Updated: Oct 28, 2020
It’s so natural for us to want to zero in on the simplest thing. “If my butt hurts, it must be my saddle”. “If my foot hurts, it must be my shoes”.
Have you ever taken the time to consider how many points of contact you have with your bike? Saddle, handlebars, pedals. All three must be in harmony with one another for a strong foundation in how your bike “fits” you, not to mention the physical factors of our back muscles and overall core stability/strength.
I love simplicity, so I almost hesitate to write this article. I really wish it was simple because I love having a simple answer for people. Who doesn’t love an easy answer? But, unfortunately, the almost infinite combination of factors that come into play in regards to how your saddle fits you prevents an easy answer in this situation.
“My butt hurts” could translate to:
Your chamois is old/aging.
Your saddle is too high/too low.
Your saddle is too far back/too far forward.
The shorts/chamois combo you are using has too many seams.
Your entire bike fit is way off and you squirm around too much on climbs.
Your saddle doesn’t fit your butt at all and this causes you to squirm around too much on climbs.
The chamois was too cheap and/or poorly made to provide a healthy place for your nether regions to survive long hours on the bike.
The combination of THAT DAY’s relative humidity, number of hours spent on the bike, and your chamois.
Basic factors affecting saddle fit:
The general fit of your bike.
Hip sit bones width (which, please keep in mind, can change after childbirth!)
Your chamois thickness.
Your chamois seams/fit in general.
Saddle too far back/too far forward.
Seatpost too high/too low.
Too much cushion in the saddle for your particular butt shape/size.
Moral of the story:
First and foremost, get a professional bike fit. Please choose someone who is certified and has experience to avoid the inevitable “bad fit” that we’ve all had. Your sit bones should be measured. Wear your newest and best-fitting chamois to your fitting. If you have an old chamois that you wear all of the time, consider that you should be tossing it soon anyway, so just choose one of your newer ones that you like and already know fits you.
Don’t have a “go-to” chamois? Many ladies in my personal circle swear by Velocio, Pearl Izumi, or Rapha. You must consider that some of the higher-end chamois are a bit thicker, although superbly comfortable, when considering your bike fit as well (i.e. you might need to adjust your seatpost height to accommodate a change in chamois thickness). In addition, two brands of saddles I know that have more customized geometry are Specialized and Ergon. I swear by my Specialized Mimic Power saddle and have one on all of my rides, even my “big enduro” bike!
Second, if you’re newer to spending longer hours on your bike, consider that it may take time for your core muscles, including your neck and back muscles, to develop. You can do core and back strengthening exercises in your cross-training to help facilitate this. Look for a future blog post on this.
The last thing to consider is that the more time you spend on your bike, the more that your butt gets "used to" your bike saddle. After 20 years of riding, including several years of rigorous training, I find that I can go from chamois to chamois (sometimes even older ones) without much of an issue. It does get more comfortable over time.
Female-specific coaching "pro tips":
*For females who are in late luteal phase, we experience a drop in our hormones which correlates with more inflammation, and therefore more aches and pains, i.e.: directly translating to more pain and/or aches/sore spots on the bike. For females in other phases of life, like perimenopause, when the fluctuations of our hormones become erratic, that fact alone can increase inflammation as well.
*After pregnancy and childbirth, the width of your sit bones may change due to, well, obviously, childbirth! So, consider having them re-measured or potentially having your bike fit revisited altogether after welcoming a little one into your world.
Talitha Vogt is a certified endurance and wellness coach with an elite racing background. She has 22 years of experience as a mountain biker, including 12 total years of racing and other events. Leveraging her wellness coaching experience, she provides custom-tailored training plans and accommodating coaching for women locally in the front range of Colorado and online for anywhere else in the world.