If your butt or crotch is hurting you when you’re riding your bicycle, you might be surprised to learn that your seat (or saddle) is probably not the problem. That’s right! For most people experiencing butt or crotch pain when cycling, buying a new saddle is usually a last resort.
Before you go out and purchase a new saddle for your bicycle (something that can be both complicated and expensive), be sure to read this article in its entirely. I’ll start by giving you some suggestions on how to make your current saddle more comfortable, then tell you how to measure your body and your saddle to see if the saddle you have now is a good fit for your body-type. If you determine that you do need a new saddle, I’ll tell you what characteristics to look for in a properly fitted bike saddle, and I’ll conclude by recommending a few of the most popular bike saddles currently on the market.
Why Does My Butt Hurt When I Ride My Bicycle?
If your butt or crotch is hurting you after just a short time of riding your bicycle, the problem is usually caused by:
- A misaligned saddle or seat post.
- Improper handlebar positioning.
- Poor or improper saddle design/fit.
- A low-quality or worn out saddle.
- Simply sitting in the wrong place on the saddle.
- Excess fabric/body tissue between the saddle and your body.
If you are experiencing butt or crotch pain as you ride your bike, the problem can usually be solved by simply adjusting your bicycle’s saddle, seat post, or handlebars. This is the first place you want to start when trying to solve your sore butt dilemma.
If your butt or crotch is hurting you while you ride your bike, try the following before you go out and purchase a new saddle:
- Adjust the up and down angle of your saddle.
- Adjust the side to side angle of your saddle.
- Adjust the height of your seat post.
- Adjust the height of your handlebars.
- Adjust the position of your handlebars so you don’t have to lean too far forward or too far back.
Adjusting your saddle, seat post and/or handlebars just a millimeter or two in any direction can make a huge impact on your overall comfort when riding your bike. Don’t be afraid to play around with the positioning of your saddle, seat post or handlebars. Move them around and try riding for short periods of time to see how the new positioning affects your comfort on the bike.
Remember that your saddle should be relatively level. If it is angled more than a few degrees up or down, there is probably something wrong. A saddle that is tilted too far forward will cause you to slip off the front of the seat and put excess pressure on your hands, wrists and elbows (which could cause nerve damage in your arms, fingers and hands). A saddle that is tilted too far back will have you sliding off the rear of the seat and/or putting unnecessary pressure on your nether-regions (something that is never comfortable).
Also, keep in mind that the full weight of your body is not meant to rest entirely on your saddle. Resting your full body-weight on your seat is obviously going to cause you some pain. Instead, your saddle is just one area of your bicycle in which you should be spreading out the weight of your body. As you ride, your weight should be dispersed between your crotch and your saddle, your hands and your handlebars, and your pedals and your feet. If too much of your weight is pressing down on your saddle, it’s no wonder your butt is hurting you each and every time you ride your bike! You need to spread the weight of your body out across these three areas – your saddle, your handlebars and your pedals.
If you are wearing loose clothing (or you have a lot of excess skin/fat) in the area between your body and your saddle, this too could be causing you pain while you ride. Any loose skin or fabric that is rubbing between your saddle and your body will begin to chafe over time, which will obviously cause some discomfort when you’re riding your bicycle.
One of the reasons Lycra bike shorts are so tight is because they are designed to reduce the impact between your body and your bicycle. The materials used in the production of tight-fitting bicycle shorts pulls in any excess body fat you might have, while at the same time providing you with a relatively flat, smooth area for your body to interact with your saddle. If you are riding in loose clothing (mountain bike shorts, jeans, etc.) try cycling in a pair of tight-fitting Lycra for a while and see if that makes any difference to your comfort on the bike.
Finally, once you find a position for your saddle that is comfortable, don’t move a thing! Marking the position of your saddle with a permanent marker is a good idea… and you might even want to put a little electrical tape around the seat post (just above the seat post clamp) so that if you have to remove the seat post for any reason, you’ll be able to quickly and easily get your saddle back in its proper position at a future point in time.
What Characteristics Should You Look For In A Bike Saddle?
In general, you want a bicycle saddle that is firm, but also has a small amount of give to it. You don’t want a bicycle saddle that is as hard as a rock (because that will obviously be uncomfortable), and you don’t want one of those super cushy gel-type saddles either (because super soft saddles usually make your butt chafe).
Shopping for a saddle is just like shopping for a quality mattress. You want something that is firm at its core, but soft at its surface. If your saddle fits those specifications and you are still experiencing pain as you ride, the problem is probably due to either the position of your saddle, seat post or handlebars (and not the saddle itself) or to the design and quality of the saddle overall.
Most (but not all) bicycles saddles are pear-shaped. The width of the saddle across the widest area and how quickly it widens from the nose to the back will affect the overall saddle comfort. The size of your hips or the size of your behind has very little to do with the size of the saddle that you need. Having wide hips, for example, does not necessarily mean you need a wider saddle.
The width between your “Ischial Tuberosities” (commonly referred to as your “sit bones”) is what REALLY matters! Where those sit bones connect with your saddle makes the biggest impact in overall saddle comfort. If you ride with a saddle that is either too wide or too narrow for your sit bones, the end result is going to be a lot of pain and chafing.
So, how do you figure out how wide your bicycle saddle should be?
Well, every bike saddle has “cheeks” on the wide backside of the seat. Sometimes the cheeks are even domed or tilted up a bit. Your sit bones are meant to land in the high part of that dome to take advantage of the padding and the overall architecture of the saddle. Saddles without domes still have a cheek area and the widest part of the saddle is where your sit bones are meant to be resting. If you want to make sure you are using a saddle that matches your personal body type, all you have to do is measure the saddle from center of cheek to center of cheek. The saddle’s center-to-center should match the center to center measurement of your sit bones. It’s that easy!
To measure the width of your sit bones, take a gallon size Zip-lock bag and fill it with enough flour for about a two inch flour cushion when the bag is lying on a flat surface. Place this bag on a hard flat surface, such as table or a chair and then sit on the bag (preferably in bare skin) while mimicking your position on the bike. Now stand up without disturbing the bag. The resulting two dimples/impressions that you see in the flour are from your sit bones! To measure your sit bones, take a millimeter tape measure and measure the impressions, recording your findings. You will want to measure the inside edge to inside edge, the center of one depression to the center of the other, and the outside edge to the outside edge.
- Your center-to-center measurement should correlate with the spot on a saddle (the saddle cheeks) that bears the weight of your sit bones.
- Outside to outside measurement is a consideration for some types of saddles, such as the Brooks saddles that have metal rails (You do not want to have your sit bones resting on the metal rails!). As a general rule – your saddle width should be about 2 centimeters wider than your outside sit bone measurement. Again, you want your sit bones resting on the “checks” of the saddle and you want some wiggle room for movement as you are riding.
- Inside to inside may be necessary if you plan to use a saddle with a cut out (or hole in the middle), to ensure the sit bones clear any large center cutout in the saddle. If the inside bones fall into the cutout, it will cause a lot of pain in the bones surrounding the “soft tissue” area. To clear the cutout, you need about 20 mm extra space in between the inside distance of the sit bones. So, if the cutout is 60 mm, your inside distance should be 80 mm.
If you don’t have access to a bag full of flour, you can measure your sit bones by simply sitting on your hands and feeling for the two bones of your butt. They will feel a bit like elbows poking down into your hands.
Put the tip of your index fingers right under the part of the bones that is pushing hardest into the chair and squish the very tip of your fingers between the chair and your sit bones. Now lift your butt from the chair while leaving your hands on the chair, and have an assistant measure the distance between your fingertips. This is your center-to-center measurement!
Then put your fingertips against the outsides of the sit bones. Push them right into the bones so they are on the outside of the bones. Now lift your butt from the chair again and have an assistant measure the distance between your fingertips. This is your outside to outside measurement! You might be surprised to learn that after taking your measurements you are riding on a bicycle saddle that is either far too wide or far too skinny for your sit bones. If that is the case, then yes, you will likely need to purchase a new saddle.
What Kind Of Bicycle Saddle Do You Recommend?
Every person is different, with a different body type and dimensions, and this means that a saddle that works well for one person might not work so wonderfully for the next. However, there are a few bicycle saddles that are constantly rated as being both comfortable and of extremely high-quality, and I recommend you purchase one of these saddles (in the correct size for your personal body measurements) if you are experiencing any type of butt or crotch pain as your ride your bicycle.
If you’ve decided you need a new bike saddle, you’ll need to narrow your choices by first determining what kind of bicycle saddle that you need. The easiest way to do this is by figuring out what kind of cycling you’ll be doing most.
Recreational bike saddles: If you sit upright while pedaling a cruiser, urban or commuter bike and prefer short rides, try a cushioning saddle. Wide with plush padding and/or springs, recreation bike saddles have a short nose and provide plenty of comfort. You can also opt for a seat post with springs, which will further cushion your ride.
Road bike saddles: Racing or clocking significant road miles? Look for a performance saddle that’s long, narrow and sports minimal padding. During a ride, very little weight rests on your sit bones, while your tucked position requires as little extraneous material between your legs as possible for maximum power transfer and minimal chafing. New to road riding? Opt for a slightly softer saddle that will keep you comfortable while your body adjusts to hours of spinning.
Mountain bike saddles: On mountain trails, you stand up on the pedals, perch way back (sometimes just hovering over or even off of your saddle) or crouch down in a tucked position. Because of these varied positions, you’ll want a mountain-specific saddle with padding for your sit bones, a durable cover and a streamlined shape that will aid your movement.
Touring saddles: Long-distance riding demands a performance saddle—or an all-leather saddle—that falls between a mountain and road saddle. You’ll want plenty of sit-bone cushioning and a fairly long, narrow nose.
Women-specific saddles: With typically wider hips, ischial bones (“perch bones”) and smaller bodies, women generally benefit from women-specific saddles designed to accommodate these anatomical differences.
While any cushioned seat will provide comfort for your sit bones, the 2 most common cushioning materials react differently under weight.
Gel cushioning molds to your body and provides the plushest comfort. Most recreational riders prefer this for its superior comfort on casual rides. Its downside is that gel tends to get compacted more quickly than the other option, foam.
Foam cushioning offers a pliable feel that springs back to shape. Road riders favor foam as it provides more support than gel while still delivering comfort. For longer rides, riders over 200 lbs., or riders with well-conditioned sit bones, firmer foam is preferred as it doesn’t compact as quickly as softer foam or gel.
A saddle pad is an optional add-on that can be placed over the saddle for additional cushioning. Though plush and comfortable, its padding is not as contained as is a saddle that’s already padded, so it may migrate where you don’t need or want it. This is not an issue for recreational rides, but it could be for fast riders or for those taking on longer distances. If that’s your riding style, a pair of padded bike shorts or underwear may be a better investment.
Many bicycle saddles are built to protect your perineum—the area between the sit bones, through which traverse a plethora of nerves and arteries. These saddles reduce or eliminate the material in the middle of the saddle, both relieving pressure on the perineum and providing airflow and comfort during long rides.
Because everyone’s anatomy is different, some riders find great relief with a perineal cutout; others use a saddle that either has a small indentation in the saddle or no accommodation at all. This kind of pressure-relieving design benefits most men and women but is truly a personal preference.
Most saddles are made entirely of synthetic materials, from the molded shell to the foam or gel padding and saddle cover. They are lightweight and require little maintenance. Others substitute a thin leather covering for a synthetic one, but they are otherwise similar in materials used. There is also, of course, the option to use a saddle made of leather.
Many riders (road, urban, touring and recreational) have come to appreciate the “earned comfort” and long life of a traditional all-leather saddle. (Mountain bikers generally stick to well-padded saddles to help cushion bumpy terrain.)
The secret to an all-leather saddle’s comfort lies in its construction. One piece of top-grain leather is stretched and suspended between the rails of a metal frame. After you ride for about 200 miles, the leather molds to your weight and shape. Like an old baseball glove or a trusty pair of leather hiking boots, the initial period of use includes some discomfort, but the end result “fits like a glove” and is super comfortable.
Leather saddles may have perineum cutouts for protection and springs for added comfort. A bonus benefit: With no synthetic padding, the saddle stays cooler—a definite advantage on long, hot rides. One downside, however, is that in addition to break-in time, a leather saddle is not waterproof, so it needs to be treated with a leather conditioner on occasion. This protects against moisture and against drying of the leather through UV exposure. Use a saddle cover to prolong the life of your leather saddle when not riding.
Summary: Should I Buy A New Saddle For My Bike?
When it comes to finding the perfect bicycle saddle, I think the Bike Snob says it best:
If you’ve ever worked in a bike shop, you’ve experienced the customer who’s got vague complaints about comfort. Usually, it involves the saddle, which they “don’t like.” But other stuff can be uncomfortable for them, too. Sometimes it’s the shoes, or the handlebars. Sometimes it’s the pedals. Sometimes they think the bike is too harsh, or their back gets sore, or there’s just something wrong that they can’t really articulate.
These complaints can be legitimate, and sometimes an adjustment or a part swap is all that’s needed. At the same time though, bicycles are not sofas, or beds, or easy chairs. They are machines, and they are minimalist vehicles. They are not designed for comfort without compromise. They are designed to be ridden without actually hurting you as long as you use them correctly. It’s not surprising many people don’t understand this. We’ve come to expect that life can be a completely pain-free experience, provided we’re prepared to spend enough money. There are pills to soothe your body, and pills to soothe your mind. There are driver-coddling cars, first-class seating, heated floors, and ergonomic toilet brushes. Why should cycling be any different?
Well, when it comes to bikes, there is such a thing as normal discomfort. The more time you spend on a bike at a stretch, the more uncomfortable you’re going to get. You’re going to get tired. Your body is going to ache from staying in the same position. Even your bed with the down mattress cover and high-thread-count sheets will revolt against you and give you bedsores if you don’t turn over every once in a while. Obviously some of this discomfort can be dialed out of the bike by making adjustments and part changes, but at some point the only way to get more comfortable on the bike is to ride the thing more and train your body to deal with it better – and even then, eventually you’re just going to have to get off the damn thing and stop riding, just like eventually you’ve got to get out of bed. Sometimes you’re uncomfortable because of your parts or your bike fit. Sometimes you’re uncomfortable because you’re riding wrong, or you’re thinking about riding wrong.
You see, a certain amount of discomfort is normal when you ride a bicycle. And even when you are feeling discomfort, there is usually something you can do about it to ensure that the pain you are experiencing is not at an excess level.
- Try to adjust the fit of your saddle, seat post and handlebars first.
- Then make sure you are using a saddle that fits your personal body measurements.
- If you find that your saddle is worn out or you need a saddle of a different shape, be sure to purchase the highest quality saddle you can afford for the type of riding you wish to conduct.
Still have a question about bicycle saddles, sore butts and/or crotch pain? Leave a comment below and I’ll try and help you out.