Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips
Paul Dorn: Contact | Homepage | Bike Commute Tips Blog | Search
Printer-Friendly Version


SECTIONS:

Introduction

Why Bike Commute?

Getting Started:
The Bike


Getting Started:
The Route


Carrying Capacity

Parking, Locks & Security

Bicycling Safety

What About Weather?

Intermodal Access

Equipment/Accessories

Repairs/Maintenance

Beyond Commuting

FAQ/Helpful Links

About Site

Search

Bike Commute Tips Blog



Support Bike Commuting:
California Bicycle Coalition
League of American Bicyclists

SORE-BUTT SYNDROME?

Mr. Dorn:

I very much enjoyed your webpage of Bike Commuting Tips. I'm an old duffer with a 5-speed Schwinn Cruiser and a desire to bike along Boise's greenbelt and out on the open road. However, I am never able to last long enough to really get into biking -- sore derriere!

I can't find info on this problem in biking books/magazines. And when I ask about it at bike shops, I get blank looks and shoulder shrugs. Typically I hear something like, "It only hurts for a little while," or, "The pain'll go away in time." Well, it doesn't! It gets worse...

I, and I suspect other chronologically gifted individuals, would very much appreciate some expert advice on how to avoid SBS (sore butt syndrome) so that we can really get into biking and enjoy all it has to offer...

Any help you can give will be deeply appreciated.

Sincerely,

Oscar Smith

• • •

Hi Oscar,

Thanks for visiting my bike commuting tips page, and thanks for the interesting question. I've done quite a lot of long distance riding, and have found that the real pivotal body area for a successful journey is not the legs, but rather the derriere. Unfortunately, there are a variety of problems with regards to the butt, meaning there isn't one simple solution.

Saddle sores are inflamed and painful abrasions caused by friction. To avoid saddle sores, there are a number of personal lubricants available to reduce the friction of long distance riding. My preferred brand is BodyGlide. I don't use it for everyday commuting, but always for anything exceeding about 50 miles or so. (In the old days long distance bike racers would put raw meat into their shorts to cushion their saddle sores. Yech!)

Clothing is another potential problem area. Most bike-specific shorts are fabricated to avoid seams in troublesome areas. Riding with denim cut-off shorts or other heavy fabric may cause discomfort over a long haul. My preferred bottom-side cycling apparel is padded skins (underwear) such as those made by Andiamo or Bellwether with loose nylon or cotton shorts over that. Occasionally, I also wear shorts with a padded lining for longer rides. (Most everyday commuting trips I just wear boxers under cotton athletic shorts.)

A very important consideration is the type of bike you're riding. I wonder if your cruiser is the most appropriate bike for long distance riding. (You didn't indicate how many miles you'd like to ramble around Boise.) I once had a Schwinn Cruiser (a one-speed) which I rode all over. However, I preferred to use it for shorter rides on relatively level terrain. For longer rides (say, more than 10 miles) I use a lighter road bike or hybrid.

The type of bike you ride determines your seating position. Cruisers are usually ridden in a fairly upright position, which puts weight further back. (And this is why cruiser style bikes generally come equipped with thickly padded saddles with coil springs.) Road or mountain bikes usually require the rider to lean forward, shifting their weight ahead and putting pressure on different areas of the groin. You might also consider a suspension, shock-absorbing seat post. Many cyclists who experience persistent back or bottom discomfort have also turned to recumbent bikes, which provide a comfortable seating position.

However, before spending a lot of money on new saddles, seat posts or bikes, you might try making simple adjustments to your current saddle. Check the height, which should allow a slight bend in the leg at the bottom of a pedal stroke. (At the 6 o'clock position.) The seat should also be level; make sure it's not tilting fore or aft. It can also be shifted front or back (closer to/farther from the handlebars). Experiment with saddle position to see if that brings any relief. (A good bike shop would help with this; the indifference of your local cycle retailers is really disappointing.)

If you've adjusted your saddle position and still experience discomfort, then you may want to consider buying a new saddle. Regarding saddles: there are all kinds of saddles with all kinds of cushioning options. Again, a good local shop should be your best resource for advice on saddles. My quick tip is this: the softest, cushyest, widest saddle may NOT be the best solution. Many saddles are made with a silicone gel, which is semi-fluid and will shift over months of riding. Other saddles have foam cushioning, which also degrades over time. Many cyclists enjoy the famed Brooks leather saddle, sold by Rivendell and Wallingford Bicycle Parts among others. It's just a chunk of leather riveted to steel rails. It needs to be broken in (like a baseball glove); but eventually it will soften up and adjust to create a custom fit. Other saddle companies, such as Terry, make saddles with special cutouts that relieve pressure on sensitive areas.

Finally, perhaps the best solution to "Sore Butt Syndrome" may be ... more riding! What your local shops advised you may have seemed flip or glib; but it is true that with more cycling your bottom gradually gets more conditioned to riding. If you bicycle infrequently, say once or twice a week, your rear doesn't really get the benefit of "toughening up."

Anyway, those are a few thoughts to consider. Sheldon Brown, a seasoned cyclist and cyberspace cycling guru, has a great page on saddle and comfort considerations. Good luck with your riding.

Best regards,

Paul


Send other suggestions or experiences to me.
Comments? Suggestions? Contact dornbiker@yahoo.com || Updated 12.18.06