Looking at all the bicycle seats that claim to be the “best bicycle seat” or the “most comfortable bicycle seat”, and how many riders have chronic saddle issues regardless of the number of seats they try, it becomes apparent that the bicycle seat may actually not be the big reason people are uncomfortable. So, if the biggest issue is not the seat itself, what is the most common cause of bicycle seat discomfort? Quite simply, the rider not sitting on the bicycle seat/saddle correctly (riding technique) – an issue that even the best bicycle seat for your needs and skeletal structure cannot solve on its own.
Best Bicycle Seat Support Goals
Why can some people seemingly ride forever with little to no saddle issues while others seem to fight their saddle from the first pedal stroke? In a number of cases, it is because of how the rider is sitting on the saddle.
The majority of cut-out and noseless saddles are designed to try to “solve” the fundamental issue of the rider not sitting on the bike ideally through accommodative “crutches”. Many folks with chronically uncomfortable bicycle seat issues are not sitting on their seat in a way that allows the saddle to support them as well as possible and the result is often numbness, sores and other ailments (including some lower back, neck/shoulder and knee pain). So, while we are all for cut-outs, split rails and other creative bicycle saddle designs that help folks out, we’re even more for helping people understand how a bicycle seat is designed to work and how to take advantage of it.
On a road or mountain bike (tri bikes can be a little different), most problems with soft tissue pressure and numbness come from the rider not keeping pressure where their body is designed to support it best when seated – on your skeletal system. The ischial tuberosities (sit bones), pubic ramus and associated pubic arch can do a good job of supporting your weight when riding a bike if they are supported by a bicycle seat taper that matches your pelvic shape well and you sit on it properly.
Note where the focal points of pressure lie in the saddle scans above.
In the forward sitting rider scan, the majority of the weight is on the soft tissue in front of the pelvis center (squiggly black lines with red line through it) and the saddle is able to offer little support.
In the scan of the rider sitting on the tail of the saddle (far right), almost all the support is in the sit bones. The far rearward sitting position is usually more comfortable for the soft tissue than the forward sitting rider, but encourages the rider to hunch in the back and/or brace against the back of the saddle (which can lead to back, neck, shoulder, hand and knee issues…).
The neutral sitting position in the middle shows a nice balance of support and pressure distribution. The sit bones still retain the high points of pressure and stabilization, but there is even pressure and support throughout the pubic arch. This encourages the rider to keep a neutral spine, activate all the muscles available to them for pedaling, and use the core muscles to stabilize and support their upper body weight and pelvis.
Keys to Sitting on the Best Bicycle Seat Comfortably
What are the primary reasons people often do not sit on even the best bicycle seat in a way that would be most likely to be comfortable in the long-term? What are the keys to sitting on a bicycle saddle (let alone the best bicycle seat…) correctly to minimize bicycle seat discomfort?
Use Your Core!
Used properly, your abdominal muscles can stabilize and align your pelvis and support your upper body comfortably too. You don’t want to over or under rotate your pelvis while riding; learning how to hold yourself in a neutral “ready position” while riding is one of the most crucial things any rider can do to sit on a bicycle saddle correctly. How important is this? Important enough that over half of the time spent in a Fit Werx fitting with many riders focuses on analyzing and working on technique and posture.
Proper Bike Fit.
Making sure your bike is set-up/fit in a way that encourages you to sit on the bicycle saddle correctly, and that you understand how to get the most out of it, is very important. Bike fit can’t make you sit on a bike properly, but poor fit will almost guarantee that you will have a very hard time sitting on the bicycle seat comfortably.
Find a Well Matched Bicycle Seat Shape.
While the bike industry often focuses most on bicycle saddle width, the taper angle and shape of the middle of the bicycle seat (where the pubic arch would rest during riding) is likely the more important saddle selection variable when finding the best bicycle seat for you. You want a saddle that tapers similar to your pelvic structure so that it supports your pubic ramus and arch as evenly as possible. A saddle with too broad a taper can interfere with your pedal stroke while too narrow (or abrupt) a taper can put too much pressure on the soft tissue in-between the pubic ramus instead of on the bone structure itself. This all being said, once you have found the best bicycle seat for your needs, you still have to sit on it correctly to allow it to work for you!
Realizing When Poor Bike Setup Has Encouraged Poor Habits.
Doing things over and over (right or wrong), makes them second nature. If you are riding a bike with a seat that is 3cm too far back, 2cm low, with a reach to the bars that is 3cm too long and 4cm too high for you, it will likely be pretty difficult for you to sit on even the best bicycle seat properly. If this is you, you are likely doing a host of things to try to accommodate for the geometry challenges your bike presents and your bike fit needs to change.
Whether we are working with your current bike or you are thinking about a new bike, a Fit Werx Rider First Bike Fitting and our Rider Matched Approach to Bike Selection builds the bike around your needs, not your bike’s needs.
Recognize Bad Postural Habits While Riding.
Even with the best bicycle seat, sitting on a bike in a way that is as likely as possible to be comfortable and efficient is not always intuitive or natural feeling at first. If you have worked with us on a bike fitting, you know that we spend a significant portion of a Fit Werx bike fitting on technique analysis and improvement. The Dartfish Video Mediabook from your fitting shows where you were at before your fitting and where we ended up as you were thinking more about key riding technique elements. Review these videos and comments periodically to keep the concepts and goals fresh in your mind.
Some of the most common postural and pedaling technique habits that can contribute to an uncomfortable bicycle seat are described in the following articles:
“Too Much Pressure on the Sit Bones” – Kyphosis/slouching in the back
“Too Much Pelvic Rotation” – Lordosis/hyper extension of the back
“Toe Pointing” – Bracing & sitting too far back or creeping forward on the seat
Breaking Old Riding Habits from Riding in a Compromised Position.
Even after a good bike fitting, if you have ridden in a compromised position for a long time, your muscles and posture still won’t be trained to pedal or sit on the bike properly. It is easy to resort to old habits and this could still keep you from sitting on the saddle correctly and being comfortable. You must pair the correct technique and posture with proper bike set-up for the best results. After making sure you are on a bike that is properly fit, you also need to change how you interact with your bicycle for your bicycle seat to be more comfortable. While changes in position and pedaling technique might make you feel weaker and slower on the bike initially, have faith that your muscles will develop strength and comfort over time.
Use Good Riding Shorts.
The number of riders wearing shorts that are ten years old (or older) and totally worn out is significant. Good shorts can make a world of difference and bad shorts can literally create problems on their own. Even the best bicycle seat cannot overcome old or bad riding shorts. At Fit Werx, we only carry high quality shorts from brands like Castelli, Terry and Hincapie. Life is too short to cheat yourself by suffering with crummy or worn out shorts!
Recognize Postural “Warning Signs”.
Even with the best bicycle seat, many riders do okay with their saddle on shorter rides, but struggle on longer rides. This is likely because technique often diminishes as the ride gets longer and fatigue is induced. This is by no means a complete list, but if you have had a good biomechanically based bike fitting and can relate to any of the following, it is likely time to focus on your riding technique:
- Elbows tend to be rigid or, even worse, hyper-extend and lock.
- You feel heavy in your hands regularly.
- You “death grip” your bars while riding.
- Shoulders get tight and start to tense and rise towards your ears as you ride.
- You brace yourself on the very back of the saddle much of the time.
- You slide or sit on the front of the saddle much of the time.
- Hips rock side-to-side and/or fore/aft.
- You frequently feel heavy and uncomfortable pressure on your soft tissue (front) when riding.
- You often feel like you are reaching too little or too much to the bars.
A rider sitting and supporting themselves with their core properly will be balanced and relaxed in their upper body and stable in the pelvis.
Don’t Expect to Sit On Even the Best Bicycle Seat Properly By Default
Five of the eight keys listed above to address bicycle seat discomfort are riding technique and posture based. So, while proper bike fit and equipment selection is very important, realize that a bike fit (or bike fitter) can’t make you do something on the bike; a bike fitter can only encourage an end result and explain to the rider how to achieve it. If you aren’t willing to adapt and change the way you are riding your bike (the hard work), problems will likely persist; you will not get a different result with your chronic saddle discomfort by continuing to do the same thing you always have.
While there is a small percentage of riders who have acute sensitivity issues, major alignment challenges and other chronic saddle limitations that even a great bike fit and the most polished riding technique may not fully solve, most people should be able to be reasonably comfortable sitting on a bicycle seat. If you are riding in a good biomechanically based riding position (have been through a good professional bike fitting), yet continue to search for a comfortable bicycle seat while riding, be sure to think about how you are interacting with your bike and start studying how you might be able to improve things. Most of us do have the power to control this comfort issue, but it does take thought and practice!
Ride well, ride often, ride smart and contact us for more information on saddle issues, bike fitting and how to buy the right bike the first time through a Rider First Bike Fitting and Rider Matched Bike Selection.