This was an email I received about one month ago. I think it shows two things: 1-How painfully serious the subject of saddles and chamois can be, and, 2-how determined women are to overcome these obstacles and stay on their bikes.
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 urethritis. 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 issues 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.
Thank you A., for being concise, and letting other women know that they are not suffering alone; these problems are more common than you think. Girls, if you are having symptoms like these, please seek help from a doctor, hopefully one who understands repetitive female genital sports injuries. Working with a bike fitter who specializes in women can also help prevent reccurance of these issues.
The problems that you are suffering can be from a number of different contributers, probably a bit of each:
1. Your position on the bike
2. Type of saddle
3. Type of chamios (or lack of)
The short answer is, yes, women who ride road suffer more from saddle issues because of the very different position on a road bike. You are probably leaning much more on your clitoris/urethra causing compression and friction. These two factors will cause pain and irritation and can eventually lead to UTIs, saddle sores, Urethral Symdrome (Here’s a link, if you are not sure of the symptoms of Urethral Syndrome), and (as you know) a slew of other issues. The solution then, is getting the pressure off of the clitoris and urethra.
1. Your position on the bike
It is important to understand the difference between mtb and road position. When you’re on a road bike, your position and weight distribution is very different than a on mountain bike. Much more weight is put on the front end, because this creates stability on the road. Typically, 55% of your weight is on the rear end, 45% is on the front end. This is in comparison to 70%/30% split for MTB. That means that your weight is tilted further forward on the saddle, so unless you have a saddle and chamois that keep the majority of your rear weight on the sit bones, you’re likely to suffer from compression.
I hope it is obvious that exactly where your saddle is positioned on your bike means EVERYTHING. So, when you set up your saddle, try the first “neutral position” for women, which is 0-5mm forward from neutral, and the saddle nearly level, with the nose pointed down “one click” (typically 1-3 degrees).
2. Type of Saddle
The saddle that you used on your mountain bike may have worked beautifully on your more upright position. But on your road bike, you need to lean down more (to get into the drops for example) on the front end. The single biggest advancement for these women’s issues has got to be the split saddle. If position properly, it will let the girly bits have a space to to breathe, preventing compression, heat build up, and excess moisture (remember that we are talking about a part of the body that is lubricious). Since switching to a properly fitted split saddle, gone are the UTIs suffered through twenty years ago. It is however, extremely important to get a saddle that fits your sit bones; for a few years I had a split saddle that was way too wide for my sit bones and this caused me to inch up on the saddle, putting the cut out where it wasn’t doing any good. The wide nose also caused thigh rub, which led to saddle sores in the bikini line. So it is important to have your sit bones measured, and to try out the saddle (many saddle brands now have demo programs, through local bike shops), so that you make sure it fits you properly.
3. Type of Chamois
So humble, this piece of technical equipment, that people often take it for granted. But not wearing chamois, or the wrong type of chamois can cause irritation by improper placement of stitching, and build up of moisture again causing problems. So what’s the right chamois, for road riders? Of course it depends upon the individual, but the chamois that I’ve had the most success with has been a split chamois, or one that has the mirror image profile of the split saddle. This is why I like Etxe Ondo clothing so much. They use a split chamois made by an italian company called Dolomiti, and it is simply the best for me. It is, however, expensive (Etxe Ondo) and you may not ride long enough distances to merit the cost vs. benefits. But there are many chamois brands that have a split, and it is a matter of determining which chamois works best for you, and you’re riding circumstance. Other women have had much success with chamois that has air holes, which increases air circulation through the area and thus reduces moisture build up ( an example is Louis Garneau). This combined with a split saddle, may solve issues for many. Generally, the more time you spend in the saddle, the more you should invest in the quality of your chamois. For serious road riding (over an hour or two), I always recommend some type of chamois, preferably with some chamois cream.
By the way, so far, the results from the “saddle problems” survey for women are as follows:
Women, are you happy with your saddle/ chamois combination?
|Yes, I am happy. I hardly ever have soreness, even after a long ride.||30%|
|I have problems, because I’m leaning on my clitoris, causing swelling, irritation, and soreness||23%|
|I have problems, because I get UTIs or Urethral Syndrome||11%|
|I get saddle sores on my bikini line, even though I wear chamois, and lubrication||10%|
|My sitbones are constantly sore||10%|
|I have problems, because I experience chaffing, and or rubbing||8%|
|My thighs rub the sides of my saddle, causing sores and/or chaffing||4%|
|I have saddle problems (as a woman) not mentioned here||4%|
So 70% of the women surveyed have some kind of painful saddle/ chamois issues.
If you experience pain either in the clitoris or urethra, would you please answer one more question?
What kind of Saddle and Chamois combination do you ride?
|I ride a saddle and chamois WITHOUT a split down the middle||50%|
|I ride a split saddle, but chamois has no split down the middle||33%|
|I ride my bike WITHOUT chamois||13%|
|I ride a saddle without a split down the middle, but chamois WITH a split||2%|
|BOTH saddle and chamois have a split down the middle||2%|
So half of the women surveyed who have problems, ride a saddle/chamois combination with no split down the middle.
83% of the women who have problems do not ride a split saddle.
94% of those who have problems, do not have split chamois.
(Results are still early, but the trend suggests that the advice above is is pretty solid).
And for those whose sit bones are sore, you are in the right bike position, but (my guess is) something in your set up is too soft for you, like maybe gel in the saddle or chamois. Try something with less give in it, more density (NOT thicker), either in the saddle, or the chamois.