Hello to you, Dear Reader, you’re very welcome here! Make yourself at home! So I’m an ol’ fart now, lol. I’ve been riding bikes for the last almost 50 years. But for me, since buying a new bike, I’ve been increasing my distance and generally taking things more “seriously” – yes that had to go in quotation! But since that, the worsening saddle pain, on both sides, though predominately on my right side, the sitbone bruising, alternate callousing and saddle sores experienced on the bike became so awful that it had brought me almost to the point of packing in cycling altogether!
Maybe you’ve experienced something similar? I mean, a thought that I could barely countenance was in my head for real. That I’d have to stop cycling? I had tried so many different hints, tips, tricks and solutions. Many of these helped, but none of them fixed the problem. I was frustrated almost to the point of despair, exasperated, and in nothing short of agony which had me sitting on cushions like an invalid after rides. I mean I’m no spring chicken, but that was ridiculous! Was I going to have to confront the ultimate painful truth, that the only way I could guarantee no more bicycle saddle agony was to never again set my sorry carcass on a bicycle saddle? I didn’t know what else to do. So, um, what did I do? Well, I did three main things, as follows.
Firstly, I changed the position of my pelvis on the saddle
- I rotated my hips forward on the saddle redistributing pressure on the anterior of the sitbones thereby reducing the overall load on the two sitbone points of the ischial tuberosities which, for me, were two fingernail sized points, so very concentrated
Secondly, I took a few practical steps to encourage this re-positioning.
These were completely empirical, trial and error adjustments done over a number of rides and would naturally vary from rider to rider. For me personally:
- I increased my stem length going longer by 10mm
- I set my saddle back by 3mm also
- I opted for a saddle wider than the common wisdom for my sitbone measurement suggested. This one was an expensive and protracted process for me
- I lowered my seatpost by what ended up as 4mm in total from the height I had previously taken as my usual saddle height
Thirdly, on the ride I started to engage in a bit of bodily mindfulness before, during and after the ride
- Before: I began simple strengthening exercises for my lower back
- Before: Chamois cream extreme! I use Udderly Smooth, but I can only guess they all do the same thing? In all honesty, this is just a past remnant of my lamentable saddle pain trials. It’s a safety fallback rather than an actual source of relief. I still do it though. Like a good luck charm lol
- During: I check my position, that my shoulders and upper back are relaxed despite the extra load bearing through my arms due to the pelvis rotation
- During: From time to time, I rotate my pelvis either forwards (90% of the time) or backwards the remaining time, to achieve the greatest degree of comfort
- During: I make a point of regularly pedaling while standing out of the saddle every 10-15 minutes for 30 seconds to a minute to alleviate any pressure build on the sitbones
- During: If neccessary, I’ll do a quick “extreme squat” hamstring / piriformis stretch during any appropriate ride break
- After: I use a foam roller on my legs, but specifically on my piriformis
A personal story of a sore butt
So if you’re here, chances are you’ve already watched or read other hints, tips and advice from many good sources I’m sure online. I would want neither to criticise nor to go against conventional wisdom because I’m unqualified to do so, that’s not at all what this is. It’s simply my personal story of successfully tackling my own saddle agony.
Maybe herein there’ll be a nugget that can re-inspire or redirect your own search
… Particularly if that search hasn’t yet yielded you the results you’re after. And if that’s not disclaimer enough, I want to add that my saddle pain, while it’s I’d say 95% gone (and from where I was, I’d call that for me a cure) it’s apt to resurface, specifically I’ve noticed depending on certain cadence rates and ride types. I’ve noticed this on training rides. More of that in a moment, but that’s the disclaimer. I could subtitle this: a personal story from a layman of fixing saddle pain, and not some expert’s guarantee of success.
What had I tried to alleviate the saddle soreness?
I’d done the home-based bikefit taking all the conventional wisdom for “most appriate” settings. I’d set saddle height, fore, aft and tilt leveling, cleat position and stem length. I’d also lowered my rear tire pressure in a well-meaning but ultimately desperate and fruitless attempt to help the situation. I think while some of these things did help, slightly, the differences were becoming barely discernible compared to the overarching pain on returning home after a ride, or even getting back on the saddle after the halfway stop, which for me got shorter and shorter because of that pain.
So, possibly in some kind of pain-induced delirium – okay I’m exaggerating, but if you’re in the position, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about! – but in a state of pain frenzy and frustration, I decided to do my own unorthodox measurement taking. For example, instead of lowering the saddle another millimeter, I’d raise it a full 10mm. My rationale being that going to an extreme for each of the above measurements, saddle, cleats, stem etc. might at least reveal the source of the issue. Again, that didn’t seem to really happen. However, one thing did come from extreme seatpost heights. The saddle pain became much more prominent on the one side, my right. This, taken together with my position on the turbo-trainer feeling as though it was off-centre, led me to measure, with my wife’s help, and discover a leg-length discrepancy.
Leg length discrepancy?
I’d measured my legs from pelvis to ankle which did indeed show a discrepancy. Maybe I was getting somewhere? Was I? No. That was just another of many, possibly unwanted bodily facts that I’ve begun to accumulate in my middle age, pffft. The conclusion being that I’m not a perfect specimen of humanity. Ha.
This didn’t really seem to have a huge impact on the overall pain. I decided to try to shim my right side cleat, just by a few mm to see if that fixed anything. It didn’t! Actually that gave me my first introduction to the piriformis muscle. The one on my left. My left? Yep, on a ride where my left butt cheek cramped up so badly, and to me when it happened, unexplainably, that I felt I had to get off the bike and reassess my life. Which I did. Well, I stopped for the typical cyclist’s 30 seconds before riding on rubbing my ass. It was a quiet road so nobody was traumatised by the show. Well, I sincerely hope not.
From that, I now run an angled cleat shim on the right as well as Specialized BG footbeds after developing a callous on my foot just at the base of my pinkie toe. That’s a hot-foot thing because of supination, but I’ll spare you, Dear Reader. That’s a whole nother article.
An expensive learning process
So back on track, after doing the basic bikefit, and probably the extended bikefit, and then the exhaustive, out-of-the-box try-anything bikefit, I took yet another measurement of my sitbones. I did this several times in several “innovative” ways since they did seem quite narrow according to the saddle manufacturers charts.
But reading the saddle manufacturers descriptions, as well as what I’d read in online cycling places about one man’s / woman’s perfect saddle is another’s perch of agony (TM) lol, I came to believe in the perfect saddle being the magic bullet to the problem. Well, wouldn’t you know, it turned out that wasn’t really true. I changed saddle several times which started to become an expensive hobby that I wasn’t getting a huge deal of satisfaction from.
Going right back to ’06…
… Actually, why can’t we go right back to ’82 when heavy and hard plastic Kashimax Aero BMX saddles were just about the most luxuriously comfy thing any of us rode on? What happened? Did we get soft? Okay, and breathe… So I had gone to a Selle SMP Strike saddle way back in about ’06 when I first noticed issues. Yes, it’s amazing how long these things can run on “happily” in the background before they become a thing.
That saddle seemed to do pretty much okay for 20-30 mile daily commutes and the odd weekend 40-50 mile. In the interim I went to MTB and saddle pain didn’t seem to be a thing I noticed if it were even there at all. Forward to about 2012 maybe, converting my 29er MTB to road-worthiness and increasing the miles, just for a bit of fitness. Well, at my age… So that’s when I started noticing some minor sitbones issues. You know you start noticing health concerns once you begin to know the anatomical name for body parts that would’ve otherwise been known simply by pointing at them or referencing by the nearest known part. So, ischial tuberosity it is. Swapped to a flatbar road bike then a drop bar road bike, then the pain. The pain!
Saddle swapouts seemed like a sensible thing to do. In the beginning at least. I was riding a nice looking, matching colour Charge Spoon. Perfectly serviceable. But where the pain sort of worsened for me.
Tried a BBB Razor because 1. I got the right colour (white as pictured) and 2. It was cheap, something a bit lighter and racier. But nope, that was, for me personally, painfully worse. So I realized I had to start getting serious with saddles. I was a serious cyclist I had to knuckle down with a serious saddle, right? I got with the programme, measured my (narrow) sitbones, read the reviews and spent on a Fabric Line saddle with the cutout all the way. White of course, lol. But even the color matching didn’t do much to alleviate the pain.
Specialized Toupe, same result. At that point I was just getting really fed up with spending money, trying the saddle for a week or two on various rides, realizing it wasn’t fixing the problem then turning to eBay to sell it on at a loss.
Deciding to “Go Medical” on the bicycle saddles
I think out of frustration, possibly tinged with anger, came the kind of pleading stage of grief… Oh please, oh please! Lol. So for me that stage was what I’d class as the medical stage. I would fight pain with medical science. I would turn my layman’s mind to figuring out what it was about me or my damnable pelvis that didn’t match regular saddles. That directed me towards the Rido Lt saddle. Which was certainly an unusual saddle visually, but seemed to speak my language of pain and talked the talk. Maybe it was worth a try. I also found SQLab. They have a bunch of good stuff including saddles. Similarly, all the words they write make sense to a saddle pain survivor like me. Plus they do flatbar grips and stuff that I’d seen previously in the MTB days. I came to them on a wave of Google looking for a “flatter profile saddle” or something like that. Because the pain I felt seemed subjectively to be from the interior of that pubic arch mon the inner edge of the tuberosities. I thought that a flatter profile on the saddle top would redistribute the pain. But what did I know. I was just a desperate cyclist in agony.
I opted for the SQLab’s Ergolux just the bottom of the range one to try it out. But even that was around 50GBP once I’d had an offer accepted by the seller. I’d even asked why he hadn’t gotten on with it. And guess what? Yeah, it didn’t fix the problem. Plus it does kinda look strange, but I don’t mind that. Actually, in fairness, it helped with the main issue. But besides that, for me, owing to it’s cutaway section and dropped-nose profile, it completely eliminated perineal numbness which I’d had but not to any significant degree, unlike the sitbones pain. But overall some good came from it. And I actually still ride this because it’s what I was left with after all the saddle buying-trying-failing-selling frenzy was concluded. But that wasn’t my magic bullet to the soreness.
It’s just that getting to that degree of pain from the thing I enjoy doing the most: cycling!
…well I’d almost have gone to any extreme to fix it before throwing in the towel. My journey was taking me leftfield. I was thinking of pulling the trigger on the unusually shaped but seemingly sensible from the literature, Rido Lt saddle. I wasn’t sure if or how that’d work. I was also thinking even at that point of a plan C. Or was it plan D? That involved an expensive purchase. More than I cared think of for a saddle on either the leather hammock style from Selle Anatomica, or the full cutout saddle which looks like just the frame component, from Infinity Saddles – yes, that’s how bad the pain was! I didn’t buy any of those though. Why?
Trying a bicycle saddle sofa
Oddly, the epiphany was in a moment of garage-based thoughtfulness, contemplating whether there was any future in me as a cyclist at all. Possibly I was coming to the acceptance stage of my grieving process. My cycling days were over. But no! Damnit! So I was fettling with stuff in the garage and for some reason I can’t remember I installed an old saddle from one of my son’s old MTBs. It was big. Like a couch. Spongy, a bit lacerated from a wipeout at some point no doubt. I thought,”I’ll just try this, maybe I simply need a super-padded old folk’s cushy saddle.” And so, I took the SQLab Ergolux off and installed the couch. I propped the bike up against the garage shelving… And, you know what happened? Nothing! All that mass of spongy padding just gave way and I could almost feel the hard plastic saddle base right underneath my tenderized sitbones.
But then, something did happen, he said magically, lol. No, I was swapping back to the Ergolux but I’d forgotten to mark the rails for fore-aft position so I’d installed it set a bit too far back I think. Again, I just threw my leg over and, because of the stepped nature of the Ergolux I was shifting my sitbones to find the rear buffer position as I call it, the raised rear edge that your sitbones sit against. But because the saddle was too far back, I had to consciously rotate my pelvis forwards to feel comfortable on the hoods and hit the right point on the saddle. So it was that kind of conscious pelvic rotation that started my journey away from the Mordor of saddle pain.
Enough of the wistful, piano-scored backstory… Let’s skip to what actually worked
So as outlined at the beginning, firstly, and without claiming any anatomical or physiotherapeutical understanding, I essentially have consciously started to rotate my pelvis forwards using my lower back muscles. This, in conjunction with adopting an even less upright position, with a greater bodyweight borne over the shoulders and arms, seems to have redistributed pressure differently over my ischial tuberosities. How come? I don’t claim to know. If you’re in a similar painful predicament with your cycling, you’ll maybe forgive me for saying I don’t care. It worked, and that was a revelation to me. I was on the verge of giving up my lifelong enjoyment of cycling.
Okay, so here’s my best attempt at explaining my road cycling posture rectification technique. Bear with me here! But do your best to visualize what you’re doing in your mind. There’s a vid further down to facilitate that!
Step 1 – To make it easier, I want you to firstly think of being in the BAD position where just about everything is wrong. Think of this technique like tensing muscles in order to feel the relaxation afterward. So on the saddle sit bolt upright so your weight is mostly right on the points of your sitbones. Arch your lower back so your hips begin to turn underneath you. Lock your arms straight and keep your shoulders tense. So now you’re in just about the worst possible position. Trust me, this is gonna explain itself! It should be easy from here.
Step 2 – rotate / tilt / roll your hips forwards, however you best picture it
Step 3 – feel how when you tilt your hips forwards your lower back, mid back and upper back fall into a more natural, hopefully if your back is reasonably healthy, a straighter position
Step 4 – follow this natural wave of muscle and spinal adjustment that happens after the hip tilt, right up into your shoulders which should also drop in a relaxed position
Step 5 – once your back is comfortably straightened and your shoulders relax, your upper body should stabilize around your core. If this has happened and your whole upper body musculo-skeletal system is more neutral, your arms at the elbows and wrists should also relax.
Has this happened? If not, try again from the start. I’ll do this periodically maybe five or six times every hour on a ride. I’ll set myself up in BAD position – basically the worst position possible where I’m tense, my back is arched and most all of my weight is going right down through the points of the sitbones. From that point of awkward tension, once the hips rotate forwards, I just try to follow my body’s natural wave of adjustment from the hips through the lower and mid back into my shoulders and at that point, when my shoulders go loose, I can feel my arms relax totally and know I’m good to go. I really hope you can give this a go and get it to work for you too. Shoot me a comment if you’re having problems following!
But facilitate this rotation, I do some core strengthening exercises. Nothing special, just what you can find online on Youtube etc. And likewise, some lower back strengthening exercises. These obviously vary for each of us depending on what level we’re at. I wouldn’t want to recommend as I’m not a medically qualified expert.
I hope that’s clear. Let me try to explain further by vid here on my channel: Cycling Questions: What fixed my Bike Saddle Sitbone Pain.
Feel free to check out my other vids on my Youtube channel while you’re there!
Further to this, while I’m riding I do try to practice cycling mindfulness. Without wanting to sound disrespectful, I don’t mean this in any religious or even particularly meditative way.
For me, this mindfulness is done in much the same simple way as it is for ameliorating anxiety symptoms – I’m a psychotherapist by day – it’s simply a head-to-toe check in with oneself. In particular, I’m checking for any tension or pressure points and moving such as to alleviate those. I find that I can be inclined to hold tension in my shoulders after readjusting my riding position, so I’d check with myself to make certain I was relaxed through the upper back, shoulders and neck. I try to let core muscles do a lot of the work on the ride too. I find that helps not just with stability but takes work away from the limbs to a helpful degree.
So secondly, after adjusting my pelvis position, I also took some practical steps to adjust how I connect to the bicycle. Again, these are completely trial and error and I’d guess nothing that you couldn’t figure for yourself. I don’t feel that I’m at all stretched on the bike now, rather I feel as if someone has gently put their hands on my lower back and abdomen and tilted me around a few degrees.
And thirdly, besides the core / lower back strengthening exercises and the basic in-ride mindfulness, I follow the recommended advice and stand to pedal periodically. For me, I try to do this regularly pretty much as I remember on a ride, but I aim for every 10-15 minutes for 60 seconds or just until I feel any pressure build-up easing off.
Lastly, I find tension around the pelvic area to be a recurring, but relatively minor issue. But it’s one I do believe has more of an impact on saddle position than anything. So it’s one that I keep an eye to. I’d do hamstring and piriformis stretches and exercises to open the hips. I like those. They feel like good stretches. I keep those as part of my kind of bodily maintenance routine that we can lose track of with whatever life decides it’s giving us to deal with. I also use a foam roller after rides. I find that helpful. I can feel that working. If you haven’t tried it, I’d recommend it. It’s very little cost and could have some useful benefits for you. Sometimes that little foam roller will pick out muscle sore spots that I’d never have known I was cycling with.
I’ve tried to explain this visually in a quick video about the bike position over on the Cycling Questions Youtube channel if you’re still unclear what on earth I’m on about haha 🙂
Cadence as a factor?
So one last thing which I’ve noticed and that may or may not apply to yourself, Dear Reader, but high cadences in lower gears seem to have an adverse effect, for me personally, on the sitbones. This can happen to the extent where it can cause old pain to threaten reoccurring. I’ve observed this in high-spin training sessions – the kinds of cadence where you’re on your limit before the bouncing begins! For me, that’s about 130-140rpm in lower gears along the flat when the sitbone pain, on my right side in particular threatens to return. Climbing or pushing higher gears at lower cadences are fine. This leads me to conclude, I guess self-evidently, that more power through the pedals elevates the pelvis off the saddle, whereas higher cadence at lower gears leaves the sitbones firmly pressed on the saddle, perhaps on the limit of the bounce which is never gonna help. But that’s just a post script to the article.
Again, I can only hope I’m putting across the basic tenor of my thinking well enough, to give you at the very least some food for thought in your own search for relief from saddle and sitbone pain. In any case, I wish you well and thank you for reading. I’d appreciate hearing your own story and search if you’re minded to share.
Happy pain-free riding and take care out there,