In a survey of RBR readers, saddle discomfort and saddle sores were the most frequent physical problem while riding. In another study of amateur endurance cyclists more than 60% reported butt pain and of these cyclists about 50% had to alter the riders riding style or temporarily stop riding.
Saddle problems are of two different types:
- Discomfort as a result of pressure on the sitz bones. Of these cyclists with butt pain about 70% of the discomfort was due to pressure on the tissue on the sits bones. The over time the pressure could result in a sore similar to a bed sore.
- The other 30% had irritation due to shear and friction in the crotch.
What Can You Do To Avoid Problems?
1. Get a bike fit. Riding around Boulder, CO I see riders sitting too upright so most of their weight is on the saddle. About 30% of your weight should be on the handlebar and 70% on the saddle.
On my website you can read about bike fitting at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine.
2. Choose the right saddle. Butts are like faces — very individual. Ask 10 roadies which saddle is best and you’ll probably get 10 different recommendations; none of which may be correct for you. Your saddle should be the right width for your butt so that your weight is borne by the sits bones not the soft tissue around them. If your saddle is too narrow your weight won’t be properly distributed. If it’s too wide it results in friction in the crotch. Specialized makes a tool to measure the width of your sits bones. Check to see if your local bike shop has one. Some roadies choose very light hard saddles to save weight. If a saddle is uncomfortable the rider won’t train as much and the loss of fitness will greater than the benefit of the light saddle.
What Can You Do To Avoid Pain On Sits Bones?
3. Ride butt miles. The more you ride the tougher your skin gets. This is one of the benefits of logging those endurance kilometers in the spring. When I started riding in the 70s the advice was to log at least 1000 kilometers on my fixed gear before switching to a bike with gears. Those early kilometers toughened my butt, the climbing build stronger legs and the fixie improved my spin. Sports science has progressed over the last 40 years and we no longer recommend riding a fixie; however, riding plenty of base miles is still important.
For more information see my column Is It Necessary to Build an Aerobic Base?
4. Develop leg strength. Ideally instead of sitting on the saddle you balance on it with most of your body weight borne by your legs. This is another benefit of strength training in the winter. If you didn’t do strength training last winter don’t add it to your training regimen now! You might develop in injury called spring knee, which is due to too much overload on the knee.
For more information see my column The Coach Injures Himself! How to Avoid Spring Knee.
5. Practice standing. Pressure on the sits bones reduces blood flow dramatically, which is what causes injury. Whether you have legs of steel or not standing for 30 – 60 seconds every 10 – 15 minutes relieves the pressure on the sits bones and allows normal blood flow.
6. Use padding judiciously. A padded saddle may seem like the obvious solution. Too much padding reduces the stability of your buttocks on the seat. This may result in more rocking side-to-side, which causes shear in the crotch. The shear and resulting friction may cause irritation in the crotch.
What Can You Do To Avoid Problems In The Crotch.
7. Set your saddle at the right height. This is another reason to get a bike fit. If your saddle is too high you’ll rock side-to-side increasing the shear force and friction on your crotch. You should be able to pedal with your heels on the pedals without your hips rocking. Tuck in your jersey so that the top of your shorts is visible. Ask a buddy to ride behind you to see if the top of your shorts is moving up and down. If the shorts line isn’t stable your saddle may be too high. Also ask your buddy to see if one side of your shorts drops noticeable. This probably means you have a leg length difference. If you suspect your saddle height is incorrect get a bike fit.
8. Try a saddle with a cutout. A cutout redistributes pressure in the crotch and may relieve pain.
9. Get the right shorts. Because butts are individual different shorts work for different riders. Invest in good quality shorts that will fit better and last longer. Beware of shorts that have extra padding.
10. Use the right lube. Different cyclists swear by different lubes. I follow the advice of my cycling friend Bernie who is also a dermatologist. He recommends either pure petroleum jelly or CeraVe. I prefer petroleum jelly because it’s inexpensive.
I hope these 10 tips help you have a great summer of riding.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.