What’s the one biggest factor when it comes to cycling comfort for most riders? The saddle. When your set-up works correctly, you don’t even notice it. When it doesn’t it can be one of the most uncomfortable and downright traumatic things you’ve ever experienced. Getting saddle comfort right can mean the difference between loving and hating cycling.
To help steer you towards the former, we’ve distilled our BikeRadar know-how into a simple 5-step guide. Follow these steps and blissful saddle comfort awaits! We'll help you avoid painful saddle sores and aching bottoms.
However, here comes the disclaimer. No two bums are alike. Like the people they belong to, each ass is individual, so what works for one person might not work for another, and while these general tips will help the vast majority of riders, it’s also true that some people might be fine without.
As with anything, give it a go, experiment, and find what works for you.
1. Get the right saddle
The number one most important thing to get right is the saddle itself. There are literally hundreds to choose from, and a good starting point to find out the right kind of saddle for you is our bike saddle buyer’s guide.
In general, you can get saddle designed for different types of cycling: road, mountain biking, leisure cycling, etc which will take into account the different position you sit in when riding on those different types of bike.
Once you know what type of saddle you need, you can then see what width of saddle you'll need. Saddle width, or size, is determined by the width of your sit bones — the bony ends of your pelvis that bear most of the weight when you are in a saddle — and don’t actually have very much to do with how wide your bum is.
Many shops will have a simple device for measuring your sit bone width, in the form of a gel or foam pad which you sit on, and which will then show up the area where the pressure was greatest which corresponds with where those bones are located. That will give you a measurement that you can use to select the right sized saddle.
And lastly, many companies also produce women’s specific saddles. These take into account the different anatomies of women to men, and often have a central groove or cut out to accommodate the soft tissue.
Sadly there’s no one saddle that suits absolutely every rider and you may find you need to try a few saddles before you get the one that works for you. More and more shops are offering demo saddles that you can test for a few days to see how you get on with them.
2. Get the saddle position right
Once you’ve got your saddle sorted, you need to get the saddle position on the bike right as this too plays a major part in your comfort.
The main elements here are height, tilt and the fore/aft position. A saddle that’s too low or high may result in a rider tilting their hips to either side when pedalling, and with that bigger motion comes more potential for rubbing and chaffing. A saddle with a tilt that doesn’t fit or that’s placed too far forward or too far back will often result in a rider shifting about on the saddle frequently to try and get comfortable.
If you’re still suffering discomfort, of if you have pain in other parts of your body, then the cause might be related to the fit of the bike. A good quality bike fit may well be able to sort these issues out and cure you of your pain.
3. Get a pair of padded bike shorts
Cycling shorts with a chamois — a padded area that covers your nether regions and sits between you and the saddle — are one of the essential pieces of kit that all cyclists should own. They provide a protective and impact-absorbing barrier between your delicate areas and the saddle.
You can buy a decent pair of shorts from as little as £15 / US$20 which will get you started. If you ride a lot, it’s worth investing a bit more in a pair. Higher priced chamois shorts will have better chamois pads with features liked zoned padding to provide extra cushioning and support in certain areas where it’s needed, and better quality lycra to keep them fitted in place and looking good.
Depending on what type of cycling you do and your preferences, you can also get shorts with different thicknesses of chamois pad, or with pads located in slightly different areas to suit your riding discipline. For example, they may have the pad located further forward to provide cushioning when you are in the more forward and downward rotated position that riders adopt when on a road bike, compared to the upright position that’s found on a hybrid, urban or mountain bike.
Some companies, such as Endura, also produce different widths of chamois pad to correspond with different saddle widths.
4. Slather on some chamois cream
Chamois cream is a kind of emollient cream that is designed to keep your nether region lubricated when riding. Cycling is a very repetitive motion with the potential for rubbing and chaffing in the undercarriage region, which can be a major source of pain and discomfort.
The cream makes sure that the skin of your legs and genitalia move smoothly past each other and the fabric of the chamois pad without sticking or rubbing. It’s particularly worth using if you are planning on doing rides of several miles or more, as the longer you ride, the greater the potential for chaffing.
The cream also often incorporates antibacterial substances such as tea tree oil or eucalyptus. This helps prevent bacterial build up when riding, which can lead to saddle sores.
There are lots of different types available, some of which are scented, others of which have cooling substances added, some of which are all-natural and some are aimed at performance cyclists.
You can apply chamois cream either directly to your skin, spread it on the chamois shorts, or a combination of both. Yes, it will feel weird at first but you’ll appreciate the benefits after the first few miles!
One big rule to be aware of here is double dipping! If you have a tub of cream, don’t put your hand back in once you’ve done an initial smear, as you don’t want to introduce bacteria from your bits into the tub. You can also get chamois cream in a tube which makes this a simpler rule to keep. We’d also advice against sharing your cream with anyone else.
5. Keep everything clean
We hate to break it to you, but your nether regions are the perfect breeding ground for bacteria when you’re riding. It’s warm, damp, and there may already be bacteria there just looking for an opportunity to bloom. Apart from nasty things like urinary tract infections, there’s also the chance of painful and uncomfortable saddle sores, and no-one wants those!
One cause of saddle sores is an infection in the hair follicle, so keeping everything clean makes this much less likely.
You should always have a wash as soon as you can after a ride. You should also avoid wearing your chamois shorts more than once without washing them, even if you’ve only been out for a short ride, as they’re likely to be harbouring germs.
While this is less of an issue for your saddle — after all, it’s unlikely to be in direct contact with your skin, unless you’re on a naked bike ride — you should also keep it clean and free from dirt as sitting on mud and bits of grit aren’t going to do anything beneficial for your comfort levels.
What if your bum still hurts?
If you’re just getting into cycling then unfortunately even with all the steps above the first few times you go riding you are likely to suffer a little discomfort, until your body gets used to sitting in a different way.
If your pain and discomfort persists beyond these first few rides, or is very bad, then there’s likely to be a bigger issue going on. You might need to look at changing your saddle set up or trying a new one, or going for a bike fit to see if some expert advice can help.
There are also lots of innovative and unusual saddles on the market that may be worth looking at if the regular saddles you’ve tried aren’t helping.
Overall, cycling should be a fun and comfortable experience. You shouldn’t experience pain or numbness down below, and both of these are signs that your set-up isn’t right. Don’t suffer in silence!