I love cycling, but too long in the saddle and it’s a pain in the arse, quite literally. At first, I was assured by long time riders that I’d soon ‘get used to it’ but soreness, numbness and chafing of the nether regions have continued to be a bugbear, despite the bike being set up professionally. I’ve tried different shorts and chamois creams to no avail. So when I heard about Cyclefit’s Saddle Pressure Mapping service, I wondered, could salvation lie in a saddle?
‘Many riders struggle with saddle discomfort, often caused by areas of high pressure as a result of incorrect saddle choice or positioning,’ says senior Cyclefit analyst Julian Wall. The ideal is for the bones to bear weight evenly, so that the soft tissues in this delicate area are offloaded. ‘Pressure mapping provides objective feedback about where and how a rider sits, helping us make precise adjustments or advise on an alternative saddle that matches your riding style and encourages good posture.’
When I arrive with my bike for the assessment, Julian eyes my saddle - the fairly bog-standard one it came with. ‘It’s not a women’s saddle,’ I say apologetically. ‘It’s not a man’s saddle either,’ he mutters, picking up goniometers, spirit levels and tape measures.
Julian starts by simply observing me ride from different angles. He then gets me to sit on a device a bit like one of those foot-measuring things they used to have in shoe shops, which measures the distance between my sitting bones – a key factor in getting a comfortable position. Then a sleeve containing electronic pressure sensors is placed over my existing saddle and I start riding. Soon, graphic imaging appears on the adjacent screen, revealing where the pressure is going through each pedal stroke (see images attached). It’s obvious that I’m a bit skew–whiff, with more pressure on one side of the saddle than the other (just where I get that ‘bruised’ feeling, as it happens).
I start to explain about my wonky pelvis but Julian gets me to take off my shoes and puts a wedge under the ball of my right foot. ‘Being twisted on the saddle sometimes comes all the way up the kinetic chain from the foot,’ he explains. The shoe insert is aimed at reducing the inward rotation of the foot, knee and finally, pelvis. I can’t feel it, but the difference it makes is visibly clear – a far more even distribution of pressure.
He also raises the seat post, to give me more hip extension and therefore, power. But having already dismissed my saddle (‘it’s too long, too hard and it’s got a ridge right along the middle’) he sets me up on a women-specific Bontrager saddle and goes through the whole process again. ‘Traditionally, women’s saddle design has been appalling,’ he says. ‘It is only recently that companies have begun to put substantial resources into female-specific saddle design.’
It sounds obvious, but the pressure pattern changes when you go down to your drops – or onto time trial bars. So if you do races TTs, it’s important that the saddle works in these positions, too.
‘People think getting the right saddle fit is just about the width of the sit bones,’ says Julian. ‘But lots of things affect how you sit on the saddle: other bony structures, including the front of the pelvis, where men find it easier to load than women -seat height and handlebar position. One big giveaway that your saddle isn’t working for you is lots of side-to-side movement when you ride.’
Julian stresses that changing the saddle in isolation will not always achieve the best results - adjustments to shoes, foot position and handlebars will affect a rider’s contact with the saddle. But, he says, even moving a saddle by as little as 5mm can result in significant improvement in both comfort and performance - improving muscle activation and economy by minimising unwanted movement. He made rather larger changes to mine, but it paid off. At my next 10 mile TT, I got a PB.
Saddle Pressure Mapping costs £120 and takes 90 minutes. Stores are in London and Manchester. Cyclefit.co.uk It can also be combined with a full bike-fitting service.