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I have recently made the decision to commute to work via bike. It’s about 14 miles each way (so just under 30 miles return). I initially started on my old bike but it clearly wasn’t really appropriate for what I consider a fairly long commute, so I purchased an Ebike (a Cube Acid). I love the bike; it’s really opened the possibility of commuting 5 days a week whilst still giving me a decent work out with reasonable heart rate pushes.

I’m now 1 month in, have cycled every day (rain or shine) & am generally really enjoying it.

However, after nearly 500 miles saddle time I’m experiencing quite uncomfortable saddle pains & really sore / numb thighs / legs. I also feel quite tired at points during the day & in the evening.

A lot of the above seems obvious, I am after all putting in nearly 150 miles a week. I also like to push myself some days using Strava to set new Personal Bests (PBs) etc.

My questions are:

  • Is it normal to feel such pain on the saddle, and is this possibly the cause of numbness in my legs?
  • Is it possible a bad saddle position is causing a pinched nerve like effect down my legs?

I do wear padded cycling bottoms (although they are cheap Decathlon ones).

Another thing, due to the nature of an Ebike you tend to sit and ride the whole journey, no standing up to push up hills, etc. Is this bad?

I know a lot of people will mock the Ebike, and I know this makes life easier, but although it is making life easier I’m still pushing hard and averaging fairly high heart rates over a 50 min commute each way (better than driving a car, right).

Hopefully a few experienced rider / regular commuter might be able to offer some words of wisdom here.

CUBE Acid Hybrid One 500 Ebike

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    "I know a lot of people will mock the Ebike" I bet the mocking stops as soon as they figure out what 5 * 2 * 15 mi means. Oh, and welcome to the site Charliegtr! Thanks for starting with a good question. If you haven't done so, would you mind to have a look at the tour? It provides useful information for new members. – gschenk May 15 at 20:16
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    Just a remark, a cube acid is a hybrid e-bike with a moderately aggressive position. Much unlike one's grandmother's e-bike. Link to a picture on Cube's site: cube.eu/media_ftp/BIKE_Bilder_2018/133111/133111_light_zoom.jpg – gschenk May 15 at 20:23
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    "You don't get fit exercising, you get fit recovering from exercise". You are not allowing enough for recovery. – mattnz May 15 at 22:45
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    Are you wearing backpack? – 9ilsdx 9rvj 0lo May 16 at 7:03
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    "I’m still pushing hard and averaging fairly high heart rates over a 50 min commute each way " - This is a mistake - if you push yourself like this every day, you'll wear yourself down. Taken to extremes, this can take months to recover from. – Andy P May 16 at 8:07

11 Answers 11

36

Even with an e-bike going to 150 miles a week is a big jump. Likely you just need to have a few rest days to allow your body to adapt and recover. 3 weeks is the range in where you start run into problem with long term recovery.

I'd suggest switching down to 3 days a week until you feel completely recovered every day. Also lay off the strava, going for Personal Bests (PBs) is something you should keep to a minimum in daily rides. Focus on a pace that allows you to arrive at work w/o feeling stressed at all. This will help with the leg soreness/tiredness during the day.

The saddle problem is a completely different one that every bike rider has to figure out. Some of it is just that you are spending a lot more time in the saddle, but most of it is finding the right saddle that works for you and your position on the bike. Unfortunately, there are no simple fixes. There are various saddle fitting guides out there, but nothing works for everybody and almost every saddle works for somebody. The best solution would be to find a local bike shop with a saddle demo program that will let you try different saddles until you find the one that works for you.

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    Before buying a new saddle, the asker should make sure that the one they have is positioned correctly. – David Richerby May 15 at 22:00
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    Most of the time I'm not strong enough to NOT ride my road bike as it's the end of the world. My commute is only 5 miles each way, but many times arrive at work drenched in sweat. So yes, take it easy. If you are doing the daily commute and two days of weekend riding, then you need to take it even easier. – Calin Ceteras May 16 at 10:43
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    One of the things that is hardest to learn is that most of us train/ride too hard, if you switch down to mostly "easy" riding you can handle that number of hours per week and your fitness will improve even w/o the "hard" efforts. Even after 45 years of riding/training I still make this mistake at times. – Fred the Magic Wonder Dog May 16 at 16:34
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    What is "PB"? Google Search comes up with "Pacific Beach" which does not make sense in context. – gerrit May 16 at 18:17
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    @gerrit "Personal Best". You'll sometime see it as a PR (personal record) – Paul H May 16 at 19:38
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I moved house in August, and have had a 26 km commute so roughly similar. Mine's got 50 metres drop on the way to work, so mostly flat.

In my experience, you're in the distance where comfort becomes more important. Anyone can smash out a short commute every day, but these longer ones cumulatively build up on you.

Clothes So expect to spend money on contact points and clothing - eg I've bought 4 pairs of armwarmers that all felt good initially but have had issues on the long ride. Your cheap pants are probably fine for normal commutes, but try different sorts/brands. I've had good luck with some cheap boxer-style padded shorts for under normal pants. But I also own one pair of bib shorts and that's a nice change. Do be aware elastic sags with age, so what was a good fit might have loosened off to give some rub now. (check for existing question about good-fit shorts)

Cumulative Check with your employer and see if there's a work from home policy that you can resort to, if things are getting just a bit too much for you. I use this about once a month when its really heavy rain on the way in.

Variety Do make an effort to mix up your routes. I have limited options because there's only so-many roads, but try and go different ways. If you have a bit of extra time, then try going right out of your way.

I also ride a couple of very different bikes. A commute on the road bike is very different to the recumbent.

Safety I have illegal quantities of lights on my bikes, because 20% of my commute is in pitch darkness with no streetlights and a 80km/h speed limit and minimal road shoulders. Its terrifying when you're not sure if the approaching car has seen you or not.

Food/drink I have a gel sitting in my toolkit in case I feel a bit underfuelled. Have needed it twice. I tend to not drink on the commute though because its not in the heat of the day. However I know where some public drinking fountains are on the way.

Preparation you're going to get punctures, so make sure your bike has all the tools and spares on it. I carry a spare tube and stickers in case of additional punctures. I also carry spare disposable batteries for one front and rear light.

Ebike Its going to be easier with the ebike, but don't depend on it. Some day you might have to ride the entire commute with a flat battery. Can you do that?

If you have a second charger, consider storing it at work. They cost cents to charge, so work shouldn't have an issue, but depending on the culture you may have to ask/check for permission.

Personal Bests (PBs) I got PBs whenever there's a tailwind. But I'm now at the point where we'd have to have a 30+ km/h wind to shave a second off any of my times. The good side is that daily commuting means a fair chance of a tailwind. But an equal chance of a headwind on the way home. There's no such thing as "Personal Worst (PW)"

Backup plan I have a bus route that passes within 200 metres of work and home. Never had to use it yet, but if things were dire I could jump on and let someone else drive me. These busses have bike racks for normal sized bikes, so the recumbent would have to be pushed home. I wear flat shoes on the bent so that's possible, but cleats on the road bike so I carry covers in my on-bike toolkit.


You might benefit from a proper bike fit too - the time on bike could be exacerbating some minor problems. Expect to pay for this and take several hours.


Fun to be honest the fun kinda drops from cycling when you're grinding out those kind of distances. I used to do 100km+ weekend rides when my work commute was 1.5 km. Now I prefer to stay at home in the weekend.

Weather Buy good rain clothes, and check the evening forecast before you leave home. If you can, store clean/dry spare clothes at work, including shoes and underware. I keep two towels too, and switch them home periodically for a wash.

Shower If your workplace has a shower, great. If not, consider a gym membership near work just for cleaning up.

Maintenance Keep on top of it - your bike will be doing 600 miles / 900 km a month, so a normal chain may only last 3 months, or an IGH oil change will be needed every 6 months. Its up to you to not forget. I'd suggest a monthly maintenance session, perhaps more in Winter.

Strava Do use strava to record your rides. It gives you a lot of efforts on segments, and the graph shows if you're improving over time or not.

Music This one is contentious, but time can go faster if you have some music to listen to. Exactly how you listen varies, but there are good options that do not block your ears, like bone conduction headphones, or small personal speakers. I sometimes front-load and let an earworm song play on and on and on, and on and on....

  • @Willeke yep - I got a Personal Worst coming home last night, a 3km segment that I average around 6 minutes with a PB of 4 min something, took 12 minutes because of wind and rain. I knew it was slow but the personal worst time was a surprise. – Criggie May 16 at 21:11
  • I find cycling in metric way easier though. – Strawberry May 18 at 13:21
  • @Strawberry me too, but the web is global and there are some countries who use imperial measurements, so presenting both values makes the content more approachable. – Criggie May 18 at 14:02
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However, after nearly 500miles saddle time I’m experiencing A) some quite uncomfortable saddle pains & really sore / numb thighs / legs. I also feel quite tired at points during the day & in the evening.

General Fatigue

You have just done a month straight, it may be time to have a rest week. Physical adaptation to exercise stress occurs during the rest phase. Evenings and weekends may not be providing a sufficient recovery period.

If you want to ride daily throughout the week, consider either a rest week or a low volume week. A common training cycle is 3 weeks on, 1 week off. Your body needs time to recover, otherwise the general feeling of fatigue will persist until you rest.

Numbness

Numbness is more concerning as it could mean a pinched nerve. Your legs can feel "jello like" after many miles, but they should never be numb. I would recommend seeing a medical professional (e.g., doctor or physiotherapist) to ensure you don't have a pinched nerve.

Saddle soreness

Saddles can often be a bane of cyclists, with saddle sores being very common for new riders. Sometimes the problem is saddle construction (e.g., comfort saddles are too soft for extended riding), or saddle/shorts interface (e.g., thin chamois), or sometimes lack of time to adapt to this new stress.

Poor hygiene can be another common source of saddle sores.

Cycling shorts are meant to be worn against the skin – so there should be no additional layer between your body and the chamois. No wearing underwear with cycling shorts. As a result, they should be washed just like underwear – after every outing. Not doing so allows bacteria a second chance to access your skin, which can cause infection.

By the same token, always aim to take your shorts off and shower straight after a ride – don’t sit around in your shorts for hours afterwards.

-- Saddle sores: how to prevent and treat them

I commute the same distance (approx 48 km per day) and always pack a clean pair of cycling shorts, so that I have a clean pair of shorts for each direction. No saddle sores to speak of after many many years of doing this. This can mean investing in a few pairs of shorts that you wash through the week.

  • Tagging onto your note about hygiene: chamois cream does wonders. – Alex Robertson May 16 at 14:12
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Bike fit is an important factor in comfort on the bike and it is likely that you need to change some things about your bike to make it more comfortable. Is the saddle the right size? Is the saddle in the right position to optimize your comfort? Is the saddle height optimized? Is your reach too? These are just some other things a bike fit will consider.

Another factor to consider is over-training. It sounds like you're out of the honeymoon period where all that work might start to add up. You're no longer doing something novel and fresh and can't get by on adrenaline. You might need to change your diet to provide more fuel what you're burning on your commute.

Finally, find a way to vary up how you position yourself on the bike. If you've got drop handlebars use all the positions (on the hoods, in the drops, etc). Experiment with standing up and riding. Having different positions helps with fatigue and soreness, especially on your saddle.

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    Do not underestimate the importance of bike fit. At my local bike store, they charge over $100, but it's worth every penny. – John May 16 at 22:15
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A bit late to the party, but I feel that saddle fit isn't quite being covered as well as I think it needs to be.

I used to have numbness problems, and while a lot of fitters talked about posture there didn't seem to be a lot of talk about saddle fit.

Someone here suggested a narrower saddle, which coming from a more scooter type of bike would be a no-brainer. But the Cube comes standard with a Selle Royal MTB-style saddle, which could already be as narrow as 142mm depending on which one they use (based on a quick web check). You don't want to go narrower than that just because it's the stock saddle.

My situation was a bit different, coming from a road bike background, because stock saddles for road bikes can often be as small as 135mm, with 143mm being pretty standard. It turns out that my sit bone distance is 148mm, so I was never being properly supported by any of those narrow saddles. I tried a 155mm saddle - it almost immediately felt too wide - but I found a 147mm saddle that fits really well. (I bought 3 and I'm using them for both my road and commuting bikes.)

Fred suggested trying a bunch of saddles, and that's effectively what I did for several years. Without knowing that (okay, let's face facts) I have a big butt, I would likely have spent more years before randomly happening to try a saddle the right size.

My sit bone distance was calculated by having me sit on a pad that measured the points of greatest pressure. Very simple, but I'd had fits done in at least half a dozen shops over the years (various bikes) and I'd never seen it before. Quick, simple and unambiguous. The guy who did it was a certified master bike fitter, so that may have helped.

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    The sitting on a pad thing used to be done (and I guess still is) at all specialized stores. A google search can also find some home brew ways to do this with cardboard etc – Andy P May 16 at 13:35
  • +1 to this! The numbness is a real danger sign, and will likely be cured with the right seat. When I started riding, I went through half a dozen seats, including some weird ones, trying to get rid of the numbness. I'm a big dude, so imagine my surprise when a "skinny" seat fixed my problem! Whether you spent a bunch of money on Amazon, or find a bike shop to help you, get the numbness fixed pronto! – Austin Hastings May 18 at 20:27
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When I started a daily commute of 10 miles each way on a hybrid I found similar things that weren't revealed doing it 3 days a week.

One thing that definitely helped was a protein snack (I found some protein flapjack bars quite cheap in bulk) after getting to work in the morning. This seemed to help my muscle aches as well as hunger and general fatigue, but it's unlikely to help if you're getting numbness in muscles that aren't pushing hard.

Another thing was stretching in work. I was almost always first in but still occasionally have my colleagues a source of amusement when they found me contorting myself on the office floor. This may help more.

Also E-bikes rarely have saddles meant for distance and anyway saddle fit is highly personal. I'd look into that, both adjusting the existing one and possibly replacing it with something more suitable (probably narrower). Padded shorts are a matter of preference over this distance, and cheap gel padded ones can be very good. Foam padding won't help for long per ride and will soon wear out.

Don't worry too much about staying seated on hills. I tend to do the same, by gearing down, even on long rides. But on the downhills you can stand up on the pedals and stretch a bit, for example with the cranks horizontal, straighten your legs and drop your heels to deal with stiff calves, while also relieving your sit bones.

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From personal experience, finding the right saddle is a tough nut to crack. I have found it, and I am carrying it along on the bikes I am using: I am now at the third bike in 5 years, and the saddle has relocated every time.

  • You need time to get used to the effort. Until your muscles are fit for it, you are going to be fatigued and, as consequence, assume some poor posture which will affect how you feel.
  • Take time to try different saddles: ride a few miles on one to check how it fits your body. The worst saddle I ever rode used to give me numbness in my private area. Not funny at all.
  • Adjust your posture on the bike with a proper regulation of the saddle and bar.
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    +1 its worth looking at auctions for bikes with the same saddle, and buying the bike just to acquire another of your saddle. Then pass on the bike with a different saddle for probably what you paid for it. – Criggie May 16 at 9:40
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Right now I commute ~ 20 miles each way 3-5 days a week (alternate destinations and occasional train days put me at around 160 - 170 most weeks). That distance is a year into my commuting journey; I started by taking the train most of that distance and riding the final mile into the office on my bike.

In terms of the initial adjustment,

As you learn mentally when to ease off and when to hit it hard, your body will learn to adapt to the stresses. I'm about 9 months into riding all the way most days, and my legs and energy levels were definitely done for by the end of the day, and worse by the weekend ,for the first 4-5 months of that. I don't ride with padding, I generally ride in Dickie's shorts, wool boxers and a wool t-shirt. I've had minimal saddle sores, nothing more than a weekend's worth after breaking in a Brooks seat, and and maybe some new callouses - point being, sometimes less padding is of more benefit in the long term.

Summary answer - that mileage will hurt less and less as you keep it up, but remember that the best way to keep it up is to enjoy it, so don't hurt yourself more just to get a better workout in the short term. Standing and shifting positions definitely helps the numbness, and I'm a huge proponent of sticking with platform pedals - they allow a rider to constantly make microadjustments that clipping in simply doesn't offer, and those adjustments can keep your back, knees, and legs healthier for much less money than an expensive bike fit.

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For that length of commute, especially amount of time in the saddle, I would say that an electric road bike would be more appropriate for the following reasons:

  1. More comfortable, due to a variety of hand and body positions accommodated by drop handle bars
  2. Faster for the same effort
  3. Quieter (less tyre noise)
  4. Use less electrical power (greener/cheaper)

I would strongly recommend a professional bike fit before making a purchase.

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I too am a ebiker, a 70 year old one suffering from the same bodily uncomfortable saddle syndrome. Rather than blaming the saddle and after unsuccessfully looking around for a more comfortable one, I decided to go internal, rather than external. By this I mean, wearing another layer of underpants which seems to reduce the pain a little. Uncomfortable, maybe. Unsightly, maybe, but if it does the job, who cares. try it for yourself. If it works for you that's money saved. Bill Griffith

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    You might want to consider a proper pair of padded cycling shorts. – David Richerby May 18 at 11:24
  • Just to clarify, you're wearing two layers of padded garments ? – Criggie May 18 at 14:03
  • Hi Criggie; Yes am wearing two pairs of undies. Would prefer just one pair of really padded ones. Just come back from 16km hilly ride and quite sore. Any idea where I can get padded undies? Am in western Sydney, near PENRITH. Thanks Bill Grffith – Bill Griffith May 20 at 3:09
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Congratulations for switching to bike!

I advise you to buy a suspended seat post (I'm happy with my suntour sp12). It's mandatory for the time you spend on the bike. Beware it makes a bit harder to setup the saddle height as it moves around the position.

Also carefully choose your saddle and its setup : height, front/rear and angle (parallel to the road)

Wear bike short if you can.

And try different handlebar angle.

Generaly, I would advise to train listening to your body and regularly try slight changes.

Also mountain-bike is not appropriate for roard, at least change the tires for some road specific (ie : schwable marathon green) take a 2,1 width at least an inflate a lot every two weeks. You'll save effort and therefore battery.

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    If suspension seat posts were as necessary as you claim, every bike sold would come with one. A suspension seatpost might help with comfort; it might not. I found my hybrid's saddle got uncomfortable after a couple of hours despite its suspension seatpost; I have no saddle comfort issues on my road bike with a rigid seatpost. – David Richerby May 18 at 11:31
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    Suspension seat posts are not that useful in my experience. – Criggie May 18 at 14:04
  • Most high end road bike comes with some kind of shock absorber for the back, either a seat post or a saddle mounted on springs. I share my experience of a good seat post that completely changed my bike that was too stiff. Colegues who have made the same and are all really pleased with this upgrade. Just check Amazon comments for the seatpost I mentioned. – bokan May 18 at 14:12
  • Sorry I meant city bikes. And for me if doesn't have then it's not high end. Check the back of the saddle, look at brooks confort models. Have you ever rode a stiff bike 30 miles dailly? Have you ever tried to upgrade with a good suspended seat post ? Did you went back to standard seat post ? I did and it was a great upgrade to my Piaggio WI-bike and my back do not hurt any more. – bokan May 18 at 15:32
  • Also your comment stating that if it is useful then it would be sold with the bike does not make sense. You can see all-mountain bikes without dropper post, city bikes without baggage rack bags or mud guard and best sport bikes comes without pedals! (so you can buy the ones you like) . – bokan May 18 at 15:44

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