holding bikes by the seat

How To Prevent Your Bike Seat From Hurting You

When I go for a long ride after a long break, I usually get a painful reminder on my behind that I’m not used to it anymore. If I’m running into pain, I’m sure that it’s one of the biggest hurdles new riders face when getting into cycling. Why is it that a road bike seat, also called a saddle, is so uncomfortable?! Pain is a great way to discourage you from hopping in the saddle, so I’m here to give you what you need to enjoy your bike more. Here’s how to ride your bike without hurting your butt, your sit-bone, your groin, or whatever you call it.

Start with shorter rides but go out often, put more of your weight on your pedals, and rotate your waist to make sure you aren’t cutting off circulation. Now, all of that is a bit vague, so let me explain what I mean.

Why Do Road Bike Saddles Hurt

To start off, it’s important to understand how a saddle hurts you. Even though your weight doesn’t change, concentrating it on a smaller area will result in a much larger amount of pain.

Think about how snowshoes work. They spread out your weight so more snow is supporting you. If you switch to high-heels, you’ll sink into the snow very quickly. It’s the same principle here.

Since the saddle is narrow and hard, there isn’t much area to spread out your weight and it can’t conform to your body.

Why Are Road Bike Saddles Hard And Narrow

If it’s so obvious that road bike saddles will cause pain, why not widen them and make them soft? The short answer is that road bike saddles are hard and narrow to reduce weight and stay out of your way.

Road Bike Saddles Weigh Less

The only padded seats I’ve ever held were actually really heavy. They required a lot more material in order to absorb shock and spread out pressure points.

If you’ve every talked to a hardcore cyclist about how much their road bike weighs, they will talk about things they’ve done to shave ounces off. Adding a 2 lb seat would never even cross their minds.

The heavier your bike, the more energy you spend getting it moving. That means less energy is available for sustaining the ride, getting up the next hill, or going just a little bit faster.

I discuss that in more depth in my article about How Much Should A Road Bike Weigh.

Can You Just Put A Wide Saddle On A Road Bike?

It may not occur to you, but a wide saddle can actually get in the way of the natural motion of your leg as you ride on a road bike. They work just fine on a cruising bike because your legs are in a different position.

As you can see, your legs need to be in different positions on different bikes. A wider seat on a road bike just gets in the way. That prevents you from getting more power into the pedals.

Being more or less upright also changes how you sit on the saddle. So, a wide base is great for sitting upright on a cruiser, but not that great for leaning forward on a road bike. A narrow saddle is great for leaning forward on a road bike, but not for sitting upright on a cruiser.

As well, all that rubbing makes it a lot easier to develop chafing between your legs. That is a sure fire way to keep you from riding for a while.

So, while it may fit, please don’t put a wide saddle on a road bike. At that rate, you are better off just having a cruising bike.

How To Avoid Hurting Yourself

The name of the game is to reduce pressure points. Pardon my physics, but pressure is equal to force over area. We want a lower pressure, so we either need to reduce the force or increase the area.

There are a few things that, when combined properly, make it so much easier to reduce pressure and enjoy a pain free ride. 

How High To Put Your Seat

If you put your saddle too high, you won’t be able to put enough force into your pedals when they are at the bottom of their rotation. That means you aren’t lifting yourself to relieve any pressure. As well, your hips will rock back and forth, which will quickly irritate your sitting area.

If you put your saddle too low, you won’t be able to extend your legs enough to get power into your pedals. That means you aren’t able to put force in the right direction to help lift you off your saddle a little bit.

The correct height for a bike saddle is when your knee is just slightly bent when you have your foot on the pedal and parallel with the floor.

Riding Technique To Avoid Pain

Your riding technique can reduce the force you put on your saddle (and it puts on you). While it may not sound like the most appealing route, the harder you ride, the less you’ll hurt. More force down on the pedals means less force on your saddle. Less force means lower pressure.

Also, riding harder means you are more likely to be up and out of your saddle all together. It can’t hurt you if you aren’t even touching it!

In general, try putting more of your weight on your pedals instead of your seat.

Sitting Technique To Avoid Pain

How you sit on your saddle can increase the surface area. I never really thought about it until I started researching for this article, but there is more than one way to sit on a saddle. And I don’t mean sitting on it sideways.

Namely, you can shift your weight forwards or backwards, or you can roll your hips forwards or backwards. This changes what part of your crotch is resting on the saddle.

Do your best to avoid placing pressure closer to the front, and focus on getting as much of your body touching the saddle as possible. It will require some experimentation, but a few seconds of shifting around is usually enough for me to find a more comfortable position.

It’s also important to remember that you literally do have “sit bones”. Sitting on a saddle the wrong way can press more on those bones and will increase the pressure. Everyone is different, so, while you are adjusting, get a feel for where those bones are and avoid placing much of your weight there.

Training Reduces The Pain

For the most part, the more you ride, the more your body will become accustomed to pressure down there. It won’t go away completely, but, between you learning how your body is most comfortable and your body building up some resistance, it will hurt less every ride.

That means that if you haven’t ridden your bike in a while, you should start off with a shorter ride. Maybe 30 minutes. It doesn’t sound like much. But getting on your bike for 30 minutes every few days will help you quickly build up a resistance. Going for a 4 hour ride after not riding all winter can quickly bruise you into submission.

Speaking of which, that is why I highly suggest finding a bike trainer and setting it up during the off-season. If you are worried about the price, there are usually second hand options, and you don’t need a fancy one. Just enough to get you on your bike.

It also helps that, if you lose weight while you are training, that means less force on your pressure points. So, losing weight is actually a great way to reduce your pain. If nothing else, it’s something to look forward to as you keep riding.

Cycling Shorts To Avoid Pain

Hopefully by now you understand that you don’t need fancy clothes to not get hurt. Your best bet is to listen to your body and ease into it. Take your time. Slowly increase your ride frequency and ride duration/length. When you are in pain, get up off the seat and give yourself a break.

However, there is absolutely no denying that a nicely padded pair of cycling shorts will help massively. That padded insert is called a chamois (it’s pronounced shammy, it’s French).

I can hear you now, though. “Wait, padded shorts? Didn’t he say that padding was heavy and not worth it?” First off, I’m glad you’re paying attention. But, the padding in shorts is different than what goes on a saddle.

Remember that padded saddles are usually a lot bigger than a road bike saddle, and don’t usually go on a road bike. Using them on a cruising bike is great because you aren’t worried about the extra weight, and it’s just nice to have a bit more padding.

Alternatively, a chamois is specifically designed to be lightweight and conform to your body. This offers particular advantages in how it can perform on a very narrow seat.

Should You Wear Cycling Shorts Every Time?

No, you don’t. My biggest barrier to wearing cycling clothes, including shorts, is that they require special washing in order for them to last as long as possible. I will always avoid dealing with that if possible.

Here’s my rule:

Rides  <  45 minutes = Regular workout shorts and t-shirts

Rides >= 45 minutes = Cycling short and jersey

I don’t use cycling shorts if I’m not riding for more than 45 minutes. Generally speaking, that’s just not long enough to induce a lot of pain, and I don’t want to wash my shorts by hand unless I’ve really used them and they’ve prevented lots of pain.

Which brings up “how do you clean cycling shorts?” I don’t have an article for that just yet, but if you’d like to know when I do, you can click here and sign up to get an email when I release new articles!

What Cycling Shorts Should I Get?

If you feel like you need to get some cycling shorts, and you’d like to support this site, here are some affiliate links of shorts I recommend. It doesn’t cost you anything, but I’ll get a small percentage of the sale if you use my link and then purchase something. Helping RBB means I can help more people just like you.

Here’s a pair of shorts on Amazon. Sponeed is a respected brand and has good quality products. Not high end, but not a cheap knockoff either.

These shorts on Trek’s website are Bontrager brand. They are a higher quality and are priced accordingly.