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CYCLING PERFORMANCE TIPS

  Last updated: 11/14/2014

Choosing and Adjusting Your Saddle


SADDLE ADJUSTMENT

Various"overuse syndromes" can be aggravated by a suboptimal bike fit - especially saddle height. This can include hip, knee and hand discomfort. Hand palsies can result from (and be treated) by a change in saddle tilt (to take pressure off your hands). I recently received an email from Sella Anatomica that nicely summarizes saddle adjustment. It addresses the key adjustments including: A plus is the explanation/demonstration in a video format.

A quick approach is mounting your bike on a trainer (or balance with one hand on the garage wall), then putting your heels on the pedals and pedalling backwards. If you have the correct height, your legs are completely extended at the bottom of the pedal stroke WITHOUT rocking your hips. When you pedal forward, you'll now have the optimal bend in your knees. For those that would like to read a bit further - and review other approaches to saddle adjustment, here is a link to a nice summary.

If the seat post clamp is not tight enough, the seat post can slip over time with the vibration of riding. So know your seat height. Either mark the seat post where it enters the downtube (and routinely check the mark) or memorize the measured height from the top of your saddle to the center of the bottom bracket (which you then check regularly with a tape measure). For marking, a wrap of black electrical tape works - especially if you have a carbon fiber seat post. Another option is a mark on the seatpost with a sharpie type marker - less durable but also less obtrusive. A warning - don't scratch or score a mark on the seat post itself as it can weaken it.

CHOOSING A SADDLE - comfort and sexual fears

Q. "I've heard that using an incorrect saddle can cause prostate problems for guys." JG

A. Women have similar concerns about "pressure" to that sensitive area, so the following is really a unisex answer. Most men don't develop prostate or sexual performance problems from riding. In fact, most authorities agree that cycling, as it improves the cardiovascular system, is less of a risk factor for impotence than a sedentary lifestyle. To minimize any problems you need to consider both your saddle choice and riding technique.

Choose a bike seat based on your anatomy. If you have a wide pelvis (are a bigger guy), you'll want a saddle with a wide rear sitting area. Lightweight riders can get away with narrower saddles. Your local bike shop may have a relatively new device which will measure sit-bone width. Specialized now offers saddles in three widths so that riders can be supported by their "sit bones" to reduce pressure on the perineum (the area between the legs). Finally, the shape of the saddle is probably just as important to comfort and minimizing pressure on the prostate area as the width.

If you are having trouble finding the right seat, you might be interested in an ebook available at RoadBikeRider.Com titled "Finding the Perfect Bicycle Seat - The most comprehensive book on ergonomic bicycle seats and what it all means for you."

From the trailer on the website - "In chapter 7, author Joshua Cohen gets to the heart of the matter, explaining in practical terms how to put seat selection theory into practice. In this passage, he describes a do-it-yourself way to make certain a saddle is wide enough for your sitting area.In order to avoid high levels of pressure on the soft perineal tissues, the width of the rear of a bicycle seat needs to be at least as wide as the center to center distance between the sit bones. This distance varies slightly from person to person and can be (relatively) easily measured with a straight ruler.To do so, lie on your back with your knees elevated. Place the end of the ruler in the approximate left outside edge of your left ischial tuberosity and mark the distance to the approximate right outside edge of the other ischial tuberosity with your other hand. It is important to do so lying on your back, with your knees bent, and your feet flat on the floor, in order to avoid activating the hamstring muscles which will make it more difficult to feel. [The book has an illustration.] A seat slightly wider than this distance will be able to distribute the pressure over a larger area and minimize any hot spots.Now that you have the distance measured, you can measure the rear portion of any seat to determine if it is wide enough for your anatomy. [So far so good. But Cohen goes on to explain two critical caveats that must be considered when applying your measurement to any given seat.]"

But don't let your fears of impotence keep you off the bike. Regular exercise (which includes cycling) will minimize the risks of impotence.

I have a personal preference - the Sella Anatomica saddle I mentioned above. The split in the center not only addresses the prostate worries, but each side flexes independently which both minimizes the break-in period but also compensates for slightly unequal leg length. I have found it to be one of the most comfortable saddles I've ever used - from day 1!

But it does need some special attention in the initial setup. Here are the relevant comments nicely summarized in an online review at Rodebikerider.com:

"When I installed the seat, I tried to eyeball it to match the basic position of my current saddle. But because its shape is very different, I started by setting it to the same nose-to-stem measurement, and then tweaked the fore-aft a bit to approximate the same position where I thought my sit bones would hit the saddle. I also set it up initially, as I typically do with my saddles, in a neutral tilt Š nose level with rear. After my first ride, though, I needed to do some tweaking. I moved the seat forward a full centimeter and raised the nose a touch above neutral, maybe one or two degrees. ItÕs the position IÕve been at ever since.

NOSELESS SADDLES

Another question that comes up repeatedly, especially from men with a concern as to perineal pressure and sexual dysfunction is the role of a "noseless saddle". I think this excerpt, again from RoadBikeRider.Com, says it all:

We're occasionally asked about noseless bike seats, which are presumed to be "safer" because body weight is supported only on the sit bones. There's no narrow nose than can press into the crotch. Some riders are interested for health reasons, others are seeking more comfort. Noseless seats have been around for more than a decade without much acceptance. We've tried noseless seats in our role as product testers. When asked our opinion, we say it feels like pedaling a bike while sitting on a soccer ball. Noseless seats make a bike feel tipsy, particularly when you're reaching down for any reason, like to grab a water bottle or adjust a shoe strap. There's nothing between your thighs, nothing to slide forward on. When you turn your hips, the bike doesn't turn with you. You feel like you're on a perch, separate from the bike instead of one with the bike.

RBR's Ed Pavelka knew all that and still went riding last week on a noseless seat. It was a favor for a friend in the industry. The guy is thinking of importing the seat from Europe to market to American men worried about conventional saddles causing perineal problems. Ed was dubious but the first ride went okay. Then the next day, disaster. He lost control while riding at about 16 mph and signaling a left turn. The bike went out from under him as suddenly as if he'd hit a patch of ice. Fortunately, the truck right behind stopped in time. Other people ran up. "Are you okay?" Ed wasn't so sure. His helmet was cracked, he was bleeding from the usual places -- knee, hip and elbow -- and it felt as if a linebacker had speared him in the ribs. And he was really mystified. "What happened?" Ed asked the driver that saw the crash. "I don't know. You must have hit something." But the street was as clean as Martha Stewart's kitchen. Ed hadn't ridden over anything. He had simply angled into the left lane with one hand on the bar and the other signaling -- a move he'd made a thousand times without winding up in a heap. This time one thing was different. This time he was on a noseless seat.

RIDING TECHNIQUE

FORE/AFT POSITIONING

Q. Recently, I heard that there are two pedaling techniques developed by two German cyclists. They are different techniques for different events. Prinzle is for sprinting and involves fast acceleration, with the saddle seat pin on the back of the rails- a fast pursuit position. Schnaesse is for uphill work and maintaining more of a constant speed under adverse circumstances. In this, you 'push the bike forward' by pressing your hands against the handlebars. Can you point me in the right direction? Michael B.

A. I am not aware of either the term "prinzle" or "schnaesse", but believe the techniques take advantage of a slightly modified saddle position based on whether you will be climbing or sprinting.

For example, climbers want power and near full-leg extension. With a neutral saddle position (nose parallel to the ground) if knee angles are about 30 degrees short of full extension, climbers will move back on their saddles. Moving back on the saddle effectively raises the saddle about a half-inch and changes knee extension to about 25 degrees short of full extension. This could be schnaesse if I understand it correctly.

When sprinting however, the rider will then move forward on the saddles, effectively lowering the saddle position and optimizing leg extension for surges and sprints - which would be prinzle.

PADDED SADDLE - OR FIRM?

Q. I like my padded saddle. Is there a good reason to ride one that's harder and narrower? -JB.

A. Everyone's anatomy is a bit different, so the saddle that's comfortable for one rider can be painful for another. If your saddle is working for you there's no reason to switch to a different style. There are a few reasons why padded saddles don't work for many riders.

Padded saddles tend to be wider, which causes chafing against thighs during pedaling.

When sitting on a thickly padded saddle, your ischial tuberosities (sit bones) compress the padding, causing it to well up in the crotch and create pressure right where you don't need it. Firmer (and often narrower) saddles support your sit bones without extra padding impinging on soft tissue.

Finally, it's friction, not pressure, that causes most saddle discomfort. This explains why thickly padded saddles and cycling shorts with a heavily padded liners often don't work as you'd expect. Many times a thin and well lubricated liner will cause less pain and fewer saddle sores than an overly plush one.

The bottom line - consider giving that firm saddle a couple of extra weeks before trading it out. In the long run it may be the best ride for you.

SADDLE SORES

Two resources are:


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