March 10, 2009

In the end, comfort rules

Alien life form or bicycle seat? You decide.

If you've ever tried riding a bike as an adult, after years of neglect or as a newbie, you'll quickly notice a fundamental problem in your fundament. In other words, bicycle seats can cause a lot of problems in the end.

Yes, I will stop with the end jokes. Eventually. Well, probably.

As one writer put it, "A seat is a bit like a pair of shoes. The same way you’d buy a certain sneaker for a particular foot and sport, you must purchase a saddle that fits your body and your style of riding."

You can get used to a seat after awhile, but if after a few weeks the agony hasn't abated, it's time to shop.

Some steps to take when you've got Numb Bum (or one you really wish was numb) are:

1 - If you've just bought a new bike, take it back and see if they'll swap the seat for one that fits better.
2 - If you've inherited a bike, first of all make sure it's the right size for you.
3 - If the bike fits apart from the seat, try out new seats. Buy them if you have to. It'll pay in the end. (Told you I wasn't done yet.)
4 - Before trying a new seat, ask yourself one question: am I a man or a woman? (If you have difficulty with this question, then you need to be reading a vastly more serious and responsible self-help blog, and quickly. For transgender situations, go with whether you have an XX or XY chromosomal pair.)

Bad things can happen if the seat doesn't fit right. One researcher claims, "bicycles should come with a warning label, similar to those on cigarette packs, that cycling may cause impotence."

On the positive side, there are lots of different types of seats out there. You can probably find one that will suit your seat. Plus, you won't have to worry about warning labels. (Unless you smoke, but that's the subject for another post.)

Doughnut seat
Well, that's my name for it. This is a type of seat that tries to take the pressure off the tender areas by cutting a hole in the middle of the seat.

My opinion is that this kind of seat is better than a filled-in seat, but if the sitz bones don't align with the seat, you're still going to get painful pressure. Men who lean forward while riding on a seat like this are still going to become numb, just not in the bum.

Jello seat

Again, not what the people who want to sell you one call it. These seats are filled with gel stuff makes the seat softer. You can still get pressure on the tender spots though, if the sitz bones aren't lined up with the sitting part of the seat. The one pictured above does have a cut-out middle section, so I suppose you could call this a jelly doughnut.

Other gel seats just slap gel on top of the original seat. Not sure if I would recommend these. (Though of course some people love them. this is just my take on it.)

Nose-less seat
These seats Just Look Odd to me. Not to disparage them, but I've been conditioned to expect bicycle seats to have a nose.

Supposedly, these seats make it a little more difficult to steer the bicycle. I should imagine that's a matter of becoming accustomed to a slightly different way of riding. So long as the seat is aligned with the sitz bones, there's no worry at all about sensitive areas going numb.

My bike seat has no nose!
Really? Then how does it ... okay, so it sounded funnier when Monty Python did it.

A variation on the noseless seat

The illustrious Dr. Mirkin seems rather taken with The Seat. (Yeah, they put a lot of thought into that name). It's a cross between a pointless seat and a gel seat -- it may not have a nose, but it does have plenty of stuff to cushion the ride.

Some bicycle seats look really, really odd to me -- like the Manta. It might well be comfortable, but it looks like it belongs in a modern art museum.

Other seats are realllllllly stretched out.

Traditionally, bike seats have been modeled after racing bike seats, i.e. long and narrow. Some people believe that a wider seat is more comfortable. The Real seat is extra wide. I thought that this was for people with extra-wide seats of their own, but it has a weight limit of 275.

To me, it doesn't make a difference how wide the seat is -- what matters is how well supported your own personal sitz bones are on a seat.

Another seat -- the bummer* -- you can make on your own. (See? I'm not the only one with a bottom-less fund of bad wordplay)

I'm not sure whom you would sue when it falls on while you're riding it. (At least, it would fall off if I tried to make one.)

If you want to read more information about different types of seats to try, you might want to check out these links below:

Reviews about Bike seats and saddles

The irrefutable Sheldon Brown's take on a comfortable bicycle saddle.'s article To banana or not: bicycle seat issues.

Bicycle seats explained (If you're interested in different types of seats, this link has a chart that goes into way more detail about the infinite variety of seats.)

I devoted a whole post to this subject because, frankly, this is a tender issue to me, as the result of tender tissue that really complains if the seat ain't sweet. And bike riding is tremendous fun and a great way to get around while keeping fit, so I want to keep doing it as much as I can. Yes, I'm biased.

Has anyone else experimented with different kind of bicycle seats? Do you have any hard-won words of wisdom to share? Or is this a ... sore subject?

Okay, now I'm done. Enough with the pun. For today.

Alien bike seat courtesy of Kris Cohen.


  1. HA! I never replaced my bike did however cause a ton of numb bum after approx the 20th mile of a 100 mile which point, you just don't want to move so as to prevent any feeling coming back to your particularly vulnerable boo-tay :) I love riding!

    Hilarious Merry!


  2. I love the jokes. The alien seat looks the best to me. I am new to bike riding in races. I am doing my first triathlon in May and I have no idea what kind of bike I will rent, since I don't have one. I usually just go to the gym and do the spin classes.

  3. How do men ride bikes without

  4. Who knew there were so many variations on bike seats! Do they make them heated to massage? Now, that's what I'm waiting for . . .

  5. I replaced the default seat that came with my bike with one just like the "alien" one in the top picture which I found at Kmart. It's much more comfortable!

  6. When I bought my bike, the dealer spent a good deal of time talking to me about my "riding style" and helping me select an appropriate seat (which btw turned out to be one of those "jelly doughnuts" with the molded divot in it.) I would suggest that anyone buying a bike go to a good bike store and spend time actually talking to the sales people there. They're usually avid riders themselves and can help you pick out a good seat. Also, a good bike place will switch out the seat without giving you grief!

    I just want to know, how does the purple one *work*?!


  7. Whoa...

    I'm trying to convince my friend to buy that weird purple one when it comes to the US. I must see it in action!

  8. Thanks for getting to the bottom of that issue.

    (couldn't help myself)

  9. My dad has used the "noseless" variety for years after - I kid you not - having to have surgery on his urethra due to too much time on a traditional bike seat. Anyhow, he swears by those. Us kids call it his lift-n-separate seat.

  10. I love my bike! Even the Wright brothers were bikers before they were fliers!

  11. I'm looking forward to trying several of these sometime in the future when I add a real bike to the exercise bike. Since I will be riding it on gravel and otherwise rough surfaces, I can't wait.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  12. And to think that in all my years of riding it has never crossed my pea-sized brain to even think of changing my seat! Or, for that matter to investigate options.... sometimes ignorance about all the options out there is bliss.

  13. I have an AWESOME old school bike with leather seat and handlebars. Cost me a decent amount but it's the best bike ever and so comfy. My bum needs some cushion to sit on :D

    Also the alien bike seat freaks me out. Who'd have thought the aliens would come to get us in the form of a bicycle?

  14. Sagan, I was curious about the leather seats. Apparently, once they're broken in, the leather seats are really comfy. Except that you can't let them get wet, so you need to keep the seat covered whenever you're riding in the rain?

  15. The seat can definatley make or break your bumm! I had no idea there were that many different variations. Thanks for the amuzing, eye opening report! I don't have one yet, but I'm all for the bench looking one. Just need to get my bumm in gear :)

  16. I took my new bike back into the shop, spent more money on a cheek holder/separator seat, (got a credit for the existing seat) had my bike fit to my body on one of those thingies and I am fine now with the bike. I love to ride it. But I'd like warmer weather.

  17. I'm with Meg: How does the modern art one work???? It looks like somebody ornamented the bike with a purple venetian blind. How could you ride that?

  18. I definitely have cut bike rides short due to discomfort. I think I lean forward a lot when I ride, so I don't really get a numb butt-- I'm pretty sure what I get is much, much worse. But hey, it's not a competition, and I'd LOVE a seat that could prevent both.

  19. Don't get hung up on the gender assigned to the saddles. I am female and I ride a lot. After four tries, I ended up on a men's saddle, the only one that'll get me through my 6000+ miles each year. The narrower nose minimizes chafing for me. It's not one of those hard, racer-types. It has plenty of foam & gel for my 57-year-old, umm, body parts. I am only 5' tall, so it wasn't about my size. I work with a very experienced coach and even he couldn't get it right on the first try. Keep looking - it's out there. There's a ton of variety available, and there's nothing better than getting out on a comfortable bike. Oh, and I bought 4 once I found the right one. Those designs do keep changing.

  20. I really want to dust off my bike and get on it again this year...a new seat just may help, especially if it is kind to the buns!

  21. For the spinners out there: what do you find works best for cushioning the spinning machines at the gym? Darn, those seats are hard on the hoo-hoo!

  22. The emphasis on men's vs. women's seats is due to the fact that women have a wider pelvis, with correspondingly wider sitz bones. Men have -- in general -- much narrower pelvis regions. Thus a seat that fits a man comfortably, with the weight bearing down on the sitz bones, can be hell uncomfortable for a woman, since in her case the whole weight of her body is bearing down upon a highly sensitive area of her anatomy.
    Yes, some women have narrower pelvis regions than other women, but it's an important consideration when choosing a seat.

  23. p.s. That's a smart idea to buy 4 seats once you find one that really works for you!

    p.p.s. If anyone's curious about the Manta seat (the abstract art one), the link takes you to a website that includes a demo of how the seat works. It's new on the market, so there's not a lot of feedback on how it works.

  24. dragonmamma/naomiMarch 10, 2009 at 4:27 PM

    I was at Sports Authority last week when I saw this bike seat:

    Not being the most mature person in the world, I started giggling and whispering to my husband that we had accidentally wandered into the marital aids department. Seriously, what the heck is the function of that hole in the middle?

  25. I haven't ridden a bike since about the age of 16............quite sad actually! I do remember having a sore booty!

    I would love to get the whole family bikes in the future and bike the country roads around here ;)

  26. I love riding and since I use my own bike and do spinning classes, I have found that padded butt pants are your friend. They even come with other shorts built over so you can wear them but not look like you are wearing them.

  27. Padded shorts are the only solution for me. I did change my seat to a 'ladies' one like the donut and I was still in pain until I got the shorts. And I just love asking "does my butt look big in these?"

  28. When I bought my new bike I splurged on the bigger padded one with springy goodness. Worth every penny. I bike everywhere in the summer and although it takes about a week to get used to it every spring, I realised a chronically sore butt was not part of biking. It just meant my old bike had a craptastic seat. And my new bike has a more upright seating to it so I'm more comfy. It's my dream bike. I luvs it :)
    It's true about bad bike seats being bad for A friend of mine rode his bike everywhere all the time as a lad and now has the worst hemmorhoids of anyone I've ever met. I don't think it's a coincidence...

  29. Buy a recumbent bike. It's like sitting in a easy chair while you pedal. Or buy a tricycle - no - not a sized up kid's trike, but a real cool tricycle - .

  30. I have just had my gender reassignment surgery and will be able to return to riding in about three months.

    You recommend that we should determine our "saddle" gender by whether we have XX or XY chromosomes. (I have the latter.) In one way, that makes sense, as the width of our sit bones doesn't change after surgery.

    However, I wonder about whether the fact that I'll have more soft tissue closer to my sit bones would also be a relevant factor.

    Maybe I'm thinking too far ahead, but I'm wondering whether I'll need to replace my saddles once I start riding again.

    If you'd like, please contact me at Thanks!

  31. Hey Anon,

    The soft tissue that you will have is not designed to support the weight of your body, while the Sitz bones are. The XY version of a saddle should suit you better.

    And one great thing about being a woman cyclist -- it's about the only sport where the long lines are outside the Men's restroom rather than the Ladies :)

  32. Merry:

    Thanks for the advice!

    I'd been living as a woman for six years before the surgery and had been riding with two female friends. "Riding like a girl" is sooo great. And you're right about the lines.

    Thanks again.

  33. never-I repeat- NEVER leave a gel seat near sunlight for extended periods.The light causes them to break down and they can give the nastiest chemical burns-and then there comes the part when you have to explain to your physician where the problem is....

  34. I can see it must have been a hoot finding that out.

    Thanks for the warning!


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