Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Saddle comfort

Some who are new to cycling or who are returning to cycling report various kinds of discomfort, especially on their saddles. Often, they believe the saddle is wrong, when the real problem to solve is fit and position on the bike.

When you experience genital numbness, it is an urgent problem. Seek an expert in bike fit, which is the art of determining if your position on your bike. Many bike shops have such an expert. If you can't find one there, find an experienced cyclist who can help. This is a serious matter, and you should not stop seeking expert advice until you solve it. Do not continue to ride without seeking help.

Some expect that padded shorts will solve their problem. Padded shorts are misguided. Customers saw the old chamois and thought the intention was padding. The sewn in crotch was for absorption and wicking, not padding. When the makers switched to synthetic, it was necessary to use more material, which made it thicker. Now bike shorts feel like diapers. If you like that, it's fine, but it can cause as any problems as it solves. It really should be possible to ride your bike without all that padding, even if you use the padding from time to time. If you rely on your shorts to be comfortable, your bike does not fit you properly!

Another problem for men is achy testicles. For a while, I was getting achy testicles a day after my ride. It took me a while to correlate the pain with the riding, since I wasn't feeling pain on the bike. It turned out that my saddle was too padded. It put pressure on my perineum, but the padding hid that fact. Like some other riders, I discovered that a harder saddle can actually help and that soft saddles often cause problems. Soft saddles avoid the problems. Hard saddles make you confront the problems of fit and position. I don't mean it should be as hard as a rock, and it's hard to say how hard is acceptable and how soft is bad. Generally, as you gain experience in the saddle, you want your saddle harder. A friend of mine suffered from numbness, and a sports doctor recommended 
a harder saddle for him, and that turned out to be the solution for him.

If the discomfort is in the tiny muscles around your two sit bones, that's a good thing. That soreness goes away after about three rides if you do them within a week. That's the only kind of soreness worth toughing out. I get this occasionally, especially after a long break from riding or after I increase my riding frequency.

Bike fit is another topic. It involves adjustments to your position. There are many parameters:

  • fore-aft position of foot on pedal
  • angle of foot on pedal
  • fore-aft position of saddle on bike
  • angle (tilt) of saddle on bike
  • height of saddle
  • shape of saddle (each person's anatomy requires a different shape)
  • fore-aft position of handlebar
  • height of handlebar
  • width of handlebar
  • hand position on handlebar

Sometimes subtle changes in these parameters make big difference in comfort, fatigue, and efficiency. Also, each parameter is related to others, so sometimes adjusting one will require an adjustment in another. A subtle fact is that you may think you need to adjust one thing but sometimes you will be misled and adjust the wrong thing. This is why you sometimes need the expertise of someone (or some people) with expertise. Seek help in person, but start by finding some articles on the web or in print. There is a lot of literature on the subject.

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