Women & Bicycles Bike Tip: Find a Seat That Fits

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This entry is part of our Women & Bicycles Bi-Weekly Tips series. Women & Bicycles is WABA’s outreach and encouragement initiative to build a stronger women’s bike community and get more women on bikes. With the help of Roll Models, the program’s volunteer mentors, we’re providing a space to learn about and experience the joys of bicycling through workshops, bike rides, meetups, and our online forum. Click here to learn more and get involved.

Our behinds are like snowflakes. They come in all different shapes and sizes. Seats that may feel great to some might not work for you. Take the time to think about your bike seat. Does your seat welcome you back to your bike after a long day? It should. Your comfort and your bike seat are not mutually exclusive concepts.

1. Tinker with the position of your seat: The way you sit on your seat drastically changes the way your seat feels. So before buying a new seat, spend a few hours messing around with the way yours is positioned. Bike seats can generally make three adjustments. First, you can adjust your seat post up and down to change your seat height. It’s important to make sure you have the right seat height. When you’re too high off the ground you could be shifting your weight too much with each pedal stroke. Your second adjustment is froward and backward  (towards the handlebars or away from the handlebars). The distance between your seat and your handlebars greatly affects where you’re putting your weight on your seat. The third adjustment is the seat’s angle, whether the front of the seat is tilted upward or downward. The angle also determines where you’re resting your weight. (Check out this little spandex-friendly video tutorial to see these adjustments in action).

2. Give it time: Even when you’ve found a good design and a good fit and have tinkered around with its position, your body is going to need some time to adjust. Your body still needs time to grow “seat muscles.”  As local bike enthusiast Anna Doorenbos claims, it generally takes six to 10 rides before you develop these muscles and it’s OK if you’re left a little sore. Per Anna, “A sore but is fine, sores on your butt are not!”

3. Look for a women’s-specific seat: Bicycling should never be a pain in the butt! If you’ve given your seat time ample time, have patiently ridden your 6 to 10 painful bike rides and if you have the funds, we suggest investing in a new seat.  It’s important to know most bike seats are designed for men, and some bike seats falsely claim to be designed for women. Those seats poke out and up where women need them to poke in and down. These design issues can cause all sorts of problems from pain to chafing to infections.  For a good example of well-designed seat, check out the Serfas Women’s RX saddle (~$50).

4. Don’t immediately look for a seat with more padding: More padding does not necessarily mean more comfort. A good seat will support your bone structure resting on the seat (the public rami and ischial tuberosities), rather than allowing the soft flesh and muscles to collapse onto the seat. There’s a good chance you’d benefit from a cutout in the middle of the seat to relieve pressure and increase airflow. Above all, you want to protect your perineum, the area between the sit bones that contains a plethora of arteries and nerves.

5. Try out a variety of seats: Most people go through a few seats before they find one that works best (or at least one that works better). Some bike shops will allow you to test out different options before buying, so ask if you can! When you’re testing out the seat make sure you’re wearing clothes you’d normally bike in and ride a distance similar to your normal riding routine. If the seat doesn’t work out you can do your best to return it, or put it on Craigslist.

Want to know more? Read this Lovely Bicycle entry about your anatomy and your bike seat and this Total Women’s Cycling article on tinkering with your seat angle for beginners. Have a saddle you love and want to share? Post your suggestions to our Women & Bicycles Facebook forum.

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