Question: I’m a triathlete who has frequent problems with saddle sores. I wonder if they’re caused by a discrepancy between the width of my sit bones compared to my saddle. I measured my sit bones (hard to do!), and they’re about 100-115 mm apart. How should this measurement guide my saddle selection? — Barry B.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: It’s hard to know if saddle width is the main cause of your saddle sores. Usually, width problems show up as numbness or, worse, erectile dysfunction. A saddle that’s too narrow puts your sit bones over the sides. This allows excessive pressure on the penile nerves and blood vessels that run through the crotch.
You can certainly still get saddle sores on a seat that’s wide enough to support your sit bones correctly. And that’s what you’re looking for — bones supported on top. If you know your center-to-center sit bone distance, you can measure across the top of saddles to eliminate those that are too narrow (or needlessly wide).
For triathletes, a big issue is the low, aero-bar position often used. This rolls you forward so that weight and pedaling action is concentrated on the narrower front of the saddle. It’s hard to remain back where sit bones are supporting your weight and limiting pressure on the crotch.
A change in saddle tilt (1-2 degrees downward) may help lessen pressure, especially if your bars are a lot lower than the top of the saddle. Be careful — tilting it more will make it that much harder to stay back on the wide rear of the seat. Experiment!
You may also consider a saddle specifically designed for TTs and triathlons, such as an ISM seat.
Shorts Matter, Too
Be sure to ride in good-quality cycling shorts with a large, soft and lightly padded liner. Always use a clean pair of shorts for each ride. Wash your skin well immediately after you finish, and use an acne product containing 10% benzoyl peroxide (or a prescription gel called erythromycin) to treat pimple-like sores. A skin lube such as Chamois BUTT’r will help reduce the incidence of sore, abraded areas caused by chafing.
If you’re able to be completely free of saddle sores and abrasions, you’ll be the first cyclist in history to manage that. But if you use the above tips, I think you’ll limit how often you have a problem.