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I am fairly new to cycling and have a road bike which I am really enjoying but I cannot get comfortable in the saddle. Not so much bum bones, but lady bits! Any suggestions?

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Terry, in particular, makes saddles specifically for women. They basically invented the woman's saddle. –  Daniel R Hicks May 23 '12 at 11:50
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I would just like to point out that this is not a gender-specific issue. Saddle selection/comfort is a highly individual issue. While some women may find "women-specific" things helpful, not all will, and vice-versa (that is to say: some men may find women's saddles helpful). The most major problem people face is lack of "familiarity" with the saddle...any saddle. If you're new to cycling, you are likely to experience discomfort no matter what. It takes time to get the muscles/tissues/etc. used to it. –  djangodude May 24 '12 at 15:59
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7 Answers

Saddles can be very specific to the individual...but some general advice:

  • Try to find a local bike shop that will let you test ride different saddles. Five minutes on a trainer is not enough, a good bike shop will let you take a saddle on a real ride.
  • Talk with others that have similar biking style. A great mountain bike saddle does not always make a great road saddle. A bit of an angle change or moving the saddle a bit forward or backward can have a big effect.
  • Try some saddles that are "lady specific" and those that others say work well for the lady bits. I've heard good things about the Selle Italia Lady Diva and the saddles from Adamo (the Adamo's are not 'lady specific' but the cutout seems to have similar effect).

Also, you may want to invest in some decent bike shorts and a good anti-chafe creme (I like 'Blue Steel Sports').

Some of the "issues with the tissues" will fade as you spend more time on the bike, but some won't unless you get a saddle that works for you. Don't settle...try different saddles until you find something that works for you.

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Thanks really helpful –  Debbie Barnett May 24 '12 at 6:36
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I have never had a sore seat. I started riding 20 to 30 minutes every day, and worked up from there. I am much stronger now (after commuting 10000 km in a year) than I was. My power goes through my legs (I wear bike shoes), so only part of my body weight is on my seat (because some of my weight is instead pushing down on my leg[s]): I think that's what happening, anyway.

The experience / riding style is very different from novices (e.g. children) who must sit on the seat, and have no strong legs.

Aside from that, they do make "lady-specific" and other saddles. It's surprising how much effect even a small difference has. A lady's bike would never fit me. Yesterday I tried on several pairs (different makes, similar sizes) before I found a pair of shoes that are comfortable.

Also my bike is a 'hybrid' style (the handle bars are flat, not dropped or raised): meant to be faster (tires and gears) than a mountain bike and more comfortable (riding position) than a racing bike. Perhaps you should reconsider your handle bars (etc.) as well as your seat/saddle, in order to make sure you are riding in a comfortable and efficient position, for the kind of riding you are practising at the moment.

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I think a bike fit is in order at your LBS. You may need to adjust the saddle height, saddle of appropriate width, saddle angle, stem height, stem length, handlebar angle, figure out if the top tube length is appropriate, etc.

Saddle discomfort is not isolated to just the saddle, but also geometry of riding. Most road bikes force you to sit on your "sit bones" rather than a plush cruiser seat where the weight is suspended by your sit bones and whole rear end (which is fine for short rides) which can be somewhat disconcerting at first (you shouldn't be bolt upright for example). But some women's specific saddles may be helpful. The issue of tissue compression does affect women as well to some extent but shouldn't be an issue with appropriate saddle and handlebar adjustment provided the frame is an appropriate size.

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Saddle comfort has many variables, addressing all of them can be scary or "drowning" for the new rider. One variable is obviously particular anatomy. As it is true that women differ from men, there can be huge differences among riders of the same gender. Also, even though there are women specific designs, a women's saddle is not radically different from a man's one, in fact, the untrained eye may not tell one from another even with close inspection.

Fit is the key word here. As other answers here point out, you should try several saddles before you find the perfect one. But not only the shape and type of saddle affect fit. The bike should fit you. Saddle height, up/down angle, fore/aft position and distance to the handlebar can play a significant role in saddle comfort.

Yet another variable is the rider's level of expertise. The novice rider does not have their muscles and bones accustomed to the position on the saddle. The O.P. states that her problem is not with the bones but with "lady bits", but when a rider can not hold the proper position long enough, tends to move in the saddle to alleviate pain in certain area causing pain in another. Also, a novice rider may want a more padded saddle whereas a seasoned cyclist usually wants a lighter saddle with less padding.

Whether the saddle is broken in. An excellent saddle may be uncomfortable for several miles when new, but once it is broken in, it gets way better. (In my case I need at least two rides of 15 miles on my mountain bike to feel that a new saddle is ready for longer rides).

Also, riding style: Cruising/leisure riders, "relaxed" commuters and purely recreative cyclists tend to prefer wide, heavily padded saddles, but sporty and competitive ones, use narrower, stiffer and lighter saddles for a more efficient power transfer to the pedals.

Having that said, I suggest the following:

  • A new rider may find more comfortable a saddle with more padding, or even a gel cover. As the rider evolves, the extra padding or gel may start to feel too bulky. It will be then time to move to a more racing-oriented saddle or remove the gel cover.

  • Use a saddle designed for women. Consider the previous point regarding how much padding. Also, verify that the saddle is really different from the same make/model for men. (I've seen many scams where the product is only painted or decorated differently, but is actually no different than the man's version, and the worst is, they charge a higher price for the supposed woman's special item). As far as I have noticed, true woman's saddles are a little bit wider and shorter tan man's. Also, Man's saddles tend to have a longitudinal cutout that starts where the saddle gets wider and continues towards the back, whereas ladies' saddles have a "depression" that starts closer to the nose and ends near the widening point of the saddle.

  • Use cyclist shorts.

  • The usage of lady's daily protectors can also help. (Like the pantyliners or pads, but these are lighter, smaller and for "the rest of the month") You may need to try different sizes before you find the ones that work best for this purpose, if they help in your case.

  • Regarding fit: If possible, (and/or no already done) go to a shop that can offer fitting service. You can also learn many basic fitting steps from the internet. Either case, fit is by no means an unbreakable law. Sometimes bike fit involves formulas precise to 3 decimal figures, but let's be honest: no body can place their but with precision of tenths of an inch, so these formulas are actually starting points, or general guidelines. After a fit session, ride for at least 30 minutes, and if you feel like you need a change, make it. Make only one change at a time, and stay within half an inch or a centimeter every time. Repeat as necessary. (I have assembled bikes several times, and when the bike is for me, I may need up to 3 or 4 changes after the initial set up to find my sweet spot).

  • Particularly, I have seen ladies who are fine with a standard or "unisex" saddle, slightly angled down.

Partial credits to my wife who is also a competitive cross country rider. Notes also taken from my sister, a more recreative cross country rider who custom-fits her saddles with partially modified gel covers. Notes also taken from female rider acquaintances.

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For men there can be some issue about the compression of tissue, often brought on by mis-sized saddle. Maybe the advice from another post can help with your issues as well?

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One trick I did to keep the nose from rubbing uncomfortably was to angle the nose of my saddle slightly downward. Yes, it is odd at first, since it tends to make you want to slide forward, but you should technically only have your sit bones on the saddle, which I can still do easily. The angled nose keeps it from knocking around between my legs.

Works for me, but everyone has to figure out their own perfect setup. Also, make sure your bike is correctly fitted to you and that the seat is at the appropriate height. It all plays into it.

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Everybody buying a saddle for extensive riding would do well to get a personal saddle measurement done, or to do it themselves. This is a pretty common option in the more fancy bicycle shops (where I live anyway).

The point 8 on this page about saddle soreness gives a pretty good explanation of what you have to measure if you want to do it yourself. It is actually not that difficult. This also has a good explanation at the end. And finally, this local question and the accompanying answers should also help you.

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