Saddle pain is one of the perils of cycling – for indoor cycling riders even more so.
So here’s a quick guide to give your ass more comfort when you are doing 60-mile rides on Zwift.
First off, it’s a specific area of the seat area that usually suffers. It is the perineum – the narrow area between the front and back bottom that takes the battering.
This area is home to the pelvic floor muscles. They support the bladder and the bowel and contain blood vessels and nerves, which supply feeling to the nether regions.
Here we’ll go through how to reduce the suffering. And make sure you check out the top tip further down.
Also, check out ‘Bicycle Seats that Protect the Perineum‘.
Saddle pain in the sit bones
First off, if you have pain in the sit bones, then that is great. Well done and pat yourself on the back. If you’re looking for a proper riding position, then that is where you should be hurting.
Your sit bones should be taking most of the bodyweight on the saddle. If this area is feeling a bit uncomfortable, don’t worry, it will go after time. It is just a case of letting things settle in. And if you have been riding for any length of time, this should not be a problem.
Causes of bike saddle discomfort – saddle sores and numbness
If you are indoor cycling, probably the most common cause of discomfort is numbness. This is where the blood flow is stopped from reaching the scrotum and other soft tissue parts.
This numbness also tends to come from being in a more aggressive riding position, i.e., sitting further forward on the bike. Speaking personally, I tend to find this comes from the flat out, out of position riding that you tend to do on Zwift.
What we describe as the perineal area is actually the Pudendal nerve. This carries blood and sensation in the territory laid out between the anus and the perineum. When you feel numb – like you’re halfway through a sex change* – this is what has been affected.
But this isn’t the only thing.
There’s also saddle sores. These are either infected hair follicles or a boil. Infected follicles cause relatively small sores that tend to clear up fairly quickly. On the other hand, boils can get bigger if not treated, and many even need anti-biotics.
These are caused by a combination of pressure from your body on the saddle and friction from constant pedaling. Moisture, an increase in temperature, and reduced blood flow can all add to it.
Top Tip – next time you’re on Zwift take a moment and check out where you are on the saddle. If you are not in a sprint and are sitting on the front of the saddle then it should be moved forward. We ride differently indoors to outdoors.
Make a good saddle choice
Here is an excellent place to get some more information on this. In short, though, you’re looking at padding and width.
It is difficult to go into detail about bike saddle design. Everyone is different, and if you’re buying one, it really is about testing it out and going a few miles on the road.
But research has shown that narrow seats (i.e., the ones that are used by the pros) tend to put more pressure on the rider’s perineal region.
And although padding is helpful-yes it really is – it is not as good as a wide saddle. So go for width, not length.
One thing to remember, if you are struggling with discomfort on the saddle, then it will affect your power during rides. How? You will end up shifting around trying to get the right position, affecting your pedal motion. As well as making the right pretty miserable.
Bike fit – making sure it fits you, not the other way round
This one should be obvious, but it’s incredible how many riders I see on a poorly fitted bike when I am riding on the road.
Incorrect saddle height or handlebar reach will all leave you poorly positioned on the bike. An impact of this is to cause you to rock from side to side and move on the pedal saddle.
Here I’ll be controversial. You don’t need to go to a fitter to get a decent bike fit. The principles are fairly simple to understand.
Get a decent pair of bike shorts. Your arse will thank you for it
It’s not all about the bike.
Spend as much as you can on a decent pair of cycling shorts. Padding is absolutely crucial for bib shorts. Again, each to their own here but speaking personally, in 15 years of cycling, I haven’t come across anything better than the shorts Rapha produces.
The pad is the most important thing here despite all the stuff about lycra, fit, style, pocket for phone etc. Shorts are a bit like saddles. Each to their own. Although harder to test out.
Another slightly unrelated thing. I would always tend to use bib shorts when doing indoor cycling.
Obviously don’t go all out at once
Reminding you of what you already know. If you have been off the bike for a while, you have to build up slowly. Just as your legs need time to get going, so does your arse.
Build up steadily and allow your body to get in tune with the saddle. The worst thing you can do is get a saddle sore and keep on riding with it. It will not go away, believe me.
Using chamois cream is one of those things that you will resist for a while. But any experienced cyclist will tell you it is worth the investment in time and money. Now I know we are talking about indoor cycling here.
Chamois cream helps mitigate saddle sores as it contains antibacterial components that present germs from building up. It also includes soothing ingredients such as aloe vera.
But when you’re indoor cycling, anything more than an hour on the bike is a long time. So if you’re planning to do the Prudential Route on the London World, just stick a bit of cream on the underneath gap.
Last but not least. Get out of the saddle. Even if you’re being told to ride at 150 rpm in a low gear. Just flick it into the big ring and spend some time standing up. And stay like that until you get some sense of what gender you are.
* Applies to both men and women.