Gearing Up!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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5 thoughts on “Gearing Up!”

  1. I too had sore bits from my standard issue seat I got with my Felt F75 which is technically a mens bike. There was no padding and no cut away.
    As I increased my ride distances I would find increased soreness and like you and many other women I feared the toilet after riding.
    I went to my local bike store who are specialized and borrowed several saddles over a 3 month period and rode long distances. I finally settled with the ruby expert and am a very happy lady! I convinced my friend to try out some saddles and she changed to a lithia and found no more soft tissue pain for her either.
    I did try a few other saddles with cut outs but they were mens saddles and found no joy. I was also told by the other bike shop that I would never find a saddle that would give me a totally pain free ride, this rather freaked me out and since finding my ‘pain free’ saddle I hope that other ladies dont give up and believe that being in pain is normal… it ISNT!
    I

    1. Great comment Libby. Yes, I’ve been told too that there is no such thing as a comfortable road bike…and if it is comfortable then it isn’t a ‘proper’ road bike! I beg to differ: my old Fuji has been a super comfy bike, and then when I changed to a carbon LaPierre it was instantly pretty comfy but needed a bit of work (the saddle still does), but serioulsy, I just LOVE to get on it and ride because I am SO comfortable. I hope that happens with the LaPierre Audacio too because it rides so well…I think once I have the saddle sorted I’ll be LOVING the ride!
      It’s a fallacy that you will never be comfortable, but then again, I guess comfort it all relative! I think the Specialized saddles are certainly a good starting point for women looking for a new saddle – they have a wide range, different softness level and shapes and they have test saddles too. They won’t suit everyone but they do offer some ideas so you can narrow down what you need.

  2. My fingers are crossed that you have found the right fit.
    After my ride today I was thinking how blessed I am that with my current saddle I have never had saddle soreness. I was remembering going on occasional 40km rides with my hubby 4 years ago and afterwards having troubles sitting on the couch. Today not a problem.
    3 cheers to a good saddle fit.

  3. Hey Tina, the right saddle for me saga also continues. I seem to get about a year from my saddle then one ride can change all of that, and I am back to google and the ‘where do I find that lounge chair comfort for my bike’ dilemma. Fortunately when one saddle just doesn’t do the job anymore I transfer it to another bike where the set up, reach, position suits the saddle style and the comfort box is then ticked again, but on that bike only. I am now searching for my fourth road bike saddle (about to ditch the no-padding saddle that I stole from my husbands road bike), I just don’t get it, how can it have been great for a year and now it seeks retirement?? For me the tape measure has come out many times to check if I really do have wide sit bones at 160mm because I really don’t want to put the wide butt saddle on my nice Scott Contessa C-1 Pro – it just wont look right!!! Right??
    I have, since riding my upright vintage ladies bike with nice wide tan leather saddle to coffee, discovered that it is not a wide saddle that I need for improved comfort, in fact it is the wide saddle that causes me the irritation – maybe I need to sit upright and stop assuming the racing position on my vintage bike!! (Must beat hubby to the cafe).
    How great it would be to have a store with complete range of ‘come and test me out’ saddles for women, however that would really reduce the profits of saddle manufacturers as we would be able to get it right the first time, meaning my collection of saddles would also not exist.
    Cheers and wishing you much comfort in the saddle 🙂
    Michelle

    1. Michelle,
      that’s a great story and yes, the wider the saddle does not necessarily mean comfort. If we are going to be smart about this then we need to look at the pelvis and what would mould to it…but there’s the problem. Everyone’s pelvis is like trying to fit to everyone’s fingerprint…it won’t happen!
      I guess we can just aim to get as close as we can and hope for the best…any old saddles, send them my way if you want because I’m setting up the ‘saddle library’ for women.
      Cheers, Tina

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