We’ve all been there. A few minutes into riding your bike, and you feel a pain emanating from your groin area. A pain that is, for all practical purposes, mind-numbing and getting worse by the minute. Why are bike seats so hard and uncomfortable?—and why, for the love of all that’s good, do bike manufacturers make them so hard and uncomfortable?
You’d think a saddle that’s less firm and rigid is what manufacturers would be gunning for as they assemble their bikes, but no! There’s must be a reason for all this, right?
Well, you betcha! There is indeed a reason for all that, and it’s one that more experienced bikers already know.
For one, the seats of mountain bikes need to be hard. Those bones in your… uh, area (the ischial tuberosity), which are known as the “sit bones” need a fairly firm saddle, especially on a mountain bike, because it is these bones that carry your whole weight. A soft saddle will assure you’ll be feeling every bump. And, trust us, that won’t be good for your back.
For another, mountain bikers are typically leaning forward as they bike (because this is how the bike was designed to be used), putting the rider’s perineum in contact with the saddle for extended periods. If the saddle was soft and squishy, the perineum area will sweat easily and profusely, leading to a whole lot of discomfort. Trust us, you don’t want to feel wet in that area for the duration of a long trail.
The third—and we would say most important—reason is that a hard and “uncomfortable” seat does better than a soft and squishy one to prevent the compression of your nerves during long, tough rides. A soft saddle will make your buttocks, and by extension, your legs feel numb in no time.
But, don’t fret, since, with enough practice, you can learn how to sit on a hard bike seat and mitigate the discomfort. In fact, here are a few tips:
1. Try not to put all your weight atop your sit bones. Try to distribute your weight by putting some of it on the pedals, as though your feet are digging into them as you pedal. This will also make you a faster and more powerful pedaler. This simple tip doesn’t simply mitigate discomfort, it will also make you a better biker.
2. Bend your knees to maintain a half-standing position as you pedal. Essentially, you’ll be turning your legs into shock absorbers by doing this, allowing you to mitigate the pressure to your crotch area as you go over rough and bumpy terrain.
3. Lean forward and push your hips back. You want your torso to be almost parallel to the ground. This will allow your gluteal muscles to move around and help you pedal, which will increase blood circulation to that area and decrease the pressure from the saddle.
4. Lower your shoulders closer to the handlebars. This will give you a better arm range, which will be helpful for cornering or jumping. This will also distribute some of the weight to your upper body, relieving pressure and pain from your sit bones.
5. If you’re not used to the ins-and-outs of biking or are new to mountain biking in general, then you can always have your seat checked at a bike shop to determine whether it is the right size. Sometimes the solution to the discomfort one feels is just a matter of getting the right-sized seat. Ask someone at the bike shop to take your measurements and recommend a properly-sized saddle.
6. Check, or have someone check, the angle of your seat. The right angle can make a huge difference in relieving discomfort. Remember that everyone is different, so you have to find out which angle works best for you—which angle you are most comfortable with. You can try adjusting the angle of the seat and riding the bike to test whether it is at its most comfortable.
7. You can also always find a bike seat with better material. There are a lot available on the market. Indeed, the only difficult part will be choosing the right one from the wide selection that is available on the market. Just remember that you don’t want the saddle to be too soft for the reasons we mentioned above, or too small for your size. Find one that’s less hard and uncomfortable if you must, but make sure you get a ton of advice before making the purchase, especially if you’re purchasing a particularly expensive saddle. Those people who assist customers at bike shops—you’ll be surprised to know how knowledgeable they are about these things, so don’t hesitate to drop them a few questions before making a purchase.
8. Last but not least, if your experience with your bike is one of overwhelming discomfort, then consider for a moment whether you’ve purchased the wrong-sized bike. Indeed, a wrong-sized bike that is maybe too tall, or that has handlebars that are too low, will make your ride extremely uncomfortable. You might be too short or too tall for your mountain bike and will need to replace it for something more adequately-sized. The best thing to do would be to go to your bike shop and get advice on what the best size is for you.