Finding a Bicycle Saddle that Gives Your Bottom a Break

By Tom Bunn, L.Ac.

One of the more damaging things you can do to your genitalia, urinary track, pelvic floor, tailbone, and prostate (if you have one) is to go for a long ride on a bike with an uncomfortable bicycle saddle or one that is in the wrong position.

If you own a bicycle with an uncomfortable/improperly adjusted saddle, you owe it to yourself to visit your local bike shop and talk with a “bike fit” expert. For less than $100, it can feel like you bought a brand new bicycle.

If you’ve borrowed a bike with a saddle that feels like it’s biting your butt, then please say “thank you” to the person you borrowed it from and give the bike back.

If you rented such a bike while on a vacation, take the bike back and trade it in for a scooter. Your body (not to mention your romantic partner) will thank you for the rest of the vacation.

Here’s what the arch of bike ride on an uncomfortable saddle looks like.

1st Warning Sign: You sit on the bike and your body says, “Dude, this bike seat all wrong! Don’t do this.” Instead of listening, you adopt a bash-on-regardless attitude that starts with telling yourself, this will be fun or I certainly could use the exercise.

2nd Warning Sign: With all the best intentions, you start out, and everything feels manageable. You like the breeze on your face and the feeling of your legs propelling you forward. Maybe you are in the company of friends or family, which helps take your mind off the uncomfortable bike seat. You tell yourself, I’ll be fine.

3rd Warning Sign: Somewhere before the halfway point (this could be anywhere from 10 minutes into the ride to an hour), things start to turn south: You develop “numb crotch,” or you feel like you’re riding on top of a tennis ball, or your sitz bones are convinced something evil is slowly spreading them apart from the inside. Your body isn’t lying — you’re beginning to lose the battle with your bike saddle.

4th Warning Sign: Things get so uncomfortable that the voice of reason kicks in, and you realize that you need to turn around and head home. Now you’ve got to make it back on a bicycle seat that has become your mortal enemy. The pain and numbness have made you promise yourself that if you ever get home in one piece, you will never ride another bicycle as long as you live.

5th (and final) Warning Sign: You arrive at your destination after riding “out of the saddle” (standing up on the pedals) for the last five miles. You feel frustrated and exhausted, and all you want to do is sit in an ice bath and whimper. The next couple of days are a painful reminder why you don’t go for a bike ride more often.

Even one bike ride like this can cause problems throughout your pelvis. If this sort of bike ride is a regular activity, it can really wreak havoc — setting the stage for conditions such as chronic pelvic pain, interstitial cystitis, chronic prostatitis, dyspareunia, and vulvodynia.

Part of the problem has to do with the culture of cycling. Cyclists don’t want to appear “less than” for having this weird kind of saddle with a trough down the middle or a hole in it — which is silly when you think about it because no one’s the wiser when you’re riding it. It’s almost like, if your bike doesn’t look Euro-cool enough, then you don’t belong on the road.

The solution is a comfortable saddle and a proper “bike fit.” When you go to your local bike shop to look for a new saddle, I strongly recommend the following seven tips:

  1. Have the “bike fit” expert at the bike shop measure the width of your sitz bones with a memory foam device that you sit on for about 30 seconds. The width number will help in selecting the right saddle for you.
  2. Purchase a saddle with either a trough or hole (called a “cut out”) in the middle of the saddle that takes the pressure off your genitalia and the fine network of nerves and blood vessels that makes sex feel good and keeps your urinary function regular and pain-free.
  3. Memory foam bike saddles are very comfortable, and they can make a big difference. If there’s too much foam, however, your sitz bones sink in too deeply, and you end up putting even more pressure on your genitalia. (This is why a test ride is a good idea.)
  4. Most bike saddle manufacturers now make saddles especially for women, which have additional padding and support in all the right places.
  5. Saddles that have slightly more padding in the back help your lower spine stay in a “neutral” position as you ride.
  6. If at all possible, bring your bike with you and test ride a couple of saddles (even if you have to put your bike in a stationary bike trainer inside the store). A test ride is the only way to ensure you’ve bought the right one.
  7. Now that your saddle situation is under control, make an appointment to have the shop fit the bike to your body. A “bike fit” ensures that you are in the best anatomical position possible. You knees, shoulders, and neck will thank you a thousand times over.

Happy cycling.