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Six things which affect your comfort in the saddle

The contact points with the bike are vital to get right in order to maximise comfort and performance on the bike. The saddle, along with the handlebar and pedals, is one of the three contact points and arguably the most important because you spend the vast majority of your riding time sat on it.

As a result, saddle discomfort is a serious issue because it can not only reduce your enjoyment of riding your bike, but could also potentially cause injury, too.

If you struggle with pain in the saddle area, you certainly aren’t the first and won’t be the last. Here are six potential causes – sometimes learned through painful experience – and how to remedy them.

There could be a number of reason why you’re experiencing discomfort in the saddle

Wrong saddle

Saddles are a very individual choice and so what works for one person won’t work for someone else. This is because everyone’s sit bones and wider physiology is very different, exerting different pressure on your underside, and so saddles vary significantly when it comes to shape, padding, design and profile. Some people have an aversion to a particular philosophy of saddle design, or indeed complete brands themselves, who often follow certain trends and styles. Some people find they can get on with almost any saddle.

Unfortunately, finding out what works for you can be down to trial and error. Try heading to a local bike shop and ask if they have a range of test saddles you can try. For example, in the case of Fizik, they may supply test versions of their Arione, Antares and Aliante road saddles, which you can fit to your bike and ride on before taking the plunge and getting your wallet out.

– Buyer’s guide: how to find the right saddle for you –

Your position on the bike is also intrinsically linked to your ideal saddle. An aggressive, aero-style position places you further forward on the saddle, potentially increasing pressure on the perineum, while a more upright position synonymous with a sportive or endurance rider may alleviate this.

By the same token, the type of saddle will also naturally support one position or another. So if, for example, you use a Fizik Arione saddle, which is designed for a particularly racy position, but sit atop it using a more endurance-style position, the saddle isn’t going to be able to do it’s job in supporting you they way it’s designed to.

Worn saddle

An aged saddle can be as uncomfortable as an ill-fitting one, because they’re designed to work by supporting your sit bones. When a saddle wears, the padding in it can become condensed, while the support structure underneath can begin to flex more than it should.

Additionally, the cover of the saddle is designed to provide grip against your bib shorts so that you don’t slip and slide, generating more friction. If this is worn, you should look to replace it, because you can end up sliding around on top of it. As an added benefit, your bib shorts are likely to last longer as well because they won’t snag against the worn out material.

Saddle height and angle play a vital role in determining ride comfort

Incorrect saddle position

The saddle is designed to be sited broadly horizontally upon the seatpost, although this can vary by a couple of degrees with each rider. Position it with the tip pointing too far upwards, and you may find increased pressure on your perineum (an area vital for blood flow to your undercarriage) as well as being pushed back onto the flared part of the saddle, at the wrong angle, increasing pressure on the sit bones.

– How to set your saddle height on a road bike –

Tip it too far forward and you can slide forward on the saddle. Again, this will move your sit bones off the optimum area of the saddle, while potentially compromising your power output as well. It can also cause discomfort by placing additional pressure on your perineum, arms, wrists and hands. Tip it too far back and it can cause lower back, shoulder and neck pain.

 – How to set the correct saddle angle –

The height of the saddle will also have a significant impact on comfort. Too high, and you’ll be pivoting on top of it as you try to complete each pedal revolution, too low and you’ll be squatting on the saddle.

Like saddles, chamois pads come in a range of designs to suit a variety of riders

Unsuitable chamois

Another very personal choice for cyclists is the bib shorts you wear. More specifically, and most relevantly in this case, it’s the chamois which acts as the barrier between your sit bones and the saddle – having the greatest impact over comfort. Simple lower-density foam padding, which can often be found in cheap bib shorts, often isn’t going to cut it for long miles.

– RoadCyclingUK’s bib short reviews archive –

When buying bib shorts, as a rule of thumb, you get what you pay for – so if a pair of bib shorts is more expensive, the place you want your money going on is the chamois. When browsing reviews for new bib shorts, always take particular note when it comes to chamois quality, thickness and ventilation, however, like the saddle choice itself, then no one rule for everyone, and different riders will prefer different chamois shapes and sizes. You can find all our bib short reviews here.

No chamois cream

Chamois cream is designed to act as a friction barrier between your skin and the chamois in the bib shorts. Without it, your skin bears the brunt of the rubbing generated by the bib shorts moving atop the saddle, especially when dampness from sweating, or generally wet riding conditions are introduced into the mix.

Some get on fine without, some only use it on long rides, and some never ride without it. However, it’s worth experimenting with chamois cream because, in our experience, over the course of a four-hour-plus ride it can make a real difference to your comfort.

Again, chamois cream preference is as individual as choice of chamois and saddle, so give a few brands a try before passing judgment, Once you’ve found a brand you like, build up use gradually as some cyclists require more than others to ensure a friction-free day in the saddle.

Some riders swear by chamois cream, other never use it – but if you’re experiencing discomfort on long rides then it could be worth experimenting with

Tyres

Whatever road surface you’re riding on, the width of your tyres, and the pressure they’re inflated it, is going to have a impact on the amount of vibration you’ll feel through the contact points of the bike, saddle included. Gone are the days where 23mm tyres ruled the roost, instead being replaced these days by 25mm on most road bike, and in some cases 28mm, rubber.

– Should you be using wider tyres on your road bike? –

A wider profile allows you to run the tyres at lower pressures without sacrificing rolling resistance or increasing the chances of pinch flats. As a general rule, a 25mm tyre is optimally run at around 80-100psi, depending on the rider’s weight, while a 28mm tyre can run efficiently at around 60psi. The lower the pressure, the more absorption of vibrations from the road. Having a play around with tyre pressure to see what works for you based on your riding style, where you ride and your personal preference.

– Six wide tyre upgrades to improve ride quality –

Additionally, you may want to rethink the method you use to fit your tyres. A clincher setup is very common for very good reasons – ease of servicing chief among them – but tubeless is also emerging as a serious rival to the establishment and potentially opens the door to even lower tyre pressures and a plusher ride. See our guide on tubeless technology to find out more.

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