Avoiding saddle sores

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now, but never quite got around to it.  I’ve not been out on the bike as much in the last couple of weeks and the the area I’ll notice this the most is where you sit on your saddle.  There are really 3 things that significantly influence your ride comfort when you’re sitting in the saddle:

  1. chamois in your cycling shorts or bibs
  2. your saddle geometry
  3. your seat post

I recently wrote a review about some cycling shorts I received for Christmas.  After some time in the saddle,  I have to say I like the Performance Elite bib shorts the best, especially in colder weather.  The Hincapie shorts are pretty nice too, but they’re much lighter weight and I’m sure I’ll appreciate them more when the temperatures go above 90 here in Texas.

Your saddle is also pretty important when it comes to ride comfort.  Contrary to what seems intuitive, it’s not really about the amount of padding in the saddle.  In order to understand why you get sore on a ride, you’ll need to think about the contact points when you’re seated on the saddle.  While there’s a significant amount of weight on the top of the saddle, there’s also a fair amount of force exerted on the side of your saddle as you pedal and it’s this movement that usually causes the soreness.  If you’re riding a road bike like I do most of the time, your saddle’s up pretty high and this makes a difference too because you’re not going to want a wide, cushy saddle.  A wider saddle will put added pressure on the insides of your legs where they meet your pelvis.  Not everyone’s the same so a saddle that works for me in terms of width might not work for you.  Also, mens and women’s saddles are very different.  So how do you know what saddle will work best for you?  The best thing to do is take your bike down to your local bike shop and try a few of them.  Most bike shops have an exchange policy so if you discover your new saddle gives sores after 50 miles on longer rides, you can swap it out for another one that works best for you.  Make sure you check the flexibility of the saddle on the sides where it meets the insides of your legs near your pelvis.

Last, but not least, your seat post will have a significant influence on your ride comfort.  Last year, I upgraded my ride to a 2008 Trek Madone 5 series and I immediately noticed a huge difference in ride comfort over longer distances.  I’d been riding a Lemond Buenos Aires bike for many years and really liked the smooth ride the Reynolds 853 steel frame afforded me over longer distances.  Apparently, my raves about my new ride prompted my friend Jeff to go out and get a Madone as well and we rode together on the Wurst Ride.  While I was riding behind him I noticed something quite remarkable.  His entire seat post flexed from side-to-side while he was pedaling, and not just a little.  I asked him if mine did the same thing and he said he noticed the same thing on my bike.  I’ve not seen other bikes exhibit this degree of flexibility.  Of course, one look at the Madone’s seat post and you’ll see it’s totally different from most other bikes.  The seat post actually goes over the bike frame instead of sliding into it.  I don’t understand all the physics involved, but my observations indicate it has a big impact on my overall ride comfort.  Different bike manufacturers use different techniques to smooth out your rides and it’s important to understand what their doing before you drop some serious coin on a bike.  If you’re in the market for a new bike, do some research and ask lots of questions.  A good bike shop will know about these features and be able to explain them to you.

I managed to rack up about 4K miles on my new bike in a little over 6 months of riding.  That’s almost double what I did the previous year on my old bike.  I’ve got a Selle Italia Trans Am Flite saddle on my Lemond and the Bontrager Affinity saddle that came with my Madone.  Both are very comfortable over long distances.  Saddles have changed dramatically over the last couple of years, so if your saddle is more than 2 or 3 years old, it’s worth checking out what’s available now.

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