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Question: How do you keep your bike seat from hurting your butt so much? Answer: Keep riding. You might not like the answer, but it’s the truth. Another truth is that a good bike seat is not supposed to be soft. This might seem like a lot of bad news but take heart. If you keep reading, you’ll learn what it takes to pick the best bike seat, and why soft seats aren’t necessarily a good thing.
Why isn’t a bike seat soft? A firm bike seat or saddle provides better support than a softer one. Bike seats aren’t designed for lounging as you would while binge-watching TV shows. You need to have a full range of movement while riding, and a proper bike seat should let you do that.
One of the biggest mistakes new bike riders make is to use a soft, mushy seat or saddle that squishes like a pancake when you sit on it. Be assured that a soft saddle is not in your best interest. A firm saddle is better for you for many reasons.
Why You Want a Firm—Not Soft—Bike Seat (Saddle)
First, let’s talk about seats versus saddles. Seats are for resting whereas saddles are for moving. A seat is supposed to support your butt and thighs when you are at rest. You straddle a saddle so that your legs have the full range of motion, like when you’re on a horse or a bicycle. What all this means is that bikes don’t have seats; they have saddles.
The saddle needs to accommodate your perineum, which is the space between your genitals and anus. The perineum is the part of your anatomy that your saddle supports, but it has to leave enough room for movement as you power your bike through a sprint or climb. The saddle can’t be too soft; otherwise, you’ll lose that much-needed support.
A firm saddle prevents pelvic numbness, which happens when the nerves and blood vessels in the perineum get compressed. As counterintuitive as this might seem, a soft, squishy saddle is more likely to give you “numb bum” than a firm saddle. Numbness can occur on all types of saddles, but inadequate perennial support is a common culprit.
With a firm saddle, you’ll experience less pain in the long run. Not only do firm saddles provide the proper support for the perennial area, but they also cause less chafing than big saddles because they don’t interfere as much with pedaling. Also, soft saddles flatten and compress, putting more pressure on your groin and other soft tissues.
Firm saddles provide better pelvic support, especially after long hours on the bike. If you ride aggressively or climb hills, you need to tilt your pelvis in the right direction to get the best workout, and the saddle needs to provide your pelvis the right support to help you get exactly the kind of workout you want.
Soft saddles hinder your performance. Although it might feel more comfortable, remember that a bike is not a recliner. When you ride, your glute muscles need to move right along with your legs, arms, back, and core muscles. All movement needs support, and that’s where a firm saddle comes in. Being able to move all your muscles makes cycling more efficient, natural, and fun.
Making Life Easier on a Firm Bike Saddle
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that if you look hard enough, you’ll be able to find a bike saddle that doesn’t hurt. Also, no bike shop will let you test-ride a bike for more than five minutes just to see if the saddle will be comfortable. It takes longer than that to get a real feel for whether a saddle will work for you. Skip the soft saddle; just save your money and go straight to the firm one.
What kind of riding do you do? If you have a beach cruiser that you take out on the weekends, you might prefer a saddle that is more chair-like and allows you to maintain an upright position. Other recreational riders like gel-cushioned saddles or ones with springs under the seat to soften any road shock. If you do racing or road cycling, consider a firm saddle with a center slit that takes the pressure off the perineum.
If you do more recreational riding, don’t be tempted to get a big saddle. You may think you’re getting extra cushion, but over time, you’ll just sink into the saddle, and it’ll eventually flatten out, leaving you with more pressure on your sensitive parts. Wider saddles restrict your leg movement. By the way, just sitting on your saddle without riding is not an effective way to see if the saddle will work for you.
Make riding a regular part of your exercise routine. All it takes is riding for more than a half-hour about every other day; this will help you get used to the saddle. After a while, you should experience no pain at all, assuming your saddle and handlebars have the proper adjustments. In short, the more you do it the less it’ll hurt.
Use your sit bones. The part of your body that makes contact with the saddle matters a great deal. There are two sit bones at the bottom of your pelvic bone, which should be the only parts of your pelvis that rest directly on the saddle. Resting on the sit bones is a very comfortable way to sit on the saddle, assuming you’ve ridden enough to break it in. If you ever have pain or numbness, check first to make sure you’re using your sit bones.
Give yourself time to get used to the saddle. What might feel good for the first minute on a new saddle will likely feel different after 20 miles or so. If you’re aching after your first short ride, don’t give up. Try the saddle a few more times before throwing in the towel. Also, make sure the saddle is adjusted correctly, which will prevent unnecessary pain and discomfort.
Adjust your sitting position while you’re riding. Avoid being positioned the same way on your saddle for long riding periods. Wait for a safe moment to freewheel, get off the saddle a second, and then sit back down. Also, take a break and get off the bike for a few minutes if you start to feel pain. An occasional break will relieve the perineal pressure.
If you’re tried everything—new saddle, taking breaks, saddle and handlebar adjustments—and you’re still feeling pain or numbness, get help from a bike shop you trust. A knowledgeable mechanic or staff person might be able to determine where you’re not adjusted properly. They might also give you advice on a saddle that would fit you better. Consider paying the extra money to have a professional bike fitting.
Why is padding or cushion not a good thing on a bike saddle?
First, during a long, hot ride, the padding, gel, or foam in your saddle will turn your undercarriage into an oven, which is not only uncomfortable but also unhealthy because excess heat breeds bacteria. Second, padding eventually deteriorates, loses shape, and becomes pancake-flat, which leaves you with little to no support.
Why does my butt hurt after riding just one day?
The most likely reason for the pain is that you don’t ride enough. Sorry, that’s just how it is. However, regular riding should help reduce the pain. If you ride a lot, then perhaps you don’t have the right saddle, or it needs adjustment. Do a little research to select the best type of saddle for your riding, or consult a bike shop.
Can “numb bum” be serious?
Occasional numbness is not a big deal, but over time it isn’t something you should ignore. Numbness comes from compression, which can lead to swelling, nerve damage, and lack of blood flow throw the arteries. If these problems persist, you could be dealing with tingling sensations, temporary or permanent groin numbness, or possible sexual dysfunction–in both men and women.
Do padded shorts help?
Many regular cyclists wear shorts with padding or a chamois, but it’s mainly to prevent chafing. Padding in the shorts doesn’t do much to cushion against firm saddles. If you decide to wear padded shorts, it’s a good idea to apply chamois cream to the crotch of the shorts to prevent friction between the skin and fabric.
What else could be causing me pain if I have a firm saddle that’s appropriate for my type of riding?
Several things can cause saddle pain. Maybe the saddle is tilted or angled too far forward—causing arm or shoulder pain—or too far back—possibly triggering pain in the lower back. Also, if the saddle is too far forward or back, it’s harder for you to sit on it correctly, which puts undue pressure on your perineum.
What if I just want to be comfortable while riding my bike?
Despite the disadvantages of broader, more padded saddles, at the end of the day, the best saddle is one that works for you. “Function over form” should be your mantra. If you get the most joy out of riding your cruiser on the boardwalk on weekends, then don’t put a slim racing saddle on your bike. Use whatever saddle gets you out riding at all!