles, but I don’t find it to be the case. I can steer my bike just fine with a noseless saddle. Amazingly! There is weight on the saddle (or seat) and it doesn’t take much pressure to hip-steer the bike. In my experience the nose contributes almost nothing.

And I say this as a mountain biker, and one who enjoys rugged terrain, and one who (as a hardtail rider) knows how to “ride light” over bumps to avoid pinch flats and painful impacts. I can ride aggressively offload just fine on a noseless saddle.

And there’s a lot of reason not to have a nose on your saddle. It means you’re pressing your soft tissues – your perineum and other stuff in that region, regardless of your sexual configuration – down onto the saddle. And there are all sorts of good reasons why you should never put weight there: some very important nerves and blood vessels run through the perineum. And this is true for both men and women.

John Lascurettes
Subscriber

I picked up my bike from a service with a Selle Anatomica saddle on it and the woman working the service counter exclaimed to me that it was the most comfortable saddle she’s ever experienced. I like them. Pricy, but worth it. They have 1/2 off clearance sales on their site routinely.

John Lascurettes
Subscriber

Oops. Nesting gremlin.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

I’ve went through three Selle An-Atomica saddles in about as many years. Just didn’t hold up.

GNnorth
Guest
GNnorth

Nice work, this is a subjective matter and always will be discussed in cycling circles. Once I find a seat that fits me the next step is to buy two or three of the same exact version. Changing seats sucks.

Mark Wheeler
Guest
Mark Wheeler

Nose-less, 2 piece seat is what I use. I don’t understand traditional bike seats & find them very uncomfortable. The ones I have were made by a local but he moved on, they are similar to the spongy wonder. Good luck!

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

And you can buy a perfectly high end well made leather – last 20 years – saddle but if you also must care for it: ride it always dry or cover it / use fenders when its rainy…and keep it conditioned…if it gets old and heard or saggy like a hammock you will have discomfort and probably should buy a new saddle and not a classic leather one.

B. Carfree
Subscriber
B. Carfree

While nothing with saddles is ever definitive, I think I have a pretty good idea of why the stock saddle became acceptable after you rode with a gel pad for a while. You’ve got five contact points: 2 hands, 2 feet and 1 bum. Ignoring hands for the moment, new riders are going to support a lot more of their body on the bum because they don’t yet have the leg strength/endurance/coordination to put full load on their feet. As a rider gets stronger legs, it relieves pressure on the bum.

As someone rides more s/he may also find that they develop stronger core muscles and can comfortably get the body lower (more horizontal), which also unloads the bum. (At extremes, this is what causes the labia damage you have read about.)

Also, an upright rider is riding on the wider part of the sitz bones and thus usually needs a wider saddle. As a rider gets the upper body down more, the change in pelvic angle puts the narrower part of the bones on the saddle so a narrower saddle is more comfy.

That said, ride what feels good. My wife once road a 3000 mile tour captaining our tandem with a big fuzzy sheepskin cover on her saddle. It was what worked at the time. Other times she uses a stock saddle or a stock saddle with some extra cushion taped under a lycra cover. (I’m pretty saddle tolerant so my experience is no help at all.)

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

My wife and I bought a tandem a couple years ago that was made in 1984. Imagine the seats on this. We ended up going to Gladys Bikes and utilizing her seat library. My wife rode a few different seats until finally purchasing a $100 saddle (think it’s a Terri something…) We paid $650 for this sweet vintage road bike tandem and her seat was one of the first upgrades; practically a sixth of the overall price of the bike.

Needless to say, the seat changed our riding experience for the better. We’ve done many upgrades to this tandem, but her saddle purchase has been the best. She also rides with padded shorts.

Cyclekrieg
Subscriber
Cyclekrieg

“I don’t wear padded (chamois) pants – just my usual pants or jeans.” Seriously, you have no idea how chamois will change your life. Yeah, it means packing some “for the day” undies, but lord, the butt will love you back if you do. (I commute 30 miles rail-to-trail in the summer.)

That being said, saddles are extremely personal and what works for one scenario/person might not for another. An example: I prefer WTB women’s MTB saddles myself, but that is because WTB changed something about the men’s saddles in 2016 and they just don’t fit me right anymore.

1) As other commentators have said, get your sit bones measured. That lets you know the saddle width that fits you. Millimeters matter.
2) Road bike or not, look at MTB saddles first. They tend to be less “hatchet-top” than road saddles.
3) Look at a getting a pair or two of chamois. Wear them like undies. It changes everything.

Also: https://youtu.be/nXcrS4xQZ2E

idlebytes
Guest
idlebytes

I think for new riders a big part of saddle discomfort comes from riding skill. With time you get better at anticipating bumps and other hazards that jar your body and stand up in your pedals to relieve your body. It’s a small thing that I think goes unnoticed after you’ve been riding for a while but it makes a big difference.

X
Guest
X

What they said. You got stronger and started riding the bike in an active way instead of sitting on it. A little adjustment might have helped but basically you persevered!

Some saddles are better for particular people than others. I’ve experimented a little but luckily a sort of average-looking road saddle works pretty well for me, when I see one in a bin for $10 I buy it. Preferably vinyl and nondescript. Nobody steals them.

That’s really cool that Glady’s will let people test saddles but yeah, you’re going to feel like you should buy one. If you see something plausible at City Bikes they just might let you do some testing and swapping. Friends with similar bikes sizes (and butts) will probably let you do a saddle test, no wrenching needed.

soren
Guest
soren

A nice piece on saddle pain from a non-male perspective:

https://www.cyclinguk.org/saddlepain

JV
Guest
JV

1. I had never heard of “TERF” – thanks for teaching me something!
2. I wear a chamois (NO UNDERWEAR) for training rides or anything much longer than 5 miles; otherwise, bopping around town in regular clothes is fine. YMMV.
3. Years ago, I got a professional bike fit. The MAJOR a-ha moment was when the fitter had me sit on this goofy little memory gel gizmo that took an impression of my ischial spines (“sit bones”). They were shockingly far apart, which explained why I never did well with the skinny little racing saddles I’d been using. I still ride racing saddles, but ones with really wide (155mm) sitting surfaces; life is much better. Again, YMMV, but seeing how wide or narrow those bones are is helpful–you definitely want to be sitting on those rather than your tender bits.

Serenity
Guest
Serenity

Turning a corner with no hands?? Why would you do that?

9watts
Subscriber

It is fun! Why wouldn’t you?

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

Why would you put your hands back on the handlebars simply to turn? If you’re riding with no hands then of course you’re also turning with no hands. Otherwise you’re riding with hands.

Serenity
Guest
Serenity

9watts, I would not turn a corner with no hands for so *many* reasons.

9watts
Subscriber

Certainly. I get it. But like many things that seem scary at first, it is delightful.

Sheilagh Griffin
Guest
Sheilagh Griffin

Gladys Bikes seat library is a GREAT thing! Also take a man’s seat recommendation with a grain of salt, women are built differently. Your body can adjust some AND pay close attention to pain – it is your bodies way of communicating a problem to you. I have ridden men’s seats and not had a problems but there is a variety of physical structures in women, we are not all the same but perhaps more similar. If your current seat is not hurting you, go with it! Also I found some a lightweight bike short liner that has a minimal pad, I use that for commuting. I could not ride a lot in just jeans without pain. Also if you wear your jeans a lot you will end up with holes in the crotch. The men’s levis commuter jeans were the most durable I could fine and I wore those with a lightweight bike short with a minimal pad. You will find the right combination for you!

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Glad you found the Levi’s commuter jeans to be durable. Unfortunately I (a man) did not. Although the gusseted double layer of fabric should have lasted longer, what happened for me is that the outer layer wore out just as fast as on regular jeans. Fortunately I got mine for the price of normal jeans at Macy’s store-closing sales (one pair in Mpls, one pair in Portland, both stores closed about the same time) so they didn’t cost me extra.

Have gone back to my normal Levi’s jeans for biking, since they seem to last just as long as the 511 Commuters did.

Linda Jellison
Guest
Linda Jellison

I don’t think I’ve ever ridden wearing anything but padded shorts or bibs. I see people doing that and it makes me shudder. I haven’t ridden in a while but will have to suffer through the pain again when I do. My saddle is a women’s Specialized with cutouts, it seems fine.