When Saddle Sores Aren’t Caused by Your Saddle
Updated: May 2
It’s an automatic thought – “If I’m getting saddle sores it must be my saddle”. But so often this is simply not true. Ask the thousands of riders who have tried 5, 10 or even 15 different saddles and NONE of them are comfortable. So what’s going on?
In more than half the cases of perineal symptoms I see the cause is actually the rider, not the saddle or the bike. The perineum is the saddle region between your legs, and symptoms here might include any of the following such as saddle sores, numbness, pain, erectile dysfunction, genital pain and sexual discomfort.
So how does a rider cause their own perineal symptoms? Before we cover that let’s consider all of the factors that go into being comfortable on the saddle. These include an appropriate bike fit, and an ergonomic saddle (more on these topics can be found on our blogs HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE). Let’s say that the bike fit is good, and the saddle choice is appropriate. The other simple things to check are that you are wearing quality knicks with good quality lycra and chamois, and using chamois cream (poor knicks with a thin chamois never work so spend a little more on yourself in order to have a chance of being comfortable). Running an appropriate tire pressure and even the shock absorbing characteristics of your frame can influence saddle comfort, particularly on longer rides.
If you have sorted the above, that still leaves one really important factor in the equation for saddle comfort – the rider. Think of it like this:
Saddle Comfort = Good Bike Fit + Ergonomic Saddle + Musculoskeletal Abilities of Rider
If the rider is rocking and twisting on the saddle, for example due to poor flexibility, a hip or knee condition, poor core stability, poor pedalling technique or poor coordination of muscle recruitment (or a combination of these factors), then their pelvis is going to create a lot of friction and pressure on ANY saddle.
The solution, at least in concept, is simple: the rider needs to work on their body to pedal smoothly, with good technique, good stability and create the “souplesse” in pedalling motion that experienced riders demonstrate.
What is souplesse?
It’s an evocative French word used to describe skilled cyclists who can spin the pedals at high cadence seemingly at ease for hours on end. Untrained or beginner cyclists tend to mash the pedals at low cadence without really being able to pull through the bottom of the pedal stroke. This is a skill that can be learnt and requires a high degree of muscular coordination. It leads to an efficient pedalling technique with a rider that is stable on their saddle – hence no friction / rubbing.
So if you have a great bike fit & saddle, but are all over the saddle in terms of stability, then the real question is whether or not you’re prepared to sort out your musculoskeletal abilities to solve the problem.
These issues do take time to overcome, particularly when you consider very few sports demand the extreme ENDURANCE capability of the torso musculature required of road cyclists to deliver core stability for hours on end.
As I like to say "there is no 4 hour abdominal test" but there are ways to diagnose the underlying problems and ways to develop the stability.
At Cycle Physio I have over 25 years of expertise in helping riders and athletes overcome these musculoskeletal challenges, if you are prepared to work on them!