My Bike Seat Hurts!
--How to Choose a Bike Saddle That Doesn't Hurt--

Written by Bonnie Gabaldon

Mountain Biking in Moab, UT

Man or woman, have you ever said, "My bike seat hurts!" I sure did.

If you have a similar complaint, this article is perfect for you.

Because of my painful experience, I sought help from several bicycle shop salespersons. My ignorance was apparent in that I didn't yet speak proper bicycle-ese. It's a "saddle," not a "seat!"

I was advised to try a women's bike saddle, and that I needed biking shorts with more padding. I heard the oft-mentioned sales pitch of how much their wife or girlfriend just "loves this saddle."

So, I bought a fine saddle, made just for us ladies, for a handsome price of nearly two-hundred dollars. I invested in the most expensive padded shorts in the shop.

My hopes were shattered, and my pocketbook a bit thinner, when I felt the pain during my next ride. As usual, the only relief was the eventual numbness due to a lack of circulation in the area. The pressure on my pelvic area was more intense, and the blood made it apparent that things were actually worse.

Be sure that you have the right gear when you ride. Always wear a helmet and gloves.  I often wear knee and elbow pads.Be sure that you have the right gear when you ride. Always wear a helmet and gloves. I wear knee and elbow pads, or full-body armor, when mountain biking over rocks and rough terrain.

If you're facing this issue, or have given up on the idea of bicycling, I want to encourage you. I now ride pain-free with no numbness, and no blood.

Here is my hard-earned advice.

If you don't like biking on the street, find a paved biking trail.

Choose an Appropriate Saddle for Health Reasons

Irritation and inflammation in the genital area can lead to infections.

Many men are damaging their bodies because men's saddles are overwhelmingly made narrower.

Do NOT tough it out, guys, thinking it's the manly thing to do. It isn't difficult to conclude that blocking or diminishing circulation in any area of the body may have detrimental effects. It is, therefore, no surprise to hear of findings that the compression and friction in the scrotum from the bike saddle may lead to erectile dysfunction and lower sperm counts in men.

Ladies, if you are reading this, you might share this information with the men in your life.

Bike Saddle Fitting

Be Sure Your Bike is Fitted Correctly

If your saddle is too high, the rocking motion will irritate and rub the area you're seeking to protect. A reputable bike shop can help you with this. Besides, a poor fit can cause knee or lower back problems.

The Price of the Saddle is No Indication of Comfort

My mountain and road bikes cost a few thousand dollars; but, neither my mountain bike nor road bike saddles cost more than sixty dollars.

Find Your Sit Bones and Measure the Distance Between Them

Your body must be fully supported on the saddle by your sit bones.

First, you need to find them; and there are a few ways to do this.

Do It Yourself

  • Sit on a chair and slide your hands, palms up, under your buttocks. You will feel a large rounded bone on either side. Those are your sit bones.
  • Sit on the edge of a curb and mark the location of your sit bones. Measure the distance.
  • Stand or bend over. Reach back, or have someone do this measurement for you.

Bike Shop In-Store Method

A small number of bike shops have a board with a foam cushion. When you sit on it, your sit bones leave indentations, which are then used to measure the width.

Body Geometry Saddle Fit System by Specialized

Shop Around

Take a measuring tape with you when you shop for a saddle. This will make the process easier by quickly eliminating saddles that may be pretty or pricey pains in your bottom.

Measure the widest part of the top rear section from side to side. Check the slope of the saddle between those two points. If your sit bones rest on the lower outside slopes of a saddle, then your precious parts could be pressed against the rise in the center of the sitting area, defeating the purpose of proper sit-bone support.

Online is a great place to shop for the right model. The width measurement is usually included in the saddle description.

Both Men and Women Have Stuff Down There

You may have read that heading with a bit of incredulity; however, you would never know this was true by talking to the salespersons in bike shops -- especially men. They seem to be under the impression that women have nothing down there to be concerned about.

The fact is that women's labia folds vary in length and size -- sound familiar, guys? Therefore, having a saddle cutout in the center to make room for those overlapping, sensitive parts is sometimes imperative.

The saddles I use are completely cut through from top to bottom, and I love them. The cutout eliminates pressure, allows for blood circulation, and provides air flow.

Mountain Bike Seat With Cutout

I Got Rid of the Padded Bike Shorts!

I'm sure this statement is blasphemy in the biking world; but, if it works for you like it does for me -- do it! As noted above, pressure on sensitive areas is agony. I ride in the same leggings I use in the gym. They are without padding, I am not sitting on a seam, and they glide well over seat parts.

You may be wondering why the lack of padding is helpful. I find that the padding can create pressure between the seat and the crotch. It defeats the release provided by the cutout in the saddle.

This is not to say that zero padding is for everyone. If you prefer some padding, you might try a thinner pad. I also do not wear underwear when cycling, just as you shouldn't if using padded bike shorts. The last thing you need is elasticized cording or bunching creating other problems.

Get a Lubricant Specifically for Biking

There are great creams and gels available at bike shops to alleviate irritation. I never ride without it.

The Final Word

The exhilaration or relaxation sought on a bike ride is difficult to appreciate when you're in pain. Comfort is an important aspect, particularly in that very sensitive area on which your body is being supported.

Besides bicycle fit, I am convinced that the pleasure of a ride boils down to three things: The seat! The seat! The seat!

Oops! Let me correct myself. The saddle! The saddle! The saddle!

What if Nothing Seems to Work?

If, for some reason, you simply cannot tolerate a bike saddle, you might consider purchasing a recumbent bike. 

More Topics That May Interest You

Writer/attorney, Bonnie Gabaldon, is the developer of the health & fitness website,

Bonnie graduated summa cum laude from Oregon State University with honors. She is a member of Beta Beta Beta Epsilon Biological Honor Society and Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society. 

She researched and authored a significant undergraduate independent study paper, The Effect of Female Hormones on Elite Female Athletes During the First Trimester of Pregnancy.

Bonnie attended the University of New Mexico School of Law and Georgetown Law Center, and has been a licensed attorney since 2003.

XTERRA Fitness Indoor Bikes

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