How Cycling is Different for Women, Part One

As a long (looong) time veteran of road cycling, I remember the days when nobody thought much about how different cycling is for a woman. As a woman back then, I suffered through excruciating pain because there was no other woman I knew of that had solutions to the kind of pains I was going through. In this section, I’d like to address some of those issues, frankly and openly, (occasionally using explicit terms). It is my hope that this blog might give some relief to other women, and to help men understand why Women’s gear and information is so important.

 YOUR CROTCH IS A MAIN CONTACT POINT!!!!

 Here are a few excerpts from an article called  “Cycling and Your Health” by Ben Benjiman (PhD in Sports Medicine). I think it makes very clear, the difference between Men’s and Women’s anatomy as it pertains to this vital contact point in cycling:

“… Why can cycling cause damage to the genital area? When you sit on a firm surface, like a chair, your ischial tuberosities (located at the bottom of your pelvis) bear most of your weight. This part of your body is uniquely designed for sitting and supporting your weight. There are no organs attached to your sit bones, and they are padded by muscle and fat. There is plenty of blood flow through this area, so you can sit comfortably for long periods of time.
Now, think about the size and shape of a bike seat. Most of them are not wide enough to support us directly under our sit bones, especially for women, whose pelvic girdles are wider than men’s. As a result, most bike seats make us sit on our perineums, resting on the ischiopubis rami (the connector bones of the anterior pelvis) and the internal part of the genitals. This area of the body was not designed to be weight-bearing….”

“… in women, the clitoris attaches far back in the pelvis, and the Alcock canal supplies blood and sensation to the genital and urinary tract regions. Sitting on a bicycle seat compresses this sensitive area, cutting off both blood supply and nerve sensation to the genitalia. The normal, narrow, unpadded bicycle seats significantly reduce blood flow through the Alcock canal, and even padded seats are still restrictive…”

 “…In terms of women’s health risks, research at Boston University documents urinary tract problems and sexual dysfunction in women cyclists as well, including both road bikers and racers…”

So basically, women with bad bike seat/ chamois combinations end up leaning directly on their clitoris for extended periods of time, thus causing pain and sexual dysfunction. This also compresses the urethra, thus causes pain and urinary tract problems. If you want to truly understand how much pain this can cause, think about this: the clitoris has about eight thousand pressure sensitive nerve endings (more than twice as many as the entire penis). Leaning on this area is excruciating for good reason, yes?

Yet for years, saddles were shaped for men only, which for women meant leaning on the most sensitive part of the human body. Fortunately, times have changed, and saddles for women have been invented. For me, the single most innovative change in saddles for women has been the cut-out in the middle of the seat. This takes the pressure off the most sensitive area, relieving pain. Since I’ve found a seat that fits me correctly, the majority of my weight on the saddle is directly under my sit bones (ischial tuberosities), and the rest is dispersed evenly on the front of the saddle (sans sensitive area). For me, the Terry Damselfly works beautifully. (One thing that I like about Terry is their 30 day money back guarantee – ride it for 30 days, if you don’t love it, they’ll give you a full refund. They have different shapes for different sizes, and a very good men’s line too,from what I hear.)
The other piece of the equation is matching the chamois with your saddle. This is TRULY where it becomes individual. You just have to experiment, and be willing to ask other women what works for them. Ironically, a chamois that has worked very well for use on the Damselfly has been Bergamo (now Capo Forma) MEN’S Peloton short with “MLD4 Elastic I.T. insert” chamois. The padding is a mirror image of the damselfly, and there’s no extra padding to rub against my thighs, and cause abrasions and/or saddle sores. But this is only what works for me, and everyone is different.
Other Chamois I like:
-Etxe Ondo’s New pad for 2007-2008 available in all but their spin shorts
-SheBeest Shelastic pad, in both the Pedal Pushers, and the SSS shorts

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12 Responses to “How Cycling is Different for Women, Part One”

  1. A.H. Says:

    I returned to road biking this year after many years of mountain biking and I have been suffering a slew of issues including a very painful bartholin’s cyst and urithritis. I underwent surgery and several uncomfortable procedures and I am now starting to suffer urinary problems again. I never had a single problem in all the years I was mountain biking. Are there any fit issue that are more related to road riding that I may not be aware of? (I am planning to get a bike fitting with a physical therapist in town who specializes in biking issues)

    Any further insight would be greatly appreciated.
    A.

  2. Carole Says:

    Its summer and I’m getting red and chafed inside my genital area – is it the cotton panties I was wearing one time, or just sweat? I tried shorts with a liner today but its not much better.

    I have a Terry seat, I love it. I feel chamois is the way to go, but for now I cant stand the redness and the days of soreness, not to mention the stinky A&D ointment, which seems silly. Any other suggestions? Thanks!!

    • girl meets bike Says:

      Cotton is the worst thing you can wear while riding, because it holds moisture, and causes chaffing. Try some regular lycra shorts, without an overshort. Several companies now make chamois with a split, which I find to be quite comfortable. Skirt Sports is the latest company I’ve seen that incorporates this chamois. And my advice? NO A & D! It’s too thick (and smelly), and it does not work well for women. Get a chamois cream like Assos, or Beljum Budder. You’ll be glad you did.

  3. Carole Says:

    Please tell me where you can find chamois with a split?

    I am so glad to see this topic covered.

    I’ve lost so many days due to chafing and subsequent infections, till I discovered “Chamois Butt’r” Its still a juggling act tho, I seem to be allergic to my own sweat and have to peel off the shorts immediately afterwards.

    I have a Terry seat too, and tried angling it down, hat helps a bit as well, but I wish I had a seat that didnt have the nose.

  4. Carole Says:

    Thanks for the recommendations!

  5. Carole Says:

    My gyn tells me I should wear cotton as it breathes. Shes no biker tho. My bike shorts feel like I’m cooking in them; there’s little circulation. Maybe nothings perfect.

  6. professional cycling Says:

    professional cycling…

    […]How Cycling is Different for Women, Part One « Girl meets Bike, Girl on bike[…]…

  7. Helpwithpain Says:

    I have cycled for years and have a terry seat but this year I purchased a new bike and have been riding with out swtiching the terry seat over. Now I have a terrible situation going on, I have swelling in the female area not the sits bones but the very front, I have been batteling this for over a week now and do not know what to do as it is not a rash it is just swollen and hurts all the time? Please advise on what to do to get the pain and swelling to go away.

    • girl meets bike Says:

      It sounds like the tip of your saddle might need to be adjusted 1 to 2 degree down. I (very) slight tilting downwards of the tip can make a huge difference, and can feel like the front of the saddle falls away. But first, stay off of the bike for a week to heal.

  8. Mark Says:

    Excellent, what a blog it is! This webpage gives valuable facts to us, keep it up.

  9. Bike shorts, bike seats, and sensitive girl bits | Fit, Feminist, and (almost) Fifty Says:

    […] How cycling is different for women […]

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