Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Saddle Battle

I've been wanting to write this post for a while now, but I've been waiting to find that magical saddle that solves all of my problems.  Unfortunately if I keep waiting for that, this post might never get written.

Why does it have to be so hard to find the right saddle????  Shouldn't we be able to ride in comfort?  Shouldn't the muscular fatigue in our legs or the burning of oxygen debt in our lungs be the limiting factor to how far and how fast we can ride?  I know I'm not the only one who has been slowed down in a race or long training ride due to the discomfort in the nether regions.   Here's what some of my female friends have had to say about these issues:

"After a long ride I don't want my husband to touch me for a week."

"I've been to the doctor and had a few boils lanced."

"I have persistent hard nodules that flair up after each ride.  It takes a few days for them to subside."

"I get bruising after any ride over 2 hours."

"I just feel sorry for that entire area down there."

Does all that really have to be a part of riding?   I took to the internet to look for answers and I didn't find anything super encouraging.  One blogger said that she keeps her pubic hair "trimmed to about 1/4 inch which helps prevent chaffing."  Um, I live at the beach and I want my friends to continue to swim with me, so not keeping up with the landscaping is not an option.  On another site I found a woman who had had labiaplasty to reduce the amount of soft tissue in the troublesome area, however it didn't completely resolve all of her issues.  Plus the 6-month recovery process sounds painful and is a lot of time off of the bike.

At the moment, I'm on my 4th saddle and I think I'm going to have to settle.  Here's some info on all the saddles I've tried since getting my new Felt IA and then I want to give some tips of things that I have found that actually improve comfort on the ride.

Shimano PRO AeroFuel TT Saddle
Weight:  259 g
Rails:  Titanium
Material:  Carbon reinforced base w/ anti-slide cover

On my previous TT bike I used an Adamo saddle.  However, I always disliked how wide the nose of the saddle was because it gave me chaffing on the insides of my legs.  So when I saw this saddle I though, wow!  This could be perfect!  It has a similar shape to the Adamo, but the nose is considerably thinner.  At first I thought it would work because I didn't get chaffing on my legs and it didn't put pressure on sensitive areas.  In the end the deal breaker was that it is hard as a rock.  Now, I like a stiff saddle, but this one has zero give.  My body never got used to it and it never softened up a bit.
ISM Adamo Attack
Weight:  300-320 grams
Rails:  Titanium Alloy
Material:  Foam/gel padding
My next step was to test out my coworkers Adamo Attack Saddle.  He was curious about the AeroFuel Pro so we swapped saddles for a week.  At first the Adamo felt great because it relieved the problems I was having with the AeroFuel.  Plus, this model is also a little bit narrower than the ISM Racing saddle that I had on my previous bike so I thought it could be the solution.  However, it still caused the same ol' problem of chaffing on the insides of my legs.  If you've ever shaved your bikini line and then ridden this saddle you know the pain and unsightliness that I'm talking about.  After the week was up, my coworker was tired of riding between a rock and a hard place.  And I was still motivated and hopeful in continuing my search for the perfect saddle.

Selle SMP Etxra
Weight:  395 g
Rails:  Tubular Steel
Material:  Synthetic
The next saddle I tried was the Selle SMP Extra.  This is the saddle that I have on my Felt F75 road bike and it is actually very comfortable.  I didn't want to try it on my tri bike at first because it looks clunky, but after the AeroFuel Pro I didn't care, I just wanted to be comfortable.  This saddle has a lot more padding and is softer than the AeroFuel.  When I'm riding the road bike I usually sit back on the saddle, rather than on the downward tilting nose.  On the tri bike, I am positioned more towards the front of the saddle and it didn't offer the same level of comfort.  I was kept sliding forward and the real kicker was that my skin was getting pinched between the saddle and my legs.  Ouch!!!!

Selle Italia SLR Lady Flow 
Weight:  185 g
Rails:  Titanium
Material: Foam cushion w/ synthetic cover
I was extremely excited when I found the Selle Italia SLR Lady Flow saddle!  It had a shape that I had never seen nor tried before.  I truly thought this could be the answer!  And as with the others, at first I thought it was.  But just like the others, while it relieved the previous problems I was having, it came with it's own set of issues.  This saddle is the perfect stiffness and it is INCREDIBLY light!!!  It looked fast on my bike and I liked that :)  I sat on this saddle just back from the nose where the cutout starts.  It was a pretty good position because it relieved pressure on soft tissue but it was also still very narrow - no leg chaffing!!  The problem with the saddle though, is that because the area that contacted my body was so thin, it put a lot of pressure basically right in the crease of where your leg meets your body.  After a bunch of long rides that pressure turned into blistering and swollen lymph nodes.  Soooo, sadly, I concluded this wasn't the miracle I was hoping for and my days of riding this saddle were over.

After trailing 4 saddles and putting over 200 miles on each, I'm left kind of dejected because as one of my friends put it, I feel like I'm "searching for a unicorn."  I decided to order my own Adamo Attack and deal with the least troublesome of all the problems I've experienced in the last 5 months.   Here are my pointers for optimizing your saddle comfort:

1.  Do not skimp on cycling shorts.  I have found that when it comes to bike shorts you get what you pay for.  The pricier shorts are often constructed with more panels and the seams are in better places for a more comfortable fit.  Two sub-points under cycling shorts:

     A.  Make sure you have a good fit.  If you have excess material in your shorts, that means more material that can shift around and cause you chafing during the ride.  If you're not sure about the fit, go to a reputable tri shop with employees who have ridden thousands of miles and ask for their opinion.  I have found that when in doubt, go for the smaller size.

     B.  Sometimes less is more.  This holds true for saddles and chamoix (who knew chamoix is the plural of chamois!).  A super padded saddle may seem more comfortable at first, but what your arse really needs is some support.  As your sit bones sink down into the padding of a cushy saddle, your discomfort will increase over long rides.  With the shorts, sometimes I have found that riding in tri shorts is actually more comfortable for me because there is less material there to get in the way.

2.  Lube up.  I've been using TriSlide for a while because it is extremely slippery and more hygienic since it's a spray, but whether your preference be Body Glide, DZ Nuts, Chamois Butter, or anything else, this stuff helps prevent chaffing and is made specifically for your undercarriage.

3.  Hibicleanse.  One of my friends told me about this stuff and I'm kind of addicted to it now.  Hibicleanse is an antibacterial wash that sometimes medical professionals will clean their hands with before contacting patients.  I use this after riding to wash the insides of my legs where the Adamo causes me chaffing and I find that it helps reduce irritation and prevent any potential bacterial infection.  Word of warning:  it is for external use only and should always be kept away from the eyes because it can cause blindness.

4.  Laser Hair Removal.  I haven't done this personally but it's on my "to-do" list.  One of my friends had laser hair removal around the bikini area and said that it has dramatically reduced the number of in-grown hairs and irritation due to chaffing.  I think this could really help my issues with the Adamo and is a better solution than "let hair grow to 1/4 inch."  A related point to this is don't shave before riding; that will just increase irritation and chances of bacteria/sweat/dirt/grime getting into hair follicles.

5.  Troubleshooting:

A.  Central nerve pain --> choose a saddle with a cutout to avoid sitting on the clitoris

B.  Bruising --> your saddle could be too hard or body contact points to small; choose a saddle with more padding and/or one that gives you more body contact points

C.  Leg chaffing --> saddle nose is too wide; choose a saddle with a narrower nose and/or use more lube

D.  Labia skin pinching --> saddle could be too narrow or cutout not wide enough; look for a wider nose and/or wider cutout

E.  Blistering/skin tearing --> this indicates there is a lot of pressure on the area where this is occurring; try altering the position of your saddle (i.e. tilt, height, forward/backward) or try a different saddle that does not put as much pressure in the same area

F.  It's always a good idea to go to an experienced bike fitter to help put you in the best position.  Bike fitters are accustomed to speaking with people about all sorts of saddle problems in a professional manner, so don't be embarrassed about talking about the specifics of what you are experiencing.  The more specific you are about your problems, the more the fitter can do to help you relieve those problems.

Lastly, here's an interesting article from Cobb Cycling.  I think there is definitely merit to differences in female anatomy contributing to different saddle issues.  However, I'm not convinced that enough research has been done to determine which saddles are best for which hoohas.

What I am convinced of is that a comfortable rider is a fast rider.  Good luck in your search for the unicorn!  I hope you have better luck than me!


  1. So did you ever find a good saddle? I am getting desperate.

  2. Hey Bri, I ended up going with the Adamo Attack and zip tying the nose as close together as possible. It's really comfortable on all the girl parts. Only drawback is that I still find it a little bit wide and get chaffing on the insides of my legs. BUT, that's way more tolerable than the alternative ;) Good luck & lemme know what you end up with!