Hey cyclists! Finding that passion you get through riding can make you feel as free as a bird. But, when your seat is rubbing you the wrong way, you can feel irritated mentally and physically. A few simple steps will get you going in the right direction on the path to greatness.
Road Bike Seat Hurting? 8 Ways to Make it Better. Cycling should be an enjoyable adventure. But, when you are uncomfortable or in pain, it can be hard to thoroughly enjoy yourself. Road bike seats are not always the proper size or at the best angle for rider comfort. Here’s how to make your ride better:
- Test before you ride
- Adjust the seat’s height, angle, and handlebars
- Measure your sit bones
- Get some padded pants
- Stretch muscles before and after riding
- Take breaks during a long ride
- Engage in self-care
- Replace seat using measurements
Don’t let an uncomfortable road bike seat keep you from living your best life! Find your joy again by taking our advice and following the tips below for how to make your ride the most comfortable it can be.
Why Do Road Bike Seats Hurt?
The seat of a road bike is designed to help keep you in your seat without moving around. A softer cushioned seat will have more give to it and allow you to shift during your ride. Ideal for trail riding, but not the road. Therefore, road bike seats tend to be firmer.
The seat itself may be completely wrong for your body. But you may also have it at the wrong height or angle for your body, and your ride. Adjusting your bike with a few fine-tuning tips can save you from spending money to replace your bike seat. Try the adjustments before you purchase.
Checking in with your body may prevent you from having a painful/uncomfortable ride. Even with the ultimate seat, and the finest adjustments, your body may still tell you that it is time to adjust your body, or that it is time to take a break.
1. Test Out Your Road Bike Before You Ride
Though the road bikes are commonly known to be uncomfortable, you may be a simple adjustment (or two) away from a better ride. This is the best way not to end up with a seat that makes you sore.
Before you get on the road, there are a few things you can do to make sure your bike is tailored to the proportions of your body. Before you leave for your next ride, let’s run through the list.
2. Adjust the Seat’s Height, Angle, and Handlebars
Seat height-The height of your cycle seat has a lot to do with how comfortable your ride will be. Typically, riders suffer because their seat height is inches higher than what it should actually be set at.
- Test by sitting on your bike and trying to place your dominant foot flat on the ground.
- If you cannot firmly plant your foot flat on the ground, chances are your seat is too high.
- Try adjusting it little by little until it feels right.
Seat height adjustments must be made in conjunction with handlebar height adjustments, as they go hand in hand when it comes to riding comfort. So, if you end up adjusting your seat, make sure that you also test and adjust your bars.
Seat angle-When a cycle seat is not at the correct angle for the ride and the rider, a cyclist can suffer immediate discomfort and long-term problems such as Weaver’s Bottom, sciatica and plantar fasciitis. Basically, nothing good will come of an improperly angled cycle seat.
- Run your initial seat angle test while you are parked.
- Simply sit on the bike as if you are about to take off and do a check-in with your body. How does the seat itself sit with you? And, when your hands are on the bars, does it feel comfortable?
- Commonly a cyclist’s seat is found to be tilted too far forward.
Adjust one click at a time, as to not go too far in the opposite direction. Seat angle adjustment is a delicate process. But, once you get it right, you will notice the difference in your comfort right away. Take a ride around the block once you have made your adjustment to test it.
Handlebar height- Having your handlebars at the correct height will alleviate pressure from your hands, wrists, shoulders, and neck. Not to mention alleviating pressure off of your seat, they go hand in hand.
- Get on your bike and put your hands on the handlebar grips, as you normally would during riding. Do you feel any tension in your upper body?
- Feeling a twinge between your shoulder blades, up into your neck, and all throughout your back can be signs that either your handlebars are not at the right height, your seat is not at the right height/angle, or that you need to pay more attention to your body mechanics while riding.
Over time from riding and traveling with your bike, parts may shift and rattle out of place. You might need to readjust your settings. When you begin to notice that something does not feel right, take the time to stop and make the proper tuning. It is worth the pit-stop!
If, after making these adjustments, you are not confident in the level of your bum’s comfort, then perhaps it is time to buy a new seat. But before you do read through the next section on how to properly measure for your new seat. Buying one off of the rack may not be the best for you. Measure twice, buy once.
3. Measure Your Sit Bones
Direct comparison between your body and your bike seat is an important step in getting you into the most comfortable seat possible. On average, men have a distance of 110-140 mm and women on the average measure at 110-150mm between their sit bones.
How Do You Find Out the Measurement of Your Sit Bones?
If you do not have access to a professional sit bone measuring device, do not worry. We have tips on how you can get fairly the same results from the comfort of your own home.
The cardboard method: For this test, you will simply need a piece of corrugated cardboard big enough to sit on and take an accurate impression. And, the other thing you will need is a time and place (like carpet) where you can sit still long enough to get an accurate measurement.
- Sit on your piece of cardboard with your knees bent and your back straight, similarly to how you would be positioned on your bike. This will angle your sit bones in the correct way to give a good impression on your cardboard.
- Give yourself about approximately 20-30 minutes of sitting in this position.
- When the time is up, remove the sheet of cardboard.
- Measure the distance between the outer edge of each marking. This gives you an accurate length of your sit bones.
- Using this measurement will help you choose the perfect cycle seat!
The wet test: For this test, you will need a wet paper towel, a sheet of dry paper, and an elevated area such as a flat chair or stool.
- Place the damp paper towel on your flat surface and then lay the sheet of paper on top of it.
- When this is done, simply sit directly on the paper.
- Bend your knees to shift your sit bones into the proper spot that will leave the proper markings on the paper from your sit bones.
- Stand up from your seat, and your paper should be wet at just the right spots.
- Take your ruler and now measure from the outer edge of the “wet spots,” giving you the distance between your sit bones.
You should get the info you need just by doing one of these tests. But if you want to make sure you can perform both tests. Once you have your measurements, you can stop into a local bike specialty shop, or jump online and browse your favorite cyber bike site to look for your new seat!
Don’t feel like a DIY? It shouldn’t be hard to find a local shop that can help you out with measuring for a new seat.
4. Get Some Padded Pants
Whether or not you have “natural padding” underneath you, a little extra cushion provided by good riding pants can go a long way while riding a road bike. That is where a quality pair of padded pants or shorts come in handy. They come in different lengths, but they also come in different sexes. Men’s and women’s cycling gear is not created the same way.
- For women’s cycling shorts, more padding is inserted into the front of the shorts to protect them from the invasive nose of the seat. Furthermore, a woman cycle seat will also have a hole in the center that allows them to tilt their pelvis forward without discomfort on the soft tissue.
- Men’s cycling shorts will not only help pad your seat but will also help prevent painful chaffing and will alleviate pressure points. There are many different levels of padding thickness and materials on the market to choose from.
Some riders prefer to choose garments that serve a dual purpose, such as padded, moisture-wicking shorts. These will give you a more comfortable ride by providing that much-needed padding on your bottom while adding another level of comfort by pulling the sweat off of your skin.
It is important to protect your body from the uncomfortable, painful rubbing of clothing that can cause chaffing and blisters and even worse. Once you are suffering from raw skin, getting dressed and back on your bike can be a painful thought.
As an additional measure to prevent this from happening, there is one basic rule many follow. And, that rule is not wearing underpants while riding. Some people may not feel comfortable with the thought of going “commando,” but the truth is that cyclists’ shorts and pants have underwear built-in.
If you have ever accidentally made the mistake of layering up too much, you know firsthand that articles of clothing have a way of shifting on us and bundling up and causing you an extreme amount of discomfort.
5. Stretch Your Body Before a Ride
Check in with your body while you are performing your warm-up stretches because irritation of the sit bone area can also happen when you overdo it while stretching. Slow and steady! Here are the main muscle groups to warm up:
A group of muscles in the posterior leg that help you bend your knees while riding. The group is made up of three muscles: semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris. To stretch the hamstring muscles:
- Sit flat on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you
- Relax your back and reach for your toes.
- Keep your back as straight as possible and hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
- Try not to let your knees raise up, and keep your chin tucked into your chest.
A large group of muscles in the anterior leg that helps straighten the knee and flex the hip. The group is made up of four muscles: Vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, and rectus femoris. To stretch the quad muscles:
- Hold onto a countertop or railing and bend one leg at the knee.
- Gently pull your foot towards your rear by grabbing your ankle and flexing your toes toward the ceiling.
- Keep your back straight and keep your balance!
The important group of muscles in the posterior leg, below the knee. The primary jobs of the calf muscles are to plantarflex (think of walking on your tiptoes or pushing a bike pedal at the ankle) and flexing the leg at the knee. The group is made up of two muscles: gastrocnemius and soleus. To stretch the calf muscles:
- Roll out a yoga mat and slowly get yourself into a downward dog yoga position.
- Or, sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you with your knees softly locked.
- Use a towel or thick elastic band to wrap around your feet, grabbing one end with each hand.
- Gently pull your toes towards you.
Shoulders and Neck
There are tons of muscles in the neck and shoulders, but the ones we are going to focus on are the sternocleidomastoid muscles and deltoids.
Sternocleidomastoids rotate and extend the head, and they also flex the neck. These are located at the base of your skull (behind the ear) and attach to the clavicle. To stretch the sternocleidomastoid:
- Face forward and stand/sit straight.
- Gently and slowly tilt your head to one side.
- You can use the weight of your hand on top of your head to intensify the stretch.
- Then repeat on the other side.
Deltoids are responsible for moving the arm around the shoulder joints, and their main function in bike riding is to raise the arm to the handlebar and used in steering. The deltoids are located on your shoulder “caps.” They attach on your clavicle and wrap around to insert onto the spine and scapula, also running down the humerus bone. To stretch the deltoids:
- Put one arm straight out in front of your body
- Slowly bring it across your chest, supporting it with your other arm.
- Hold for 30 seconds, allowing the stretch to reach the scapula and spinal insertion points.
- Repeat on the other side.
The muscles that are used to grip your handlebars are called your flexors. They are located in the forearm from the elbow to the fingers. The pronator teres and supinator help turn the forearm/wrist/hand. They are located in the forearm. To stretch the flexors:
- Keep your fingers straight and bend your hand at the wrist.
- First bend it up to bring your fingers towards the top of the wrist.
- Then bend the wrist down.
- Spread your fingers out to stretch the palm.
To stretch the pronator teres (the muscle that turns your forearm palm side down), you will perform the stretch listed above for your flexors and then repeat while gripping the forearm near the elbow to relieve tension.
To stretch the supinator (the muscle that turns your forearm palm side up), repeat the above two steps. You can follow this up with getting down on the ground on all fours, and gently turn your wrists so that your fingers are pointing back towards you. You can intensify the stretch by spreading your fingers, be sure not to put too much weight on your bent wrists.
Why You Can’t Neglect Your Warm-ups
Neglecting your warm-ups will not go unnoticed. It can result in injury and issues like Weaver’s Bottom. Never heard of it? Lucky you! Weaver’s Bottom is basically extreme inflammation caused by sitting on a hard surface (such as a road bike seat) for long periods of time.
Your muscles are made up of hundreds of tiny fibers. You can think of your muscle fibers like the hair on your head. When you don’t brush your hair, what happens? It gets knotty and messy and hurts really bad when you try to get the knots out. The same goes for muscles.
The pain can be a sign that blood cannot pump through the muscle like it normally does. It can also be a sign that the tight muscles are putting pressure on nerves. Such as is the case with carpal tunnel syndrome and other nerve/ inflammatory cases.
If you do not take care of your muscles, you will begin to notice tension and pain. The pain is not going to go away on its own, so do not ignore it. Pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong.
6. Take Breaks During Your Ride
No two bodies are exactly alike. Yet, bike seats come off of the production line the same as the last one. Researchers and designers put countless hours into making sure each and every detail is on point. And, some people are ok with that. But, meanwhile, the rest of us are suffering.
The main idea of a cycle seat is that you place your “SIT” bones onto the curves of the seat, keeping you balanced and in place while riding. The ischial tuberosity (aka sit bone) is the landmark that signifies the lateral boundary of the pelvic cavity or outlet.
A pain in the rear? Yes! Ignoring the signals your body is sending you can result in pain in the rear end. Pain can be caused by an ill-fitting bike seat, but there are also a few more root causes of this issue.
Sitting or over-stimulation from a ride that is just a bit too long will give you mild – extreme irritation and pain. This can be remedied by taking a short break or two during your ride. And, proper stretching before you get started.
7. Engage in Self-Care
More than just warming up and stretching your muscles, getting a regular full body massage can help you feel better and ride your best rides without tension and pain! Massage can help alleviate and relieve muscle tension, spasms, and trigger points. It can also aid with recovery and healing.
Not a fan of receiving massage? That’s OK; massage is not for everyone. Acupuncture is another amazing bodywork option for bike riders. Acupuncture treatments can help tremendously with relieving muscle tension, calming nerves & pain relief.
There are tons of healthy all-natural ways in which you can treat your body to self-care maintenance. No matter which modality you choose, be sure to do your research before scheduling an appointment. Ask your friends for recommendations. There’s no better reference than a personal success story!
Just as important as your warm-up is your post-ride stretch. If it has been an especially physically demanding ride, treat yourself to an Epsom salt soak!
8. Replace Seat Using Measurements
Which Bike Has The Most Comfortable Seat?
When you think about ultimate comfort, what comes to mind? What is your ideal bike seat? Most people would say cushioned and wide enough to support their entire bottom. Similar to a motorcycle seat.
While this sounds delightful, it may not be the most practical for a standard bicycle, though. And, especially not for a road bike where sleek and aerodynamic are the keywords.
After surveying many cycle enthusiasts, we have found that a beach cruiser bike is seen to be the most comfortable. Why is that? They have a wide, cushioned saddle with additional suspension.
So, why not put a beach cruiser seat on your road bike? The wide, cushioned saddle of a beach cruiser isn’t necessarily a good fit for your road bike. Over the course of a long ride, a smaller seat – properly fitted to you – is going to offer you the most comfort.
The ultimate comfort is a seat that is properly fitted to you. If you don’t feel confident measuring your own sit bones and choosing your own seat online, visit a local bike shop. They are experts and will have you sitting on your best seat in no time!
Does It Matter What Material a Bike Seat is Made Of?
Bike seats are most commonly made of synthetic materials, but there are other options like leather or cotton. What is the most comfortable?
Again, the most common seat fabric is lightweight, synthetic material over a foam or gel padding. There is no need to break them in, like you’ll need to do with a leather seat. They’re easy to clean and comfortable.
Bike saddles with a leather cover can be just as comfortable, once broken in. Like a baseball glove or a pair of shoes, it takes a while for a seat made of leather to mold comfortably to your bottom. Before that time, they can be somewhat uncomfortable. They also do not wick moisture in the way synthetic fabrics do. This can be another source of discomfort.
If a rider is not comfortable with leather or synthetic fabrics for one reason or another, there are seats available with a cotton covering. The breathable fabric can be very comfortable on a long ride and, paired with the right kind of foam or gel cushioning, might be a good choice for a road bike.
What Type of Padding Is Best in a Seat?
The most common type of padding you’ll find in a bike seat is gel or foam cushioning. These have their pros and cons.
Foam cushioning: It is firmer than gel and provides support while providing cushioning over the molded form of the bike seat. It’s soft and springy.
Gel cushioning: A squishier type of cushioning that molds to your bottom, but it doesn’t have the same support that foam does. Not springy.
No cushioning: Believe it or not, some riders prefer to ride without a cushioned seat. Cushioned seats can get warm on a long ride. Those who find more comfort in extra firm support of this type of seat will find that it, too, molds to their body shape over time.
There are many options out there for staying comfortable on a road bike. In addition to the seat you buy, you’ll find a comfy ride if you take steps to stretch, rest and comfort your body before, during and after a long ride.