This will be a highly technical post about saddles before it’s through. If you don’t know much about them, stick around, I promise you it’s an important issue and picking the wrong saddle can not only be painful, it can be costly as well – if you already know all of this and notice a mistake or omission, please let me know.
In my last post I mentioned a sharp pain in my right hamstring that’s come on in the last couple of days. It makes a little sense, I’ve been riding my butt off lately, pushing it pretty hard so I was almost ready to accept it as a sign that I need a day off – almost.
As I wrote earlier, I tried to ride that out with a high cadence, easy ride which was quite enjoyable, but did nothing to alleviate the pain which was intermittent and dull, but relentless…something was absolutely not right. I had no idea what was going on so I did what every noob should do – I made a beeline for my local bike shop on the way back to the house to see if they could help with a diagnosis. Had I not fixed this, the end results would have been bad.
I walked my bike into the shop where my favorite tech, Walter, greeted me. I explained my hamstring problem and added that it seems as though the pain originates (I’m trying to think of a delicate way to describe the location)… Uh, well I’ll say “on my right sit bone” for the sake of the squeamish or pious, but that’s not how I described it to him. I then interjected that I couldn’t believe how that would be possible (for the pain to extend all the way to my hamstring), but that’s exactly how it feels. Well, I got an important lesson today.
Walter examined my saddle, much to my surprise – I figured we’d need to lower the saddle a little bit or something. To my noobish understanding of what a saddle should be, it’s got the best of both worlds, a straight road design with the all important cutout and a lot of gel padding, all covered in a strong leather skin. He asked how long it would take on a normal ride to feel any pain. I’d thought the pain normal, that I just needed more time in the saddle, but I explained that it was normally after 14 or 15 miles. What confused the issue for me was that I’d been on a 35.5 mile ride last week in which it didn’t hurt a bit until the very end. He asked if that could have been due to adrenaline – first long ride of the year, etc. and I had to give him, that was definitely a possibility. It was my first longer ride of the season, I’d pushed it really hard and it was the first nice, sunny day of the year – I was absolutely stoked to be out there. He then explained that which we’ve all heard but find hard to believe… On anything over ten or 15 miles and at slower speeds, the gel seats are great. On long rides, they become uncomfortable because they staunch blood flow – as I understand it, they cradle your sit bones, because the gel gives, the saddle ends up covering more square footage of skin. He then pulled out a gel filled pad, set it on a bench, had me sit on that with my feet raised on a box to bring my sit bones to bear on the specially designed pad that holds its form for a short time. When I got up, he looked at the measurements on the board that the pad was attached to. It showed that I need a saddle with a 143 MM sit width – the saddle on my bike is a 155 MM. Now really folks, does it really have to be that technical? Apparently. I’ll get into how that applies to riding position in a moment, but the ramifications must come first and foremost.
When The Leather Hits The (Sit) Bone
I was riding on a saddle that was too wide for my sit bones. This caused me to ride up toward the nose of the saddle, always attempting to find a comfortable spot that fit right, everywhere on the saddle except the right spot. I couldn’t sit on the proper part of the saddle because it was too wide for the space meant to straddle it. What ended up happening is that I was putting more pressure on the right sit bone than the left because I couldn’t get in the right spot on the saddle (I’ve felt this, if minutely for a month, trying to fix the problem by tinkering with the angle of the saddle, but with my recent rapid jump in mileage, the problem has advanced quickly – imagine the princess with the pea in the mattress – you know something is off, but you just can’t explain it and think “it just must be you”). I was riding off-center, favoring my dominant leg. With all of the miles I’ve been putting in and over time, I’ve developed a hot spot, that is likely inflamed, and that inflammation started affecting my hamstring and how it works.
Now Pay Attention, This Gets Tricky… Riding Position Matters
Riding position has quite a big effect on saddle size. If I were riding in a more upright position (see photo) then I would actually require a 155 MM saddle, but I’m not – I’m always trying to be as aero as is practicable so I can keep my speed up – I prefer 20 mph infinitely over 13 mph – I like the speed. Because of that, my measurement changes to 143 MM – a difference of a half inch. This may not seem like much (it sure didn’t to me), but it’s huge. Walter slapped on a 143 MM Specialized Romin Comp Gel and the results were amazing (after about 20 minutes of messing around with height and distance from the bar). I’ve never ridden so comfortably…and I hit some pretty gnarly pavement on purpose. I certainly don’t know how you can go from a nice, cushy gel seat to a piece of hard plastic with minimal padding and have it feel better, but it surely does. So my slush fund took a hit.
Here’s The Important Part:
Rather than wander about aimlessly on the net trying to figure this out, or simply accepting that it must be something I was doing wrong and trying to beat a problem with more miles – that probably would have sidelined me – I went to the experts. Do not pass Go, Do not collect $200. I just did a search of cycling, hamstring injuries… I’d have been pooched, off my bike for a week or two and I’d still end up coming back to the same problem – one of the articles even said that the hamstrings are on the front of the upper leg if you can believe that (they’re in the back). Instead, if the weather holds, I’ll be riding to the running club this morning.
And Let’s Face Facts…
By the way, here’s a very informational (if commercial) video from Specialized explaining the measurement process – and it shows the padded measurement board that I wrote about earlier: