Following from my Prostate 101 article, I wanted to put forward a few saddle ideas that don’t work against us as cyclists. Hello, Dear Reader and welcome! I’m glad you’re here. We’re all well aware I’m sure of some saddles’ abilities to cause numbness, in some cases pain on or around the perineal area. Cycling’s a repetitive business on the body. Riding at 90rpm on a four-hour ride means the same action repeated, if my math is correct (and it always is haha) an amazing 21600 times! If our saddles ain’t right for us and we’re
Q: Why do we need a specific saddle to counteract this problem? A: Many conventional bike saddles are incorrectly profiled. They’re not a good physiological match, rather they’re a average of certain criteria necessary for “what makes a good bicycle saddle”. But with sufficient repeated trauma from a saddle that doesn’t suit our personal anatomy (or in some cases any human being’s personal anatomy!) to the perineum we can end up with perineal tissue inflammation. That inflammation can cause pudendal nerve entrapment. From that, numbness, or at the other end of the spectrum, pudendal neuralgia can result. But moreover, these repeated traumas can unfortunately lead to erectile dysfunction (ED). I want you to note again that these saddles aren’t meant as any kind of prostate cancer preventative – because as I mentioned in the Prostate 101 for Cyclists article, the evidence doesn’t appear to be there for a cycling-related cause in the first instance. What these saddles are, are first of all ideas. Something to springboard your own search maybe. But ultimately they’re meant to be a safeguard for eliminating numbness and thereby preventing erectile dysfunction, but I’m hoping they’re also of use for those of us cycling with prostate issues such as BPH and prostatitis.
You know the disclaimer’s always present right? I mean whether it’s advisable at all for you to ride with a condition is between you and your health advisor. Why I feel I need to state that I’m not sure, but there, I’ve said it anyway! 😀
So really the types of saddles I’m talking of here are those that at the very least don’t pressurize the perineal tissue and cause pudendal nerve entrapment, don’t then cause penile numbness over a short or longer term, and aren’t responsible for ED. And while – as I noted in the Prostate 101 for cyclists article, there isn’t good evidence to accuse cycling of being a factor in causing prostate cancer, still, in choosing these kinds of saddles what we’re doing is minimising any and sometimes all impacts on the perineum. And though there’s zero proof that those impacts can indirectly result in trauma to the prostate, maybe it’s simply an advantageous side effect of choosing a saddle to reduce perineal pressure, right? #candonoharm
Q: Getting the right bike saddle width? Do they come in different widths? And why’s that even matter?
A: Because many saddles have a convex posterior profile, in other words when viewed from behind the center is higher than the sides. If that’s the case and your saddle is too narrow for your sitbone distance measurement then that raised convex center will press on your perineum. If it’s too wide – thigh rub, but that’s incidental to our main concerns. Most manufacturers will supply a saddle in at least two different widths, some more. They will also advise on their information which saddle width suits your physiology. All make sense? 🙂
Q: So how do I know the correct width for my bicycle saddle?
A: Measure the distance between your sitbones and take that to the saddle manufacturer’s web info. There are a bunch of ways to take this measurement that you can find online. But what worked best for me was to use a piece of corrugated card, the kind that mailing boxes might be constructed of. You know the kind of box that your last component upgrade purchase probably came in 😀
It’s a fairly crude measurement. Then again, unless you happen to have an x-ray machine lying out in the garage, any manual measurement is gonna be fairly crude I reckon. And if you do have an x-ray machine in the garage, man get that thing certified leakage-free, lol 😀
But it’s just a matter of making an indentation or impression in the card with your sitbones. I did this by placing the card on a semi-hard surface. Something with enough give to make the impression but not so much that it completely creases the card. I used a padded wooden piano stool, but a decent rug on a wood floor or something, you get the idea I’m sure.
Don’t wear jeans or clothing too thick to facilitate an indentation! Cycling shorts or underwear or whatever. I rocked slightly forwards until I was in more of a “ride” position to make the indentations. Then just measure as accurately as is feasible between the center points of the two indentations. I did this a few times and took the median.
Q: So, that done, what’s the best saddle for alleviating my numbness or riding with my prostate issues?
A: As ever, it depends. I think because of the aforementioned averaging of criteria used by manufacturers for what it is that makes a good saddle, the saddle that earns best choice for any given rider depends much on that rider’s style of riding. A saddle with a flat posterior profile from one side to the other may provide a more stable perch for one rider’s pelvis at the expense of thigh rub. Whereas, a saddle with a narrower more convex posterior profile may eliminate the rub but cause more upward pressure into the rider’s perineum. A noseless saddle may almost eliminate numbness but give the rider little in the way of bike handling and stability for descents.
So because, as cyclists, our cycling styles and preferences vary as much as our individual anatomies and comfort needs, what that means is that I wouldn’t presume to suggest a saddle for any rider. What I hope to do instead is essentially put forward some suggestions to steer your own search. Fair enough? Okay cool, I don’t think these are in order. But they might be 🙂
The Saddle ideas…
- SQ-Lab Ergowave saddle / Ergolux saddle. As all good (good-for-nuthin’) politicians say at some point, in the interests of full transparency… lol, I make no secret of this being the saddle I’m currently riding. And have been for quite a while. I got the bottom-of-the-range 610 to try at a time when my sitbones were so horribly bruised and painful after each ride that I was considering giving up cycling altogether.
- SQ-Lab are a German company, backed by research and awards whose ergonomics talk is persuasive. But in terms of the saddles, it’s more than talk in my experience. It works. You can read for yourself, I ain’t gonna try and sell you anything. I think I found the saddle during my sitbone trials looking for a bicycle saddle with “a flatter profile” and google showed me SQ-Lab. I think I was riding a much more convex profiled saddle at the time and I’d wondered were my sitbones (because they were most painful on the inner edges) suffering from being down more on the flanks of the saddle.
- Because of this saddle, along with a few other tricks I’ve managed to almost eliminate my sitbone pain. But that’s not the thing that concerns us here. What I noticed as a fantastic beneficial effect (which I wasn’t too bothered about at the time) was that all the frequent bouts of numbness went completely. Not just nearly. But completely. I put that down to the stepped profile – it’s a wave profile in the Ergowave. But what it isn’t is what I refer to as a peaks-and-valleys profile with a high tail and a semi-high nose with the dip in the middle. The nose here is much lower. That coupled to the trench-like perineal cutaway does the job.
- My sole issue, and it’s a minor one, is the lack of ventilation – that many cutaway saddles (inadvertently) offer – means not only can the trench become like a condensation reservoir, that, in turn can lead to a sweatier seatpad than otherwise!
I’d love to try out the Ergowave 612 Active because I think the active elastomer dampers would improve any lasting issues due to hip roll very nicely. When I do I’ll be sure to report back 🙂
- Fabric Line Shallow saddle. I like so many things about the Fabric Line Shallow. Besides its cool looks. It’s another one that just works. For me, the pressure relief was noticeable and kinda worked flawlessly. Besides a good choice of widths to suit your sitbone measurements (see above), Fabric have three different profiles on these saddles which, according to the info work dependent on your riding style, from more upright to more forwards over the bars.
- For the perineal numbness issue, I wouldn’t have gone for the flat because the sitbones I felt due to the convex posterior profile of the saddle needed more elevation in order to keep pressure off of the perineum. That was just my reasoning! Again, for me personally, the “radius” profile was too peaks-and-valleys. Consequently, I preferred what Fabric called the “shallow” profile. I found this worked for reasons I can only conclude to be for me personally the goldilocks shape among the Fabric profiles. Again though, we’re all too different to speak in absolutes you know? 🙂
- My only observation would be that due to the firmness of the padding at the ridge of the cutaway channel, there might be a tendency in some to pinch. If you’ve experience, let me know. It’d help inform the article!
Incidentally I like the Fizik Aliante saddle for much the same reasons. Again, I’d just have a nagging concern that the shape of the sides of the pressure relief channel could actually add pressure along the channel ridges into the deep perineal fascia. Many perfectly happy riders out there so as with all saddles, your mileage will definitely vary!
- Selle Anatomica Leather saddle. If you didn’t know, Selle Anatomica is an American company. And it’s not Selle Italia that you might otherwise be familiar with. They’re not even distant second cousins thrice removed. But the design of the Selle Anatomica Leather saddle is based in part on that of traditional leather saddles. Saddles such as the super-retro Brooks B33 have a tension pin to re-tension the leather. The Selle Anatomica Leather has an easier to get at tension pin than the Brooks. However, to the point, once broken in – a process most leather saddles undergo to some extent depending on the discrepancy between the saddle’s original pressed shape and your individual pelvic anatomy, the Selle Anatomica takes on a notably “hammock” style. It’s this, coupled with the cutaway that give the perineal relief. It’s one that was on my list but I hit the SQ-Lab one before I got to the Selle Anatomica one.
- The question for me would be, does the “hammocking” that occurs present the rider with a high nose that could give rise to its own kind of peaks-and-troughs profile that would add a degree of perineal pressure at the front? That’s not what’s being reported. I wonder though…
It seems that most reviewers totally dig it. Not keeping on top of the regular tensioning appears to be the solution to the oft complained-about pinching at the cutout. One thing you can’t argue with is that comfortable “lived in” look. I’d happily allow my poor numbed perineum at least to try one 🙂
- Rido Cycle Saddles, Series LT saddle. When saddle manufacturers produce saddles that don’t look like other saddles, for me at least, I gain confidence that in a cycling world that obsesses over aesthetics, some companies put other considerations first. If that company can get the balance between their primary concern – in Rido’s case eliminating numbness and perineal issues – and secondary concerns such as looks, well it’s all to the good. I think that’s happened with the Series LT Saddle. Rido’s saddle journey started with the R2 which I’d considered simply because it was cheaper at the time. It’s definitely an saddle apart in terms of its looks. But the rationale behind it was sound in my view.
- That same multi-sitbone-positioning rationale carries over to the Series LT saddles. The rounded tail section is reminiscent of a swooping cross-section of two cylinders. This allows the sitbones to adjust themselves for comfort or power through the pedals. But importantly for our purposes, the nose section is dropped away allowing respite to the perineum on rides.
I’d be totally interested to know how well the carbon version works. I wonder is the comfort still there? In any case definitely worth a look at Rido Cycle Saddles.
- ISM PL1.1 saddle / PN1.1 saddle. Like the Rido above, a break with convention in a different way. The PL stands for performance-long, and the PN for performance-narrow. They’re essentially both designed with the specific task of removing pressure on the perineum. One look and it’s clear how that would happen. Not only does it have a flat lateral profile, there isn’t a nose to rise up at all. Well suited to triathlon-style super-aero ride position, but translating those benefits for normal road riding.
- While the saddle is I guess noseless, it’s noseless but with enough substance in the fore-saddle to provide stability. This is something I reckon most of us do but don’t always realize we do it – steady our progress particularly on difficult sections and winding descents by gripping the saddle between our thighs even when we’re perched behind for a descent or weightless on the saddle by taking weight on the pedals alone. For that reason I like what nose there is here.
I’d prefer the PL version again for that reason though reviewers in some instances seem to find a degree of thigh chafing. Secondary to our main concern here, elimination of pressure to the perineum. A task for which the ISM PL1.1 and its siblings is eminently well qualified.
- Similar in design is the Specialized Sitero Pro saddle range.
- Infinity Seat N Series saddle / L Series saddle. Well now, the Infinity N Series takes the idea of the pressure-relieving cutout to the max. The full cutout design moves the contact points off the sitbones, and more importantly for our discussion off the perineal area. The rider is supported on the less sensitive tissue self-padded areas around the sitbones. The design makes a lot of sense. And it’s a talking point on the bike at the coffee stops for sure!
- It doesn’t come in a range of widths or gender-specific versions probably because the sizeable cutout means there isn’t the need. Infinity claim it’ll suit women or men of almost all sizes.
- It does have quite a high tail region and requires a slightly different positioning. Once there it’s reviewing well for comfort.
- It’s certainly one to entertain the weight weenies because there’s much less bulk to it.
The one issue is with the width. Because the outer rim that encloses the flesh around the sitbone is necessarily wider than a regular saddle, users have reported thigh chafing. That may be more of an issue for some than others.
- BiSaddle ShapeShifter 2018 saddle. I think in many ways it’s difficult not to see this saddle as a noseless saddle. If not, it’s as close as makes no odds. Though I’m not a fan of noseless because of what I’ve mentioned about descending stability (it’s a throwback from going down long flights of stairs on my hardtail MTB), I wouldn’t put the ShapeShifter saddle in that same category. But though this saddle shares some similarities with those terrible noseless jobs, it’s really a world away. The clue’s in the name. It’s got a suitably canyonesque cutout yes, but almost every aspect of the ShapeShifter 2018 is configurable to suit your own anatomy. It can even open out at the nose, the tail or both! It can open massively wide for those that ride upright or that have prostate issues. I really like this design a lot.
The payoff is that it’s not the lightest at up to 350g. But for me, low saddle weight is a useless measure if you’re in pain; potentially long-term-damage pain too!
- What can I say, it’s a saddle I’d be happy to try out.
- The Manta saddle. Manta is a company working out of the wonderful Scottish Isle of Skye. The Manta is really a bicycle saddle like nothing else. Like literally nothing else. The thinking behind it is beautifully unorthodox. Unorthodox thinking does tend to breed unique ideas. The Manta saddle is to conventional saddles what the diamond-framed bike would be to penny-farthing manufacturers. It’s a rethink. I haven’t ridden it, but I totally get it. You’ll understand it right away even if it has you straining to see exactly what it is. If it’s a manta-ray shape, it’s more like the manta-ray in skeleton form. The rider doesn’t so much position their sitbones on a conventional perch, but rather the Manta supports their weight more like a couch. But a couch that pivots around a central point as they pedal it! Not so much a new design in a conventional saddle, but a rewrite. Like a comfortable cycling seating platform, it’s a fantastic idea. I love it.
- The nose dips out of the way of the perineum which is what we’re concerned with here. I can’t see there being any pressure whatsoever. Yet at the same time your weight is supported over a larger area too which woudl naturally serve to eliminate any single points of pressure.
- It’s a bit of a heft in weight terms, but again, that’s sometimes the rub when it comes to this kind of comfort. Every rider will have their own level of acceptability for weight vs comfort.
- I think it’s a committed rider who will forego the conventional saddle look – even in some of the more unconventional looks cited above – for the Manta. But if they do I have no doubt the comfort rewards from elimination of pressure would be worth it.
I’d be actually really curious to try this one. That’s purely for my own empirical sciencing curiosity. If you have, I’d love to hear how it’s going!
Expensive saddles some of these, eh?
For sure, some are on the pricey side. All I can say, as a sufferer of saddle pain and numbness that went so far that I almost quit my lifelong love of cycling is… Big ticket prices can be a hard pill to swallow and a difficult outlay to justify. But the way I see it, what price do you put on removing discomfort for those of us cycling with existing prostate issues? Especially if the alternative is to sshhh… Not cycle at all! What price to avoid the 21600-time repeated micro traumas that lead to nerve damage and potentially ED? For me it’s the compromise that has to be made. Let me know what you think though. I’d also really love to hear your experiences with these saddles or any others that you’d recommend helped with your own riding with prostate issues or numbness-alleviating saddles.
In the meantime, good luck if you’re searching for the right saddle for you. I know it’s often more of an odyssey than a simple scan of the local bike store. But ride safe always, and you have my wishes for comfortable, fun rides either now or when you get your saddle sorted, David.