(I think the following entry might be best read in the voice of Bill Cosby, but that’s just a suggestion.)
People always ask about my butt. I suppose it makes sense, because folks who don’t cycle much usually decide to go do a long ride and then find they are sore afterwards. That’s natural, if you’re not on a bike seat regularly, and usually it just takes a few rides to get your keister used to riding again. But if you are riding long distances, there are a few added things you need to make sure of to eliminate pains in the nether regions.
Your saddle. It seems logical to get a big padded seat, but actually that much padding can be as problematic as a too-soft mattress, with the added bonus of chaffing. As long as your seat fits you and it’s properly adjusted, your padding needs are pretty minimal.
When riding, your sitz bones (aka your ischial tuberosities—or the bony protrusions at the base of your pelvis) should make contact on the rear of the saddle.
But your butt isn’t taking all of your weight; your hands, your legs, and a bit of your pubic bone (as well as all the soft tissues in that triangle that makes your girl parts) should all take a share of your weight
If you find you’re sliding forward after peddling a bit, you likely need to have the front tilted up. If there’s a lot of pressure on your pubic symphysis (the place at the top of your vagina, just above your clitoris, where cartilage connects the bones of your pelvis) you’re gonna be in a world of hurt after a long ride.
A good bike shop should adjust the height and tilt of your saddle, but if you don’t know what to look for when riding it’s hard to tell them what to do. With a road bike like mine, I’m usually looking to have my weight slightly heavier to my sitz bones than pressure on my hoo-ha. Guys often have their saddles tilted a bit forward so there’s room for their junk, but with us gals, we’d just slide forward and put too much weight on our hands, trying to get our butts back onto the seat.
Saddles come in synthetic and natural materials, and some have slits or holes so as to help air out the bits in hot weather. Women’s saddles are generally a bit larger in the rear than men’s because our pelvises are usually wider, but everyone’s pelvis is different. It’s important to make sure your seat is wide enough that your sitz bones are not hanging off the edges.
I traded in my old saddle last fall and bought a Brooks leather saddle. It takes a bit more care and some time to break in, but it’s basically what you’d do to get a baseball glove to fit your hand perfectly. With a bit of leather balm and some time, what looks hard and punishing becomes soft as a…well, you get the drift.
Your form. One common mistake some riders make is locking (hyper extending) their elbows and putting pressure on their hands. This can cause hand and wrist pain, and also elbow pain; unlocking the elbows helps to engage muscles in the back, and muscle handles bumps in the road much better than bone against bone, or bone against bike. Good cyclists will tell you to lift your butt off the saddle, knees slightly bent, when riding over bumps.
Like with any form of exercise, cyclists are prone to overdeveloping certain areas (quads and calves) and underutilizing others, so cross training is key to helping you uniformly develop your bod so no area—like your butt—takes on too much pressure. I work to keep my inner thighs and hamstrings strong, and like to ride with pliable footwear that allows me to articulate my feet so all my leg muscles help to keep me moving. Oh yeah. And I work my gluts through Pilates exercises so they help propel me too.
The pants. Spandex. Embrace it. The 80’s never died. Nowadays, for longer rides you want to buy the pants because they will keep you cooler, help prevent chaffing where your inner thighs or sides of your ass slightly rub the seat as you peddle, plus they have that padded interior. That’s not just for your ass, you know. The vag is made of soft tissue and after fifty miles or so, that’s a lot of pressure to put on the labia. Things can get hot, and even a bit tingly—and not in a good way. Get the pants and thank me later. Plus, they make your ass look hot, and the newer ones don’t bind your thighs like sausage casings.
The butt crème. Runners get nipple chaffing, bikers get saddle sores. Let’s face it, the skin inside your thighs is pretty sensitive, and even if your butt is pretty well acclimated to most environments, a few hours on a bike without proper prep can result in a red asteroid belt of zits and welts that you and your partner would probably like to never see again. There are lots of good chamois crèmes on the market, and combining them with a pair of riding pants is excellent insurance.
The key to staying rash free is to generously coat both the areas on your skin where you tend to chafe as well as the seams inside your pants that get the most pressure from riding. This probably varies butt to butt, and I can unfortunately say I know from experience where my butt takes a beating.
I generally put a leg up on the bed and reach under myself to start spreading crème at my sitz bones, then moving up around the crease of the inner thigh. Note that I don’t put anything on Her Majesty. Once my skin is done, I rub fingerfuls into the seams of my pants that match those same spots I know tend to slightly rub the saddle edges when the legs pump. Don’t be stingy. You only have one butt, so take care of it. If you’ve slathered on crème properly, slipping your pants on will feel for a moment like you’ve got a slightly wet adult diaper, but later on, your butt will thank you.