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I am a woman and I have been wanting to get into cycling.

A few summers back I bought a gravel bike. I bought it new from a local bike shop that I trusted. The bike was considered a 'medium' (5'6-5'9 ft). I am 5'4 and because I am still fairly new at this I thought the size wouldn't be a big deal. Plus, everything seemed to fit me fine and comfortable when I rode it around in the parking lot.

The thing I have noticed though is the top of the handlebars and the saddle are the same height, which is different than what I have seen, where the saddle is higher than the bars. I have had my seat height adjusted by a advanced road biker.

Once I took it home and began using it, I realised I couldn't go a mile without my rump being sore and numb. So I got a few quality pairs of distance cycling shorts. I also angled my seat down slightly. Once that wasn't enough I purchased chamois cream. Then I purchased a new bike seat for a very pretty penny. After all of these changes, I still only have comfort for about 15 miles and then I go completely numb in places I think we all would prefer to have feeling.

Last summer I sort of sucked-up the pain and kept biking almost every day, 20-25 miles. Now, I want to start biking even more but am finding that I am losing the joy in biking because I am always in pain or completely numb when biking.

Does anyone have any more tips for me? I have seen that getting a bike and saddle fitted can be pricey so I have been holding off on getting professionally fitted, and am wondering if it all may be because my bike is just a size too big for me. What do you think?enter image description hereenter image description hereenter image description here

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    Photos of you on the bike (feel free to censor the face) from the side would help to judge how bad the situation is. Also how long your current stem is, just to know how much room for adjustments there is. – Michael May 3 at 19:33
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    Hi Michael, I added a few photos to the original post, thanks – 15wayamb May 4 at 1:35
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    Handlebars lower than saddle is normal for performance-oriented road cyclists. It is not required of all people on drop bar bikes. Comfort first. The “advanced” cyclist may not really have known what they were doing - I’m pretty advanced, but I don’t really know how to assess position for more leisure-oriented riders. – Weiwen Ng May 4 at 1:39
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    @WeiwenNg I can't really imagine it above the saddle. My gravel bike (so more upright than a road bike) is below and cannot really go above without getting some longer steerer and many spacers. Or turning the handlebars strongly upwards. One cannot make a Dutch bike from a road frame. – Vladimir F May 4 at 10:43
  • Well, the OP's bike already has handlebars at saddle level and if the saddle is lowered to reasonable position, the bars will be higher. In my experience it's just that road bike with high handlebars doesn't really work. An upright commuter is fine and so is racing bike, but in my experience the positions in between don't work as well. – ojs May 4 at 11:22
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I think it's likely that the frame is just to large for you. A medium frame is generally too large for a person 5'4" (approx. 162cm) in height.

What's going in is that distance from the saddle to the bars is likely too long, causing you to have to lean forward too much, which is causing your pelvis to rotate forwards also.

When sitting on a bicycle saddle properly, the bones at bottom of your pelvis should be taking you weight on the wider, rearmost part of the saddle. There should not be pressure on the perineum or points further forward. When the pelvis rotates forward weight is transferred from the pelvis onto the perineum. Apart from being painful, that cuts off blood supply and pinches nerves which causes numbness.

The proper solution is to get a frame a size (or two, depending on your body proportions) smaller. A potential solution is a significantly shorter stem to pull the handlebars back and allow a more upright riding position.

You can try getting a bike store to try to fit the bike to you, including playing with stem length, but personally I'd look for a replacement bike in a smaller size. Try some different bike stores and see what recommendations you get for sizing and fit.

At least in most US states bicycles stores are considered essential businesses, and bicycle business is booming. You may easily be able to sell your current bike to offset the cost of a replacement.

Updates based on photo and info in comments:

As others have said saddle height is too high, your arms are straight in the first photo and your ankle is raised with the pedal at the bottom in the second. Elbows should have a bend and foot should be flat with a slight knee bend.

Given that, you actually look a quite cramped on the bike. Notice your back is straight and the angle between your arms and body is less than 90 degrees. Your knees look very close to the bars. I think the fore-aft saddle position is way too far forward, it should be set to get the pelvis in the right position relative to the feet NOT to adjust reach to the bars. Set the saddle height properly, then with a pedal straight forward your kneecap should be vertically above the pedal axle.

I think excess saddle tilt may in fact be causing you to sit too far forward on it moving you pelvis bones off the wide part at the rear.

The whole bike does not look obviously big for you, so this looks salvageable. What I would do is sort out your saddle height position and tilt first, and get you sitting in it properly. Then figure out where a comfortable bar position is for you, then achieve that with a shorter stem and possibly shorter reach bars. You can also rotate the bars back a little to get a comfortable angle of the drops under your hands

It looks like you want to be in a less aggressive, more upright position so your bars will be approximately level with the saddle, which is totally fine. Once you are feeling more comfortable on the bike you can work on some back flexibility and lower the bars if you want.

You may want to enlist the help of a good local bike store to help you get set up right. You may not have to pay for a proper bike fit. A good store should help you get these basics sorted out if you buy a new stem and bars through them.

Here's a good video on basics of bike fit. Contrast your position on the bike to those shown in the video.

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  • The stem is as high as it will go, but which is how I got it. I will take your advise and just play around with other frames and stems as well to see if those help. Thank you! – 15wayamb May 4 at 1:09
  • I believe that saddle tilted down is not really common for non-professional cyclists. Also, the OP seems to be sitting quite far forward on the saddle, and her arms are pretty close to locked out. This is consistent with the reach being too long (I.e. bike is horizontally too long). – Weiwen Ng May 4 at 2:08
  • my seat is adjusted as far forward as it can go, which is still strange to my why there is so much seat still visible in the back. – 15wayamb May 4 at 2:45
  • @15wayamb See updates to answer above – Argenti Apparatus May 4 at 11:13
  • @argenti Apparatus Thanks for the video, after following there steps I found my seat was indeed too high and I am really considering getting a small stem because as I bring my hands closer to my body I can feel the pressure coming off slightly. On my ride today simply lowering my seat helped decrease the numbness a fair amount – 15wayamb May 6 at 1:36
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I am not convinced that the frame is too large. To me it looks like your saddle is too high, and trying to reach the pedals and handlebars from that position makes things awkward. Usually the saddle is set just so low that you don't fully extend your knees at the lowest position and don't extend your ankles at all. One rule of thumb is that you should be able to pedal with your heels without tilting your hips.

When the saddle is in good position, you should be able to sit back in the saddle, and that allows you to lean forward without having all the weight on your arms. I see that your back is very straight. Many people find that arching the back a bit gives a more comfortable position.

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    I concur. A bit of “ankling” is okay. But in OP’s case it looks like it’s clearly too much and also forces her to sit on the tip of the saddle to be able to reach down. – Michael May 4 at 5:45
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I would say your saddle looks a bit too high, but that frame overall looks like a good fit. A smaller frame may have a shorter head-tube, lowering the bars even more! I also agree with the other answers that the length of the bike may be the problem.

I think a slightly shorter stem, somewhere around 50mm would help, without changing the handling too much - Yours looks around 80mm-90mm. These measurements are taken from the center of the steerer tube, to the center of the bar.

You can also get an inline seatpost, like the image below which will bring the saddle forward a bit more, and give you more precise angle adjustment using the two bolts.

Both those changes shouldn't be very expensive, and will get you a bit more upright and onto the saddle.

Saddles come in many shapes and sizes, and the improvement you got upgrading there might signify there is more to be gained there. ISM saddles are meant to be excellent for relieving pressure in those sensitive areas, and bring the ride forward a bit. I believe they also have a demo scheme in the US - https://ismseat.com/demo-saddles/

An inline seatpost

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    Upvoted but disagree on the seatpost, Saddle height and fore-aft position should be set to get the pelvis in the right position relative to the feet NOT to adjust reach to the bars – Argenti Apparatus May 4 at 10:27
  • Welcome to SE! I also upvoted, but I have to issue a word of caution: a 50mm stem is very short for a road bike. All else held equal, a shorter stem will quicken the steering response somewhat. I believe smaller road bikes are probably designed around 80-100mm stems. 50mm is modern mountain bike territory, and they will tend to offset the short stem with very high trail. Also, depending on one's region, this type of seatpost may be called a zero setback or straight post. I suspect inline might be a UK-ism. – Weiwen Ng May 4 at 19:19
  • Good thing about this suggestion is that its easy and free to test. – Criggie May 4 at 20:09
  • @WeiwenNg I agree about the stem length, but its cheaper to try a cheap one out and if you don't get on with it chuck it in the parts bin than get a new bike/frame! If it shows an improvement in comfort but ruins the handling than at least you know where to look if you go down the new frame route. – thl33ter May 5 at 11:13
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There's a lot of saddle visible behind you - which indicates you're in an "attack" or forward position on the bike. To me it looks like you're going up a hill.

For me, my saddle is much more "under" me - I've just tested and replicating that amount of saddle ledge out the back is extremely uncomfortable. The trailing edge of my saddle is almost still in contact with me.

As a first temporary test, try holding the tops of the handlebars (ie the sideways bits) not the hoods. Slide yourself backward a little and see how that feels. IF it helps, you might get away with a shorter stem - the saddle looks like its as far forward as possible already.

A second test may require a helper to hold your bars/front wheel. Sit back on the saddle until its comfortable, and then approximate where your hands would be comfortable. Then measure what stem length and height you need to get that position.

Great work with the photos too BTW - that helps a lot.

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    Yes, the saddle is as far forward as it will go, which also makes me think again that the frame is too big (long). I will try out your tests, thank you! – 15wayamb May 4 at 2:39
  • I think she’s that far forward because her saddle is too high and that’s the only way she can reach downwards. – Michael May 4 at 5:46
  • @15wayamb FYI its possible to get shorter stems as you know, but its also possible to get shorter bars. Most people think of the different widths, but you can get different profiles too, some have shorter "side-flats" which may suit you. – Criggie May 4 at 9:07
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    I think that we generally want the widest part of the saddle right under the pelvic bones, most of the time. You're right that road racers often shift forward on their saddles when riding hard (older colloquial expression is "riding on the rivet"). So, I agree that while the photos aren't perfect, the OP looks like they're positioned too far forward. Given that the OP has moved the saddle forward on the rails and is sitting forward, this is consistent with the whole bike being too big. – Weiwen Ng May 4 at 19:20
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    Thanks for your input. I lowered my seat and that helped a bit during my ride today. I also took some time sitting farther back in the saddle, which relieved some more pressure but I felt as though I was reaching for the handles more than I should. Taking what many have been saying, maybe this means I should look into getting a shorter stem or if I must a smaller frame – 15wayamb May 6 at 1:42
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Besides the already sensible suggestions regarding fit and frame size, consider experimenting with saddles. A more expensive saddle is not necessarily a more comfortable one for you. It seems no one saddle is right for everyone.

This is annoying as you have to try out several before you find one which works for you. You can spend a three figure sum on something that still hurts you.

I've found that the cheapest way to do this is to pick up some popular saddles second-hand from eBay or similar sites. It doesn't matter if they're cosmetically marked or have slightly rusty rails. Try them out for a good few rides. When you find one that works for you, consider buying a "new" one and selling the rest back on eBay.

Also, note that a small tweak in angle can make a big difference, but start off with each saddle pretty much horizontal, perhaps a slight rise at the rear.

More advice from this saddle-specific question.

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I am 5 feet 8½ and I ride small frames. And even then the initial setup on my road bike was too long at first, I had to bring the shifters more upwards. But of course, what is small for some manufacturers may be medium for others, hard to say. Be sure to lower your seat enough so that you are not rocking to reach the pedals at all. Shorter reach handlebars and a shorter stem are worth trying and so is a seatpost without setback.

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I'm surprised no one has raised the question of saddle width and shape yet. Did you get a saddle designed for women? A woman's saddle will have a wider rear to support the pelvic bones and also a shorter nose. Additionally -- for both genders -- it helps for the middle of the saddle (viewed from the rear) not to be very convex, as that puts more pressure on the parts between the pelvic bones. Some manufacturers have cut out the middle of the saddle to reduce pressure, and others (Avocet, in the "good old days") add little humps on the back of the saddle so that the middle is more indented.

Definitely the numbness you talk about seems to be related to too much pressure in the middle, and chamois cream isn't going to help that. I'm a 60-year-old male, and I had difficulties with that, too, when my saddle was too narrow and/or I was leaning too far forward. Also, ironically, a saddle that has too much padding produces the same effect as one that is too narrow, and I believe that the extra padding ends up putting pressure on those nerves down there. These days, I ride a firm, somewhat wider saddle, and it helps a lot.

If you'll post a picture of the saddle, viewed from the rear, I'll be happy to offer an opinion.

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