You can recapture the freewheeling joy of riding a bicycle – whether it’s for fun, exercise or to save money on gas. When you drag that dusty old bike out of the basement, make sure the seat comfortably suits your body the way it is today.
“Bike seats are like shoes,” says Scott Saifer, an exercise physiologist and sport psychologist in Walnut Creek, Calif. “One person’s ‘this is the best I’ve ever ridden’ is another’s person’s worst torture device.”
To make sure you enjoy your first ride and look forward to frequent biking, check out some specifics to make you seat, or saddle, savvy. In the cycling world, a gel-padded bike seat is known as a saddle. Saddles with a notch forged in the center reduce pressure on the crotch.
Seats are generally covered in vinyl, Lycra or leather. Although stiff at first, leather eventually molds to your body. For casual riders, Saifer favors saddles with a thin layer of leather over foam rubber because, he says, they breathe better than 100 percent leather.
A seat that is too narrow causes your behind to settle around it rather than on it, causing painful contact pressure in the crotch. This is a particular problem with upright handlebars, when most of your weight is on the seat, says Saifer. A saddle that is too wide seat with bulky padding can cause thigh chafing on longer rides and add pressure on the body toward the nose of the saddle.
Most seats are fully adjustable and getting the right position is critical, says David Maxwell, manager of District Hardware/The Bike Shop in Washington, D.C. “Angle the nose of the seat down so part of your weight rests on the handlebars, with your pelvis at a slight forward lean,” he says.
Most of your weight should be on your “sitz” bones (the ischial tuberosities), which are located at the very base of the pelvis. Women tend to have shorter upper bodies, so women and men of the same height will take different bike sizes.
Remedies for Riding Aches
If it hurts the back of your neck, raise the handlebars.
If it hurts the lower back, lower the saddle or raise the handlebars.
If it hurts the front of knee, raise the saddle.
If it hurts the inside or outside of your knee(s), turn your foot out as you pedal, or wear an arch support.
If it hurts the back of knee or hamstring, lower the saddle.
If it hurts your hands, move the saddle back to decrease weight on the handlebars.
If it hurts the buttocks, raise or lower the saddle; push harder on the pedals to counterbalance the weight from your buttocks.