Girls on tour - Saddles and shorts
Having never really cycled anywhere before I met Chris, In 2006 I bought a bike, a £130 Ridgeback Mountain Bike and chose a velo womens saddle from the same small shop, because it was wide and padded.
In 2008/9 I cycled John O'Groats to Land's End (1700km) - my first ever cyle tour - on this and am still using it after almost 12,000km. However, had I known more about the range of saddles out there (and how important it is to get the right one!), I probably would have chosen differently.
I do find that I am uncomfortable after about 40km and have to rise every few km to relieve the pressure. Despite adjusting the saddle angle, and wearing padded chamois shorts, I haven't improved the situation much.
Whilst researching this topic, I have found many useful articles written by other women and it seems it isn't only the saddle itself that matters. However, I will start with that and share the thoughts of our women cycle tourers on their chosen saddles...
"Wide brown leather Brooks. It moulded to my bum and was amazing!" Susie
"I am currently using a women’s Brooks saddle and it’s OK. I have found I tend to be OK with any woman’s saddle – have used quite a few of them." Nancy
"Brooks saddle. It's not female specific and I like it." Friedel
"Brooks Ladies touring. Was painful in the beginning but 2,000km later, its great!" Kate
"I have a Brooks Champion Flyer, which is a hard leather saddle made for women. I LOVE it. Before it, I had a Terry Liberator X Gel, which gave me horrible chafing. The Brooks has made all the difference in the world." Tara
"I just ordered a Brooks B17 saddle, but haven’t ridden on it yet. In the past I’ve used a saddle with gel padding." Heidi
"Brooks gave us 2 of their saddles free of charge for the trip but unfortunately I had back trouble and bent it out of shape. I plan to get another one though now my back is fine as they are the best touring saddles for men and women." Margo
As you can see Brooks is a pretty popular choice! Established in 1866, Brooks makes beautiful leather handcrafted saddles and are still as popular today as ever. With 14 saddles designed specifically for touring and trekking, as well as saddles for ladies, Brooks certainly seem to provide a good selection. Not only that but they can be repaired and come with a 2 year guarantee.
Not everyone here has a Brooks though.
"I like the saddles that are designed for women, the ones that are wider and softer. I also have at least two pairs of padded bike shorts to wear and a very big tube of paw-paw cream for chafing." Marjorie
"It's an Italian made saddle specially for female cyclist. It's absolutely excellent, no problems at all. I used to have a gel saddle and thought that was good. But I won't go back there again." Mirjam
Cindie has a "womens specific Terry liberator touring saddle." and has a great article on her website about the Terry Women's Liberator X Saddle and the Terry Butterfly Ti Special Edition Saddle. If you are interested in an alternative to the Brooks, have a read.
Tara has an alternative point of view about the Terry Liberator X which you can read here: terry-liberator-x-gel-vs-brooks. I think this really does reinforce the point that one suits one person may not suit another, you really have to try them and see what works for you.
Other factors to consider
Everyone is different. Men and women are different, the most noticeable difference being that women have hips bones that are wider apart. And women, as we know, come in all shapes and sizes too, some have narrow hips, some very wide. There is literally no 'one size fits all' when it comes to bike saddles. The only way to know what will suit you, is to try as many as you can. That said, without riding for 5 hrs to find out how it feels, it may still be difficult to gauge. From everything that I've read, the no. 1 consideration appears to be width - the saddle should support your sitting bones without pinching or slipping.
Are you sitting comfortably?
So you've chosen a great saddle, but is your bike set up correctly? Is your position right for long distance touring? Pamela Blalock who has written a great article points out that most bike set ups are based on men's riding positions. So the frame size, top tube, stem length and overall scale is based on a man's anatomy and then scaled up or down for women. Yet what works for men doesn't work so well for women as there are subtle differences "women may bend from the waist while men pivot more at the hips" leaving women feeling over-stretched and uncomfortable.
Angling the saddle down to alleviate pressure on the soft sensitive areas at the front of a women's body, can help, but angle it too far and it can result in too much pressure on the hands, causing numbness, and aching shoulders. Also make sure you don't have it too high, a couple of millimetres can make all the difference. I didn't believe this until I adjusted my bike by this fractional amount!
It's also worth talking about the type of riding you are doing, mountain biking is different to road cycling and racing, touring for long distances is different again.
The answer could be to find a good bike mechanic, one with knowledge of ergonomics, who understands that a female cyclist's position will differ from a mans, who knows something about touring as well as racing or mountain biking and who is prepared to spend some time fitting your bike to suit you. Who is this rare, wonderful person I hear you cry, where do I find them? Well therein lies the challenge. But when you find them, hang onto them and let us know!
Cycling Shorts & chafing issues
As well as having a comfortable saddle, you may want to consider what you wear to cycle in. After a few local rides of 10 miles just wearing normal shorts or tracksuit bottoms, I decided that I'd like to have a look at padded shorts, much as I disliked the idea of wearing lyrca. I had a look online to see what was out there, but quickly realised that being new to all this, it wasn't really something I could decide without trying. It's not like buying a hard drive!
I chose a pair of Pearl Izumi shorts, with chamois padding, that went over the knee. Whilst they felt a bit strange, standing there in the changing room, they were very comfortable when I was seated on the bike and made a huge difference to my comfort level. For the first cycle tour (JOGLE) I wore them with my Icebreaker underwear, simply because it didn't occur to me not to. I found the seam that ran over the knee caused me discomfort, making my knee cap feel bruised, so I cut them off, above the knee.
They lasted about a year, for about 100 days of cycling, approx 5 hrs a day in the saddle. I now have 2 new pairs, smaller, with chamois padding (see picture right) and I find that they are more comfortable without underwear.
In SE Asia we have been cycling in very hot, humid conditions (+33°C) where I was sweating a lot, as well as cycling in the daily torrential downpours. I found that this caused some quite bad chafing issues and there were a few days where my skin was red raw at the end of the day, to the point where I could hardly sit down without wincing. I used chafing cream to both prevent chafing and soothe sore skin. This worked well, but didn't entirely prevent chafing. Staying out of the heaviest rain and finding shade at the hottest part of the day was a good step too! I also find that cycling on flat roads over a long distance causes more chafing and saddle sore, because you change your position less often, compare to climbing hills and descending. Hey, I knew cycling up hills had to have it's advantages!
Finally, if you are finding that all those hours in the saddle are causing your female health to suffer, why not try Tara's tip for yeast infections (thrush) below:
"This sounds gross, but it's really not, I promise. It is cheap, easy, natural, available everywhere, and it works every time! Peel a clove of garlic, prick it with fingernails a few times, then insert into vagina far enough so you can't feel it's there. Change every 8 or 12 hours (it comes out when you bear down, or reach in and grab it) and then keep it up until the infection goes away. Here's an article in Midwifery Today about the treatment."
Anyway I'm off to look at getting a new saddle now, seems that I could have been avoiding quite a lot of discomfort these passed few months! Please share your saddle experiences by posting a comment below, be great to hear your thoughts and any advice you have.
Women's saddles and bicycle fit By Pamela Blalock
Cindie on bike saddles for women By Cindie
terry-liberator-x-gel-vs-brooks By Tara