Finding the Right Bike Saddle for Pelvic Comfort

In Pelvic Health, Pelvic Painby Morgan ConnerLeave a Comment

By: Morgan Connor

Since I am sure you haven’t memorized the PHRC staff bios, I’ll give you a little background on myself: Last year I got into triathlons and now spend a lot of time riding my bike. This past spring I finally bit the bullet and decided to get a bike for myself. After riding two different borrowed bikes, I decided it was time but I was worried about getting the right bike. I was recommended by a neighbor to go to a small local bike shop called Véloro Bicycles and that the owner, Gebhard Ebenhoech, was great. True to her recommendation, Gebhard spent the time to help me figure out the right bike and after a fitting, I settled on the Intenso Dama Bianca. After it arrived and I took it out for a short test ride, it was a dream compared to the bike I was on before that was too small; it felt great… except for the saddle. Oh my goodness, the factory saddle was not going to fly, it felt like razors were trying to spread my sitz bones apart. Ok maybe a little exaggeration, but still a problem. Discomfort and pain from bike saddles are a very real problem and can cause all sorts of pelvic floor issues. Kim’s blog post on bicycle saddles gives a great overview about some of the reasons bike saddles can cause pelvic floor pain.  

 Morgan’s Bike. Intenso Dama Bianca

Let’s get this out of the way: Finding the right bike saddle is a challenge. That might be why you are here at this blog post, because you can’t find the right saddle. Maybe you’ve read a bunch of articles about how to find the right saddle and are still confused. This is not one of those articles as I do not have an encyclopedic knowledge of bike saddles and I am still learning about all the different elements of bike saddles. However, I personally know how frustrating it is to try to figure out the right saddle and my goal of this post is to give you some tools that I found helpful and to give you hope. I found the right saddle and you can too!

I went through four different saddles until I found the right saddle. The first saddle I tried after the factory saddle was the “611 Active saddle with TITube” by SQ labs. Unlike the curved factory saddle, it is flat and firm with an indented cutout. Gebhard explained that a curved saddle is preferred by high level racers with aggressive racing positions who want to be able to easily move around in their saddles and are not putting a lot of weight on the saddle, but probably not good for someone like me, ie not a high level racer (I probably ride about 50-100 miles a week on average). 

This saddle felt better and I was able to do a longer ride (~25 miles) with no sit bone wedge torture. However, I still was not very comfortable as my sit bones felt very uncomfortable with how hard the saddle was and I was also starting to get some discomfort, pain and occasional numbness more anteriorly into the soft tissues. Check out this blog post and webinar about the anatomy of the pelvis and pelvic floor . Additionally, because I was now changing my riding position my hands were also getting numb. So it was a no go for me on saddle number two. 

For saddle number three, Gebhard suggested the “Selle Italia Lady Gel Flow.” (This saddle has a narrow cutout which we hoped would help with the compression on the anterior soft tissues. This saddle also has softer padding so hopefully some relief of the sit bone pain. I was hopeful but apprehensive because with a softer saddle you sink into the cushion and as the pressure gets distributed you may actually have more pressure somewhere that is not able to handle that pressure ie soft tissue vs sit bones. “If you are a little sore in the sit bones after your ride” explains Gebhard, “that’s what you want. If you were to sit on a park bench and be uncomfortable in your sit bones only, that’s good.” Knowing this I decided to again do a longer ride to make sure that the relief I was feeling on the test ride for the Gel Flow would last. Long story short, it did not! While the soft tissue pain as well as the sharp pain in my sit bones had lessened, it was still there and I had a new problem: pinching in the gluteal fold (this is the place where cheeks meet legs and cause a crease.) So again, not my perfect saddle. 

To recap so far: none of the saddles provided complete relief of sit bone or anterior pain and one saddle also caused pinching! When I went back to the shop yet again, the next saddle we tried was the “Selle Italia SLR Lady flow.” This saddle was similar in shape to Gel Flow but with less padding and larger cutout. I had thought that the pinching in the gluteal fold was from the shape of the saddle, Gebhard thought it was more likely from the softer cushion. I was sinking into it as predicted and the result was pinching. If that was indeed the case then the firm cushion should help. To my surprise, it did! While the saddle was less comfortable in the first two to three miles of a ride, it actually started to get more comfortable the longer the ride. Although I still have some pain in the sit bones with this final saddle, I got a new pair of cycling shorts with a thicker chamois that improved the sit bone pain. 

Success!

Finding the right saddle is a process. There are no universally perfect saddles that will work for everyone, but you can find the right one. Here are my three pieces of advice:

1) Have patience: As much as I wanted to right saddle quickly, I took my time to test each one, trying it out on a couple longer rides to pinpoint the exact problems with each saddle so that it could be remedied with the next one. 

2) Find a local bike shop that will work with you: Having someone who I could talk to was so helpful. Even as a pelvic floor physical therapist who knows more than the average person about the pelvic floor, I would not have guessed that a harder saddle would have felt better in the end. Additionally, being able to get help from someone who knows what saddles are available and how different saddle features can help remedy different complaints was essential for me in finding the right saddle. Also, I’m a giant nerd and I loved asking a million questions about various saddles like is there a huge difference between men’s and women’s saddles?? (There is but that doesn’t always mean that the right saddle will match what you have between your legs)

3) Don’t be afraid to talk about the problematic location: I cannot stress enough the importance of correctly identifying where the problem is located. Most bike shops and many other cyclists have probably heard about or experienced some sort of saddle related pain. If you don’t feel comfortable using the anatomical names (clitoris, labia, vaginal introitus, penis, scrotum, perineum, ischial tuberosities, gluteal fold, etc) at least identify if it’s boney or soft tissue and whether it’s in the front or back. Being able to communicate where the problem is will help the person assisting you to make a good suggestion. 

Lastly, while the Selle Italia SLR Lady Flow works for me, it might not be the perfect saddle for you and just because the other three saddles didn’t work for me, don’t let that scare you from trying them, they might work for you and be the saddle of your dreams!  Your bike, riding position and style, pelvic anatomy and clothing are all going to affect which saddle is right for you. Good luck and see you out on the road!

Morgan on her first long ride with the winning saddle!

Thank you to Gebhard Ebenhoech for helping me out. If you would like to check out his shop you can find Véloro Bicycles on the web at https://www.velorobicycles.com/, on Facebook at  https://www.facebook.com/VeloroBicycles/, or instagram at https://www.instagram.com/velorobicycles/. Or go check the shop out at 

910 Main St, 

Redwood City, CA 94063

I would love to hear your saddle stories in the comments. Everyone’s experience is a little different and I think we can all learn from each other.  

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