Ride Long – Saddle comfort part 1 of 4
4 minute read
I promised a post on saddle comfort, and I try not to disappoint. Firstly a (made up) fact. Saddle discomfort is one of the biggest causes of freewheeling known to man, or woman, for that matter! I’m sure we have all been in the situation towards the end of a long ride when the legs are tired but ok, however the discomfort associated with pedalling means your brain finds any reason for freewheeling and providing temporary relief. This could include downhills, looming turns or junctions, bumps, through to suspicious looking squirrels lingering at the side of the road.
I’ve decided to split the post into four as my saddle comfort journey has been a long and uncomfortable one. It’s inextricably linked to gradually overcoming or managing various health conditions I have. I’ve included this detail becuase I want to reassure those of you who of ‘advancing age’ that a health condition does not necessarily mean you won’t be able to cycle anymore. It may be more difficult, and you may cycle a little slower, but you can still get outdoors and enjoy this great pastime. There are many examples of people who you may have heard of who have overcome serious health conditions, such as Amy Dowden, of Strictly, and Amy Mae Dolan who is one of the Principal Dancers in Riverdance. I’m sure you will have your own examples.
I returned to cycling in January 2018, having been a committed RCC member during the 1980’s and 90’s. I’d gone to the dark side of ultra distance running for several years, but I ultimately had to give up running completely as I have arthritis in my left ankle. Running was painful, however cycling was possible and I’d kept myself fit on a cycle machine at the Farnborough gym where I used to work. My first bike was a Boardman Hybrid bike bought off a guy who operates from around Birmingham and bought up end of year Boardman bikes, reselling them at below Halfords prices. I kid you not that my first ride was to the end of my cul-de-sac and back and I was quite pleased with myself. The reason was that I’d also had a stroke a couple of years before and I was concerned that my balance had been affected. Whether it had or hadn’t was a moot point, but because I held the handlebars in a full on death grip, the bike contributed nothing to the steering, and riding was very trying.
Following my first venture outside my front door I increased the distance road by road, junction by junction, until I was doing a little circuit of Tilehurst. Unsurprisingly I wasn’t getting saddle sore at this stage. Gradually I built up to longer rides and started to relax, allowing the bike to do the bulk of the steering with me doing the big stuff like turning at junctions. The saddle on the Hybrid was a copy of a Fizik Antares and perfectly good for shorter rides, but after a couple of hours I was starting to get some numbness. Welcome to the start of the journey towards saddle comfort. Think of it as a venture into a large maze. I ocassionally got close to the destination, but then would go off down a compete dead end.
I think I had now encourntered the first of three potential sources of saddle discomfort, namely numbness. The other sources being pressure, which if too localised can lead to bruising, and rubbing, which can lead to soreness. I will try to use terminology that is reasonably clear but not so euphemistic way that you dont have a clue what I’m on about.
Numbness I believe is caused by too much weight being taken by the centre of your sit bone area, causing pressure on nerves, which isn’t good. If a nerve is compressed for a long period it can sustain long term damage. Anyway its not good. Through 2018 I built up my distances and during the summer I was starting to do rides of an hour or longer. I was still riding my Hybrid bikes, and was starting to try ride faster on a smaller size Hybrid Pro, which I had purchased along with a medium sized Hybrid Pro, and a Team Carbon. These were all bought around April 2018 when I and the manager of the cycle dept at Halfords were getting to know each other well.
Sometime during the summer of 2018 I went back into Atrial Fibrilation, something that had affected me for a few years. I eventually managed to get an appointment with the NHS Heart Consutant , Dr Chow, who changed my medication, and I was back in normal (sinus) rhythmn, and ‘cooking on gas’. I’d used the period when I was in AF, and was taking beta blockers only, to try out my beloved Ron Cooper audax bike which had been restored by Rikki Pankhurst some years ago. My fears that I couldn’t ride a drop handlebar bike where unfounded and I started to ride my Team Carbon, and build up my distance again.
Rikki Pankhurst introduced me to Scherritt Knoesen, of Bike Whisperer fame, late in 2018, and I started by getting him to set me up on my Team Carbon which I rode during winter both with the Pankhurst Cycles saturday rides, and with a friend who is a Physiotherapist and now works out of Pankhurst Cycles. I was struggling to do rides of more than three hours. I just got quite anxious. I also had real difficulty taking a bottle out of the cage, drinking and putting it back. However even at the three hour mark I was starting to experience numbness between my sitbones. All the saddles on the bikes Scherritt had set up were essentially the same, and all were rounded on the top putting pressure on nerves and leading to numbness.
It was in spring 2019 that Scherritt introduced me to the SMP saddles which have a cutout running the full length of the saddle, and this virtually eliminates the potential for nerve compression. They are reassuringly expensive, so Scherritt offers to excange the saddle for another model if you don’t get on with it. We initially started with the Nymber model, which didn’t work for me, but the Glider was a revelation. The Gliders on my Team Carbon and Pro Carbon were far more comfortable and allowed me to extend my rides later in 2019 to well beyond the 3 hour mark.
So if you suffer from numbness down the centre of the saddle during longer rides think about getting a saddle with a cutout down the middle. Many saddles now have a depression along their length and this may well be sufficient to reduce or eliminate the problem for you.
In my next post (part 2 of 4)I will discuss pressure leading to bruising.
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