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Why Are Bike Seats So Uncomfortable?

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When Alexander Schwalbach wrote “The Modern Bicycle and Its Accessories” in 1898, he noted, “The perfect saddle, as the public looks at it, is the saddle that fits everybody. It will never be made, for people are different”.

Many bikers find their bike seats very uncomfortable. But why is that? Here’s what I know from years of experience on the bike saddle:

The reasons they are so uncomfortable starts with the fact that they’re not engineered to carry the full weight of a rider (just their sit bones). Their shape allows thighs to move freely when cycling, so a rider assumes a proper form. But almost all the weight is carried on the soft tissues between the sit bones.

“Seat adjustment can also make a big difference in comfort,” writes Ben for the EbikesPursuit.com. Check out those facts for a better understanding of why saddles were never designed to pamper derrieres!


Types of Bike Seats

Different types of bike seats? The number might surprise you. According to Gabriel Jones writing for Gear Bikes Review, shoppers have 11 choices when they browse this category.

Here’s the skinny on each one:

1. Racing saddles are designed to give riders that maximum amount of movement freedom while eliminating chafing.

These thin, hard, lightweight saddles are set low to avoid wind resistance so that riders can position themselves on the forward part, so weight is delivered to the feet and hands rather than the butt.

2. Comfort saddles are a skinny bum’s dream because they’ve got so much packing material within the seat cover, you can ride long distances without a numb bum. This much padding provides an element of shock resistance, so hit daunting trails.

3. Cruiser saddles feature support on both ends, are nicely cushioned, and since cruiser handlebars are uniquely designed, most of your weight is relegated to the saddle. One of the most popular types within this niche are banana saddles. This style delivers a relaxed, easy ride, which makes it ideal for commuters.

4. Mountain bike saddles are engineered for rough terrain and lots of body shifting, which is why they are narrow and feature enough padding to mediate jolts and blows. The rear is shaped to move back easily while the nose slopes down to help the rider move forward.

5. Gel saddles distribute weight evenly, so groin irritation, chafing, and numbness are minimized. Shock absorbent and designed to mold itself to a rider’s body contour, these saddles come in light and heavy options and tend to be wider. Some are made with bumps to support sit bones.

6. Suspension saddles are crafted with a mechanism beneath the seat that suspends the bike and rider, so there’s less impact felt when cycling over uneven terrain.

You’ll find these narrow, lightweight seats on mountain bikes and hybrids.

7. Cutaway saddles were invented to reduce all types of rider discomfort. Material is removed from the saddle top, so pressure points are eliminated. Some models feature holes or cutouts, and you can find them to suit all bicycle types.

8. Wide saddles won’t be confused with other seat types. They are made for riders seeking leisurely pedaling experiences on bikes featuring handlebars at the same level as the seat (or higher), so full bodyweight stays on the saddle expanse.

While all of these are well-padded, some manufacturers add springs to the underside, which add to this saddle types weight and comfort level.

9. Leather saddles seem an unlikely category when evaluating comfort, but for riders insisting on a unique, aesthetically pleasing seat, the break-in period is worth the experience.

Expensive, wide at the back, and of medium weight, these saddles absorb body heat and adapt to butt contours for a custom fit once broken in.

10. Noseless saddles are classified as “centerline cleft and gender-specific.” They are available in light and medium weights.

11. Gender-specific saddles. While nose-less saddles type described above are similar, gender-specific seats are designed to suit specific pelvic structures. Men’s saddles are narrow and long while women’s are wider and short, but just because a saddle is gender-specific, that doesn’t mean the opposite sex can’t choose the other simply because it feels better.


Is a bike saddle the same as a bike seat?

To be honest, we looked hard and couldn’t find a difference, so it was time to turn to science for a definitive answer. The folks at Pedal Chile explain this evolution. Once upon a time, bicycles were “designed to be a mode of transportation similar to a horse but under man’s propulsion. The motion of mounting and riding a bike is very similar to that of mounting a saddled horse.”

Today, the two words are literally interchangeable and “used by professionals in the industry, such as bicycle manufacturers, inventors, and historians.” The first bicycle seat patent was issued in the early-1880s, which set a standard for using the word seat in addition to the word saddle.


Why are bike saddles so small and hard?

We often get that question as well. If you’re fascinated by this topic and want to see what seasoned cyclists have to say on the subject, check out all of the explanations posted on Quora to learn how many different viewpoints exist on this site alone.

One of the best responses is encapsulated here: “As strange as it seems, in most cases, the harder, narrower seats actually are the most comfortable.”

Read more: How to Make a Bike Seat More Comfortable

If you’re shaking your head at that comment, think about it. Softness isn’t going to serve you well if your rear end doesn’t come into the proper contact with the seat, positioning your sit bones (a.k.a.: Ischial Tuberosity) in a way that gets you the most efficient ride.

Since “it’s usually best to be sitting on the seat, rather than in the seat,” there is only one solution: a hard seat supporting bones so bodyweight pressure is distributed evenly.

As for size, saddles have never been made to fit everyone who has deigned to ride a bike, and while the aforementioned 11 styles cover quite a bit of territory, the “one size fits all” descriptor is probably never going to be used in conjunction with saddle size.

As a result, you will want to try out as many seats as possible and even have a professional measure you to get the best fit. How entangled can this topic get?


How can you add cushioning to your bike seat?

There are several ways to go about adding cushioning to your bicycle saddle. One of them is to investigate gel or foam seat cushions that are made for all bike types.

Read more: Best Bike Seats for Overweight Person

Alternately, try a thin saddle padding cover recommended by Bikes Haven because thick padding can increase pressure on your sit bones, so this thin alternative just makes sense. One word of caution: gel can break down over time and create an uneven surface, so keep tabs on the cushion’s condition over time.

Don’t dismiss padded shorts as well. These garments help alleviate chronic butt and groin pain. “Without proper padding, riding can, for some people, also compress the sciatic nerve,” says Dr. Michele Olson, an exercise physiologist and senior clinical professor in the department of sport science and physical education at Huntingdon College.


Are wide bike seats more comfortable?

They are, say experts evaluating saddles for the eBicycles website, but keep this factor in mind: “This really depends on the type of riding you’ll be doing. Certainly, sleek racing saddles don’t look comfortable but wider seats create more friction and chafing when you’re doing lots of pedaling (on the road or in a race).

In general, the more you ride and pedal, the thinner and less obtrusive a saddle should be, which means a wide saddle may not be the best solution in all cases.

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About Alek Asaduryan

Alek Asaduryan is the founder of YesCycling and has been riding bikes and in the cycling industry since 1991. Since then, his mission is to make cycling more accessible to everyone. And each year, he continues to help more people to achieve that. When he's not out riding his beloved fitness bike, Alek reports on news, gear, guides, and all things cycling related.