Rear Guard Action

The keys to long-haul rear-end comfort are precise saddle selection and careful setup – and as little friction as possible. The alternative is not worth considering


Posted: 7 July 2010
by Brian Fiske

It's not unusual for your backside to feel tender after you begin a new bike-training season or make a big jump in miles. But there's a difference between that type of soreness, which lessens as you adapt or readapt, and chafing, where the skin on your behind or inner thighs is rubbed raw.

Your bottom is one of only three contact points between your body and the bike, and it includes sensitive regions that can make riding miserable if the connection isn't right. But there are steps you can take that will keep you sitting pretty no matter how long the ride.

Pick your seat

A heavily padded saddle sounds like a good solution, but it can exacerbate painful saddle issues. As your weight sinks into the saddle, the padding can press into your sensitive nooks, adding pressure where you don't want it. It may be hard to believe, but lightly cushioned seats can be better, especially for longer rides.

Set for success

A perfect saddle position puts a platform precisely under your sit bones, without pushing you forward, back or to the side.

  • To hit the spot, level your saddle: centre the rails in the seatpost clamp.
  • Position your seatpost so there's only a slight bend in your knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke.
  • Place the bike on a trainer (level the front with the rear), then have a friend stand behind you to watch your hips as you pedal. If they rock, lower your seatpost slightly.
  • Stop with your cranks at three and nine o'clock and have your friend hold a plumb line against the indentation below your kneecap; the free end of the plumb line should bisect the pedal axle. If it doesn't, move your seat forward or back until it lines up.
  • Avoid messing with saddle tilt. A nose that's too far down will force weight onto your arms; if it's too far back it will put pressure on some very sensitive areas.

Sore spots

Friction causes chafing, which can lead to saddle sores. You can avoid them by cleaning down under before and after rides, wearing clean shorts, and always using chamois cream (Vaseline works too, but it's greasy). If you develop raw spots, clean them gently but well, then slather on an ointment like Bag Balm or Sudocrem. But don't continue simply to mask the problem - troubleshoot. Find out if your hips are rocking, or if your thighs are rubbing the nose of the saddle, and so on, to find the cause of the chafing.

Get Fit

If you’re sure your saddle is set properly and you still have problems, it’s time to get an expert bike fit. Many manufacturers now offer their dealers measurement tools – such as Specialized’s Body Geometry Saddle Fit System – or you could head to CycleFit in London’s Covent Garden, bike fitters to the cycling glitterati (www.cyclefit.co.uk).


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