Get your arse into gear!
It seems that gear questions are pretty popular when I talk to women about riding bikes. And surprise, surprise it seems saddles are one of the BIG discussion points. But if you think I’m going to recommend the BEST saddle to you, I’m not, nor will I tell you what I think you need. In fact, anything I say about saddles will likely be totally useless, because I’m sorry, I only have my one arse to refer too! It’s a mistake many people make – recommending a saddle to their best friend because it works for them. Well, sorry but my nether regions are not the same as yours, and your best friends aren’t either.
There is so much advice out there on saddles for women and what works best – probably every bike shop you walk into will say ‘this is the best ladies saddle out there’, or my favourite one ‘my girlfriend uses this one and she loves it’…well hello bike shop guy, I’m NOT your girlfriend! No doubt she has a tiny arse, looks like a model and is on some Italian pro team – I’m not. I’m just a girl with an ordinary set of bits down there that happen to be mine, not anyone elses.
So I thought it was timely to give a little run down on some saddles I have, in the hope it may make a little more sense when you start to think about your own problems down there. I’ve been really lucky over the years to be pretty much problem free in the saddle soreness department…until this week! I couldn’t believe how quickly and issue can arise, then suddenly become a major issue. Yep, I am in pain and this means desperation.
When you think about how you sit on your bike you need to really look at how you are tilting your pelvis. Are you sitting more upright, or are you leaning over in a more aggressive position and tilting the pelvis further forward? There is a an awful lot of talk about sit bones out there, and I hear you all say ‘but I measured my sit bones’…well, it’s not quite that simple. Sit bones is just one part of it, but there is a whole pelvic girdle you need to look at – sit bones don’t work in isolation. But then there is also the blood flow and soft tissue issues as well…more padding does not necessarily mean comfort over long distances.
This is where the issue occurred for me. I have a LaPierre Sensium 200L which I have a Selle Italia Gel Lady Flow saddle on – it’s a pretty flat kind of saddle, a bit of flex but not too much and is pretty light on in the cushion department. It has a large cut-away section and is covered in supple leather. When I sit on the Sensium this flat little saddle feels pretty good and I feel like I’m supported in the right places – I wouldn’t say it’s brilliant on a long ride and it gets more and more painful on a slower ride. This happens because I start to slump a bit and lose my position, therefore meaning I let any pelvis tilt fall apart and I put pressure on the parts that don’t want it…ouch! I start to feel as if everything is burning.
Everyone talks about the relationship of the saddle to sit bones but it is kind of ‘barking up the wrong tree’ in some ways. When we sit on a bike seat, especially in the road bike position, we place far more pressure on the ischiopubic ramus, which is further forward than the sit bones. This can create a feeling of ‘pressing’ urgency to get off the seat if we don’t get the fit right! This means the WHOLE pelvis size is actually pretty important – we can’t just rely on the sit bones! If you have a wider pelvis, but reasonable felxibility, then you can probably rotate your pelvis enough to be comfortable on a skinny saddle like the Selle Italia – this is what has been happening for me. It works, but not as a long term solution – if I ride fast all the time it seems I can stay in the correct ride position longer than when I am having a slow cruise. Then everything goes out the window!
So, when I picked up my new LaPierre Audacio 400L I decided of course to ditch the Selle Italia that came with the bike and use the same saddle I have on the Sensium – the geometry of both bikes is pretty close, with just a small variation in the head tube length. This means on the Audacio I’ll sit up a little more upright and a little more relaxed than I do on the Sensium. Besides, I had a spare black Selle Italia in amongst the bike junk, so why not use it! First mistake – never grab what you just have lying around! I might also add that the Audacio is a medium frame, while the Sensium is small – there is just a little difference in the reach which I have countered by using a shorter stem on the Audacio, and I’ve angled it up a little to cope with riding in ‘lazy’ mode.
I put the pretty black Selle Italia Gel Lady Flow on the Audacio, went out for 60km ride with the students I’ll be riding the Great Vic with. We were going pretty slow at times (like snail pace), so I was slumping more and more as time wore on. So here’s the disaster combo: road bike, flat, skinny, hard saddle, relaxed position, slumping posture, slow pace and more relaxed upright position to start with….result: OUCH!!! I have never been so desperate to get off the bike – it resulted in an afternoon of feeling like I needed a cold bath, was avoiding taking a pee and well, you don’t want to know the rest!!
Soon after the ride was done and dusted I went straight to the bike store to see what else was there and discuss the issue. I immediately went for a Specialized saddle because I have one of these on my old alloy Fuji road bike and it is a great saddle for me – a slight kick in the back end, cut-away, not too narrow and a little bit of flex. It’s worked well for a long time, so much so I bought one to use on the Sensium, but then took it off thinking I needed a more aggressive saddle and position that the Selle Italia gives me. Next lesson here: stick to the one which works and don’t try to look like a pro when you’re not!!
The guys at the local Specialized store were great with advice, have lent me a saddle similar to my now unavailable Jett 155 saddle. The replacement is an Oura 155 but unfortunately only comes in white, grey or if I want black have to take out a mortgage to pay for the full carbon version…that isn’t going to happen unless I want a divorce. So another lesson here (is that no.3?): don’t try saddles when you already have a sore arse! Everything I sat on yesterday hurt – I could have sat on a satin pillow but such was the damage, even that would have felt like a concrete slab inlaid with blades.
So, the day after, with a renewed enthusiasm to approach this saddle saga with a more technical approach and justify the fact I’d spent the whole night searching the internet for the solution saddle, I decided to give my sorry arse another whipping! I had in fact been reading up a little on the Selle SMP saddles as I had ridden on one the week before (Lite 109) and thought it had a bit of a ‘wow’ factor as I couldn’t feel my bits, but in a good way – if you can’t feel your bits on a saddle and they go numb, you’re in trouble…but the fact I couldn’t feel them hurting was what I mean by ‘I couldn’t feel them’. I had always wondered about the Selle SMP saddles with their weird shape, but having tried one I was impressed. However, when I searched the web, I realised they are around $300…I sense the divorce looming ever closer.
So, I searched and searched for a Selle SMP test saddle, explained to my better half that our future was at stake if I didn’t do something about the inner pain down below and he begrudgingly agreed – but only because I told him we could ride to Port Melbourne and I’d buy him a beer on the way home. So off we headed to try one out and save our relationship. It wasn’t the $300 version, but the lesser cousin at a mere $100…frankly, I didn’t care how much it cost anymore! The guys at this bike shop assured me it wasn’t as good at the Lite 109 I tried, but it might just work, so give it a shot…they put it on the bike and said ‘be back in a half hour or we’ll come looking for you’.
With arse still sore, I had a half hour to try the saddle and see what happened. Within about a nano-second of sitting on it I remembered that my bits were still in a sorry state, but to y surprise I could see that there was hope on the horizon. The saddle was a little spongier than I was familiar with, and it had a pretty high kick at the back, but the front part supporting my ischiopubic ramus was well placed, had just enough flex and just enough padding. The dipped down front of the saddle also relieved a degree of pressure in parts were also not very happy from the previous days’ experience.
So what was happening on this freaky looking saddle? I was able to sit in the more relaxed position, but my sit bones had a little support at the back, but the tilt in the saddle effectively helped me tilt forward into the correct position. That put pressure on the part that was in pain, but because the saddle design has a wide cut-away, with large curve in the centre of the saddle, it felt as if the whole thing was moulded to the shape under my pelvic girdle, supporting the sit bones and the ischiopubic ramus area, and the dipped nose took all the pressure off the urinary tract area. I didn’t feel like everything was being squashed and compressed anymore, it felt just like the saddle was moulded to my arse!
I took the bike back to the store and told them it needed just a small tilt downwards – I tried that too and was even closer to a solution. So, I purchased the saddle and on the ride home decided that with the extra height from the padded saddle I could lower the seat post a fraction…when I did that, I reached ‘sorry bits nirvana’! The Selle SMP Extra made a huge difference in just a few minutes. The big test from now on will be if the extra padding causes any compression issues on the long distances.
We bypassed the promised beer on the way home – my husband knew I had blown all the cash on the saddle, so he kindly promised to help soothe my diminishing pain even more with a glass of bubbles when we got home. All from the guy who rides with no knicks and uses whatever saddle happens to be on the bike – that’s what 30 or so years of riding to work does to you!
NOTE: I am slowly building up a ‘library’ of women’s saddles, so if you think you have a decent one you’d like to donate, let me know!