How I STAY Fast; A Noob’s Guide to Maintaining a 23-mph Average on a Bicycle and the Mental Edge Needed to Do It.
As the Greg LeMond quote goes, it never gets easier, you just go faster, was ever thus…
The most popular post I’ve ever written is centers on how I trained to get fast enough to hold a 23-mph average in a pack. That’s fast enough some believe we can’t possibly hold that on open roads but I assure you, we do… and I’m not even in the A Group. Our A Group is up to a 25-mph average on Tuesday nights. On open roads.
I’ve been 150 pounds dripping wet and held a 23-mph average (though I was more prone to cramping and bonking). I’ve been 175 pounds and held the same average. Though my wife prefers me at 175 (I’m happier at 165 but she says I’m too skinny). I’ve held 23-mph on a 21-pound carbon road bike with a faulty headset and a triple drivetrain, and on that same road bike three pounds lighter and completely rebuilt from the ground up with a compact double chainset, and then on a 15-pound aero-everything racing steed.
Oh, and I’ll turn 50 in a couple of months.
I’d love to tell you the bike matters a lot, but it doesn’t. The bike helps a lot, of course – a great aero bike makes fast easier but I still have to have the fitness in the first place. The ride, on a 15 pound aero bike is obviously a lot easier that the old triple was, but I still managed. I think more than weight, the keys for the bike are decent, working components, good wheels, and proper setup. Get those right, and that’s most of the battle. This changes as we get above the 21+ pound range for a bike, though.
My first foray into speed in cycling was addictive and that’s really what got me started on the right foot. I only lasted eight miles with the main group – I was dropped like a dirty shirt when they accelerated from a reasonable 23-24-mph to 28 – but I found a small slice of heaven on earth that first ride. Being a part of that kind of speed and group effort ticked a lot of boxes for me – and it’s only gotten better in the last eight years (I had a solo year and change prior).
And I have gotten faster… but it has gotten easier. Ish. Hear me out.
The keys to getting fast were numerous. Proper hydration, proper nutrition (and a lot of it), proper rest (not much) that included mainly active recovery rides… and a whole $#!+-ton of “want to”. Without the “want to” I may as well have bought a beach cruiser.
Most important, I got my cycling legs after a few years, and that’s where the “maintaining” starts.
Cycling legs are acquired, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. Let’s back this bus up just a second, though. First, “cycling legs” are a “thing”, and I’ll get back to that in a minute. Second, the acquisition of cycling legs depends on how hard one is willing to work for them. The typical length of time it takes is three years, though this can shortened or lengthened depending on effort, commitment, and mileage. In the end, cycling legs are the body’s natural reaction to cycling on a regular basis. If there is no “regular basis”, then no cycling legs for you.
Once you’ve been around the block a few hundred times, with the exception of the rare bonk (which still happens, and sometimes even when you’ve done everything right), you can rely on the legs to get you through rides that don’t go quite as expected… and that leads us to the second important factor in maintaining “fast”; the mental end.
I always chuckle when my wife gets the mistaken impression that, in a 20-mph headwind, I’m spinning at 18-mph for 20 miles and she thinks I’m just sitting up there with a smile on my face, cruising down the road without a care in the world. To a certain extent, she isn’t wrong, but for any avid enthusiast, that hurts. The mental end of cycling is knowing down to your baby toes what you can get away with without putting yourself in the pain cave from whence there is no return. What separates the fast from the moderate cyclist is the ability to not think oneself into more pain than what is really there – and the conviction of knowing that even if you’re not feeling too hot for a couple of miles, you will come around if you dial it back just a hair. My wife isn’t much slower than I am but she completely lacks the mental edge I have. If she starts hurting, she immediately wants to dial the pace back. When I start hurting, I start breaking the ride down into chewable segments in my head. “I just have a few miles before we get to this turn and tailwind”. This gets me through the hard times and back to where I’m feeling okay again.
Then there’s the knowledge that everyone else is hurting and the pain of keeping up can’t last forever… I know down to my baby toes, if I’m three bikes back and struggling to hold a wheel in a headwind, the person up front is cooking themselves. They won’t hold that pace for very long or they’ll drop off the back. Without being able to compartmentalize the ride in one’s mind, all you’re left with is how you’re feeling at any given moment, and if you’re there, you’re in pain. We faster types figure out how shut that thinking down. There’s no place for it.
This mental edge is your experience. It’s knowing how to fuel your ride, it’s knowing where to push, where to hide, and just how far you can go before you pop… and it’s knowing down to your baby toes that “how far you can go before you pop” is subjective. You can do better. And it’s knowing that if you’re hurting, others likely are as well. Just stick with it and you’ll come around. Or you’ll blow up spectacularly and fall off the back to spin for a few miles while you recharge. Friends, it happens.
If you really have a desire to be fast, the thing to work on, once you’ve gotten a bike and your cycling legs, is that gray matter betwixt your ears. That’s where the magic happens.
I wrote, over the last few days, that I’ve been struggling with a bit of a bad attitude… and I’ve been working since on fixing it. Actually, correcting that attitude may be a better way to put it. The bad attitude was a reaction to outside issues that I have no control over but I have to own that reaction… allowing it to effect me is an inside job, just like happiness.
Anyway, the day was set up for perfection. After a lot of rain over the last couple of days, we had a day so perfect, I almost couldn’t wrap my head around the perfection – the sunshine simply doesn’t get that crisp and clear in Michigan (unless it’s well below freeing and it’s so cold snot you didn’t even know was there freezes instantly in your nose when you walk out the door). Yesterday was a perfect 70°, though (that’s 21 C) with a fair, but gusty breeze out of the east (that would be pushing at the non-drive side of my bike, below). I had an 11 am meeting for a big job we’ve got fairly close to my house, so after the meeting I headed out to get some lunch, then came back to walk the job and check on things, then headed home to work from there till it was time to ride.
Well, just before it was time to suit up, I decided to take a few pictures of the bikes in the backyard for a later post. You can see in the photos below, barely, there’s a new pond to the left and ten feet behind my bike (3 meters). Monday, there was a small stream running from my overflowed real pond in the background to that new pond.
After my little photo shoot it was time to suit up and ride. The weather was glorious. A little windy, but with sunshine like that and a decent temperature, I didn’t much care about a breeze. I rolled out with the idea of just enjoying the ride. I decided to take a few photos along the way – something I haven’t done in a while. The stream below is up a couple of feet, but you can see, the widespread flooding in our state didn’t hurt us too bad. West and north of us, now that’s a different story. The flooding up in Midland made the world news.
The evening was so nice, I had to keep riding. My normal loop just wasn’t enough and I had some time to blow, especially as I was just out for a cruise. I even tried to refrain from looking at my Garmin so I wouldn’t be spurred to up my pace. I was clear across town and just about to head home when I saw my first evidence that we did indeed have some flooding:
There were a few families going to have a difficult time getting their cars out of the driveway for a couple more days – you can see two (driveways) underwater in this shot. You can also see the watermark on the road where the water started creeping over.
The last four of five miles were all tailwind and I’d timed it perfectly to make my bandit AA meeting and order pizza from a nearby Italian restaurant that I love. We had some pizza in the parking lot and talked a lot of recovery… and as the meeting went on, my resentments faded to the background where I could finally let them go.
I breathed a sigh of relief as my shoulders lowered just a little from not having that weight on them. After the meeting, I drove home and went directly to bed.
I slept like a baby. And that’s as it should be.
This was going to be an uplifting, wonderful, happy post. We’ve finally broken through to some decent weather and last evening’s ride was wonderful. Therapeutic even. I wanted a moderate ride and managed an easy 19-1/2 mile average over 22 miles (or just short, I think). We’d had two days of drenching rain – enough our water table is now topped off – and it’s very green around here after the white of winter and brown of early spring… the robin’s eggs are hatched and wildlife is everywhere.
It rained all day and only dried up just before I got home but the temp was right, at room temperature, so shorts and short sleeves were the order of the day. I even, against my better judgement, readied the Venge. After reinstalling the Selle Italia SLR Tekno Flow saddle last week, I wanted to put it through its paces before the long rides hit this weekend. I’ll get into this a little deeper in a later post, but taking the time to meticulously dial it in paid off. It’s an amazing saddle and my nether regions have never been so… um, not angry after a ride. Anyway, I really put the Venge through its paces last night without getting too outrageous. I started out aiming for an 18-mph average and overshot that by quite a bit. Ah well, I earned dinner last night, and it was spectacular. Shepherd’s pie, made out of slow-cooked roast beef, veggies and mashed potatoes. I still have to post the recipe, but it’s freaking amazing. Anyway, I digress…
COVID-19… COVIDcation… A recession… murder hornets…
Then I woke up and checked the blogs I follow and found a new post by WordPress in which they announced they’re doing away with the old WordPress editor in favor of the atrocious, pile of steaming shit block editor. You know, I was wondering what was next. Now I know. Look, I wouldn’t be surprised, if you’re a web developer, if the block editor is the cat’s meow. If you’re a writer, the block editor sucks ass because you can’t actually write. I’ve tried it a few times and end up wanting to throw my Lenovo Thinkpad through the window… thus wrecking a $1,500 laptop and a picture window at the same time. The WordPress post received negative comments so fast, the author shut comments down after only 28.
There is hope, however. WordPress is doing away with the WordPress editor (the one you and I know and love), but they did install a Classic editor in the system and they have a classic editor block if you want to use that. How to access all of that bullshit, God only knows. They like to call their techs Happiness Engineers – the block editor’s creation leads me to believe happiness engineers are kinda like “democratic socialism”. “Oh, don’t worry about the socialism part, it’s democratic socialism. Who gives a f*** if it’s democratic? It’s still f***in’ socialism! Holy hell, the government still controls everything! That’s like saying, “Hey, don’t worry about the herpes, they’re democratic herpes! Smile!” F***, they’re still f***in’ herpes!
The post was bad, too. I’d have kicked my own ass for writing it, though I’ve gotta hand it to the author at the same time, it ain’t easy putting on a happy face to sell a literal pile of shit. Could you imagine having to try to sell a pile of shit? My favorite is the part titled, “Why switch to the WordPress editor? Let us count the ways.” Are you ready for this?
- The block editor was released more than a year and a half ago. That’s one of the reasons… wtf…
- Since then it has been improved in numerous ways (Or, another way to read that, it sucked so bad we’ve been trying for a year and a half to make it right and writers still hate it).
- There are more than 100 content blocks to thoroughly confuse the $#!+ out of you.
- Dozens of built in page templates (again, to thoroughly confuse the writing experience).
- That’s it, folks. That’s why we should want to change.
Anyway, hold on to your butts. The changes hit June 1st… and if I have to use the real block editor, folks, I’m done. I’ll take the next year to put all of my best posts into a book, and I’m out. I can’t live with that negativity in my life. It ain’t worth it. “Smile”.
Road Bike Shifting – Tinkering Your Way to Perfection (It Takes a While to Figure It Out, But the Practice Is Worth It)
I noticed on Venge Day, by chance, (the first day of the year that warrants taking the good bike out) the chain was rubbing in the little ring when in the last three (small) cogs on the cassette. Thinking back, I never checked that end of the cassette in the small ring. I think I forgot… because who rides in that gear combo anyway?! Now, this would never be a cause for concern, really, as I never use those last gears in the baby ring. Who would? A blast from my writing in the past:
If you’re fast enough that you’re in the smallest three gears on your cassette in the baby ring, you should be in the big ring. Everyone knows this.
With an abundance of time on one’s hands, though, why not play around a bit? I have always been afraid of set screws because I really messed my first mountain bike up when I was still a noob. I made an absolute mess of the shifting that took me hours to get right again. The instructions below changed me, though. Practice makes perfect and I’m anything but, so I got my tools out to play.
Shimano’s diagram for setting up a front derailleur has been the biggest help to my mechanic skills as anything I’ve read in the last five years… well, accept the directions for how to perfectly wrap a handlebar that Trek now has with all of its Bontrager bar tape.
With those simple instructions I was able to set up my Trek flawlessly (every gear, only having to trim the derailleur in the baby ring for the smallest cogs). Then I did the same to my wife’s 11 speed alias.
With that initial setting done (you do have to make sure the low gear won’t rub), from there it’s just a matter setting the outer limit screw so you don’t rub in the big ring/little cog gear. Simply shift down to the small cog on the cassette and turn the outer set screw till you’ve got a millimeter of space between the cage and the chain. That done, the only thing left is a matter of cable tension.
Mrs. Bgddy’s Alias rubbed gears since I brought it home even though it was taken into the shop to have the issue looked at. After working extensively on my Trek and dabbling a little on the Venge, I set out to fix my wife’s bike once and for all. Twenty minutes is all it took. She’s got every gear now (unlike me, my wife has no hangup about using every one of her gears).
Even though my Venge was close enough for government work, with some extra time on my hands, I set out to make awesome better. First, I took the wheels off and cleaned off what little dirt there was from my first few days outside on the bike. My Trek can have a little dirt on it. The Venge? Not so much. Then I attended to the front derailleur… after ten minutes of farting around I got two more gears but still can’t get the 11 tooth cog without messing up the big gears in the big ring. It’s so close… but I’d rather have all of the gears in the big ring and leave the last gear in the baby ring to rub a little bit. I just don’t use that gear. Ever. Not even by accident.
Tinkering with my bikes over COVIDcation made me a better mechanic. Tinkering has been a source of joy ever since I brought my old Trek mountain bike home. It used to drive me nuts to mess things up and have to run a bike up to the shop. Now that I’ve actually acquired some skills, I have a lot of fun with it.
Speaking of, I’ll have something new to write about in a few days. C’mon UPS!!!
It’s an interesting time in Michigan. I am not a fan of how our state government is handling our lock down. I can’t even listen to the governor’s press releases anymore – not if I’m going to do my part to “help flatten the curve”, even if the curve is flattened already, but I digress.
I did a lot better when I wasn’t paying attention to what was going on. Of course, the government was paying me to stay home, so all the more reason to tune out for a bit and enjoy the time with my family. Now that the money has run out because I was called back to work, I’m back to paying attention again. I can tell you, ignorance was bliss.
Recently, at a protest on the State Capitol, some ignorant protesters entered the capitol building with firearms, open carry style. This is perfectly legal, of course, but unnecessary. That said, local politicians took to the airwaves to denounce what happened, stating firearms should never be used as a means of intimidation, that people should always be allowed to do their jobs.
This was two days after our governor sent six State Police Troopers to intimidate and arrest a 77-year-old barber for the seditious act of cutting hair. And the reason the governor sent the State Police is because the Shiawassee County Sheriff refused to enforce her order because she’s trying to circumnavigate Congress per the law. Then, the judge wouldn’t hear the case so the barber was let free. So the governor revoked his barber’s license.
Two months is all its taken to sink to that. What I’d like to know is why does the state get to intimidate its people, but putting the shoe on the other foot is beyond the pale?
Now I’m forced to get back on the saddle at work and I’ve found myself struggling. I’m forgetful and the best way I can put it is I lost my edge whilst trading between my couch and bike saddle on COVIDcation.
While last week was rough trying to get back to work, a lot of good happened. I attended a couple of meetings, rode every evening last week… and good things happened at work, too; we’re starting to ramp up our jobs and we’ve got a lot of orders being fulfilled.
And the weekend was fantastic! A great 100k Saturday and a tremendously lucky 33 mile ride on Saturday that had us pull in the driveway minutes before the sky opened up – I hadn’t even gotten in the shower yet.
But I can’t help feel like I lost a step at work. I need to get back up to speed and in a hurry. I’ve gotta make some changes to get my jump back.
Now all I have to do is figure out how to do it. That’s next.
I struggled over writing a post this morning. This never happens after a great Saturday… I did a 100k with friends, got the grass cut, and played tennis with my daughters for a couple hours. It was a full, fantastic Saturday.
I should have the words pouring out. But they’re not… so I’m taking a mental health day… I’m bent about the handling of the COVID-19 response by our governor and it’s infecting my good mood and nature… so I need to fix me today.
That said, these made me laugh out loud yesterday…
Bluntly put, sobriety isn’t enough. Sober up a drunken horse thief, what do you have?
A horse thief.
My sponsor helped sober up a drunken loser, but I wanted more than sober. I wanted freedom. I wanted to recover from alcoholism.
Wouldn’t you want the package deal, complete with the reverse country song where you get the pickup truck, the house, your dog, wife, and kids back? I’d have just settled for “happy”, but the package deal sounded pretty good, too.
I love nothing more than to listen to people new to recovery tell me about how they don’t “like” this aspect of recovery or that. I mean really, why work all of the steps? They’re probably not all necessary, anyway. They’re only suggestions. Better, having been sober for all of twenty days, you know that you don’t need all of that hooey anyway, right? Why bother with an inventory or making amends? Amends are so 1900’s, anyway? Isn’t the whole “Higher Power” thing a little old?
When I run into this person, I just say, OKAY, smile and nod and watch them struggle and relapse. Over and over again. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him think.
You couldn’t tell me anything until I was ready to listen. Maybe the next time they’ll be ready to do whatever it takes to recover. Or maybe they’ll die before they get the chance. Or worse, maybe they’ll hurt someone else and end up locked away. The life of an addict sucks that way, but it usually sucks a lot worse for the innocent bystander.
Maybe there’s a simpler way?
I can remember like it was yesterday… decades ago – I may have had seven months, maybe eight. My new sponsor and I were talking one night after a meeting. Out of the blue he says, “Hey, when you park your car, do you pull into a spot nose first or do you back in?”
I responded that I pull in nose first.
He said, “Starting tomorrow, I want you to back into every parking spot you can for the next month. I’ll tell you why at the end of the month.”
I looked at him like he was bat-shit crazy, but I shrugged my shoulders and said, “OKAY”. And for the next month after that night, to the day, I backed into every parking space I could. And at the end of that month I asked him why.
He said, “I wanted to see how willing you were to do whatever it takes to stay sober because if you weren’t willing to do something as simple as back a car into a parking space, you’d never get through the hard parts of fixing the wreckage of your past.”
Guess who made it through the tough parts of fixing the wreckage of his past? Guess who then went on to struggle through building a life for himself, getting to a point he’s so happy he can hardly believe it some days? He’s got two thumbs and looks like this guy.
So go ahead, you know best anyway, right? Skip the parts you don’t like and muddle through the parts you don’t mind half-heartedly. I’m sure everything will work out fine anyway. You probably know better than those crazy old farts who wrote the Big Book anyway.
Good luck with that.
I don’t blame anyone for trying to do it their way. Even better for those who find happiness. I wasn’t smart enough, or maybe honest enough, to figure it out on my own. Whatever it was, I needed some structure and help… a path to walk.
Having tried that line myself and failed, maybe I can save a noob a few decades of failure and angst. Just do what it says in the f’in’ book. Get a decade or two under your belt and get yourself happy. Then decide what works and what doesn’t. At least if you get to that point, if you find you were wrong, you can go back to what worked.
That’s the easiest, softest way I know. At least the easiest, softest way I know that actually works.
Based on real evidence, too. Not the “it’s evidence because we tell you it’s evidence” kind of evidence.
In fact, and I’ve never done this so I could be entirely wrong (I doubt it, but it’s possible), next time someone says “evidence based recovery”, ask them to see the evidence. I will be doing that from now on because I want to see the saucer eyes.
Meh, knowing my luck, I’ll run into the one person who is prepared for that. Chuckle.
Gerry, over at Vicious Cycle, found some stats I never knew existed. One was a yearly word count… I added mine up. I think I might break two million this year. I’m currently sitting at 1,889,435 words, not including this post. Going by my average yearly output, I should hit two million by the end of the year, maybe a little after the new year. There are two ways of looking at this. One, I’m awesome and I’ve got a lot of give a shit to keep producing the way I do. If that’s what you think, thank you! I’m going to look at it that way, methinks… Because the second isn’t as sexy. The second is, I’m a nut for continuing to work this hard without getting paid to!
Well, there is that, but there’s an explanation that goes with this that makes it all understandable and worth while. First, the cycling stuff I write about is purely for fun. I write about bikes and cycling because writing about cycling makes me happy. Second, and most important, I believe writing about recovery makes a positive difference in the world. I believe I’m doing my part as a recovering person to help others. The truth is, if what I write helps a handful of people enjoy their recovery, or better, recover in the first place, well I’ll continue with a smile on my face. It’s worth it.
More later as I get closer to 2,000,000.
Yesterday was supposed to be a day off. My legs were tired and I was ready for it. The forecast was for wall to wall rain, sunup to sundown. I stopped at a job close to home to check on the progress and was home about a half-hour earlier than normal – it was raining when I walked in the house. Some small talk later, I noticed that not only had it stopped raining but the pavement was drying up. I checked my weather app… 15% chance of rain for the next four hours. I looked at my lovely wife and uttered my second favorite two words; I’m riding.
No chance I was taking the Venge, though. Days like this are why I have a rain bike. I didn’t believe for a second I was getting out of that ride dry… though there was hope. In Michigan, a 15% chance of rain means you’ve got a 100% chance of getting 15% wet.
I didn’t make it out of the driveway before it started spitting.
The horizon didn’t look all that bad, though, so I pressed on. It didn’t matter much, anyway, we finally happened on a reasonably warm day. It was only room temperature out, but after the rest of the spring with temps 10 to 20 degrees below normal, it felt like a sauna. The roads started to collect the water and my tires gave off that unmistakable zipping sound that comes with a rooster tail… and just like that, the spitting stopped. Two miles later I was on dry asphalt again.
And then my ride got fun. I’ve put in a couple of faster than normal days on the bike so I was looking forward to an easy day but with a mild tailwind pushing me, how could I not take advantage? There was something that blew my mind, though. I’d opted to leave the knee warmers at home but this strange moisture was forming on my brow and dripping onto my glasses. I had to think back on my cycling database for what this could have been – and then it hit me! I needed to take my arm warmers off because I was too warm.
Warmers stowed in my back pocket, I took to the rest of my ride like a kid to a Halloween bucket. I’d been shooting for a 17-mph average but by the time I was half-done, I’d have had to walk my bike for a couple miles to drop my average down that far. So I did what I do in those situations… no sense in messing up a good average by taking it easy (even if that was the game plan) until I hit the headwind. And with four-ish miles left to go, I did hit the headwind. And I relaxed, just spinning into it with a smile on my face. I made it to my driveway with just under a 19-mph average for the loop and a happy heart.
I showered, had some chili dogs for dinner, cleaned up my bike and did the drivetrains for my wife’s and my bikes, attended a zoom meeting with four friends, then drifted off to sleep watching The Rise of Skywalker.
I should have been rained out. It doesn’t get better than that for a rain day.
The Noob’s Guide to Road Cycling Saddles; The Fat, Bad and the Ugly. Seven Reasons Your Saddle Hurts to Ride On
How Can A Good Cycling Saddle Feel So Bad?
If you think a minimally padded $400 bicycle saddle looks more like a torture device than a bicycle saddle, and I’m speaking from experience, that says more about you than the saddle. Contrary to popular belief, manufacturers won’t charge more for a saddle than most people will pay for a complete bike, whilst trying make a torture device out of it. Even those super tiny, ultra-thin, almost no padding saddles are meant to be comfortable. If yours isn’t, the problem is likely the setup, not the saddle (although there is room for the saddle being at fault – or more to the point, you picked the wrong one – but we’ll get to that in a minute). Let’s begin.
Saddle is too high. The easiest, by far, reason your saddle will feel like it has barbed wire embedded in what little padding there is that you’ve got the saddle too high. This means your hips will have to rock to stay connected to the pedals on the downstroke, where you’re weakest anyway. Put your bike on an indoor trainer and put your heels on the pedals. Spin them backwards. Your legs should straighten without rocking your hips. This can be done, carefully, in a doorway by bracing yourself with one or both hands on the jamb(s).
Saddle is too far forward or back – so you end up riding on the wrong part of your butt. If you are riding with most of the pressure on the area between your genitals and your sphincter, well, you’ve got problems. The rubbing/hurting kind of problems. You want to be riding on your sit bones, as the saddle starts to widen out – not on the very back of the saddle and definitely not on the nose (though there is precedent for scooting up a little bit when time trialing). If you look at the profile of a contoured saddle, you’re looking for the area that just starts to rise toward the middle/back of the saddle to cradle you… your sit bones should be just to the back side of that rise. In road cycling, you’re looking for position 2 or 3:
Level is off. This one is simple. For me, for the style of riding I’m used to, I’m a position 2 up above, but the profile photo of the saddle, as it is in the photo, would be a little too “nose down” for me. Not much, but a little. The key is that you don’t want the nose to dig into you, but you don’t want to feel like you’re sliding to the front of the saddle, either. The key is to find the happy spot right in the middle. This can take some saddle time and several adjustments to perfect.
Wrong kind of saddle for a rider’s flexibility. If you’ve got the wrong saddle for your flexibility, you’ll likely have huge problems trying to get comfortable on the saddle. I prefer a contoured saddle because I’m not very flexible – I’m actually in the middle range. A contoured saddle will help a less than bendy human’s torso to rotate forward slightly to aid in an aggressive posture on the bike. Those who bend at the hips well won’t need that help and will be fore comfortable on a flat saddle. Fizik has a really neat app that’ll help you understand your place in the contour food chain. There’s also this:
Too wide. Folks, I’ll make this very simple. If you’re on a saddle that’s too wide for your sit bones, the pain – and I’m speaking from experience again – will be immense. Increasing as your mileage and time in the saddle will only increase the intensity and severity. Left long enough and this pain will radiate down the legs into the hamstrings. It is quite excruciating. If you have a question about the saddle size you should be riding, this is a perfect issue to get sorted at the local bike shop (I’m about 140 mm… I can fit on a 143 but I like 138 a little more for the slimmer saddle nose). They’ll have you sit on a board with memory foam on it which will leave indentations from your sit bones. They’ll measure the distance between the indentations and come up with your saddle width. Women tend to be a little wider than men, for obvious reasons. I think Mrs. Bgddy rides a 155.
Too much padding. I have a friend who rides a cruiser around town. He’s got one of those big, fat, ugly padded saddles. Over the top of it, he’s got one of those shag padded seat covers. Over the top of that, he’s got a gel cover. And he asked me if I though he could add another cover. I’m not kidding. He had so much padding on that saddle, I think it actually cut off the supply of blood to his brain whilst riding. Padding on the saddle cuts off blood to areas that really, really need blood. When that blood flow is cut off, the affected area hurts. It’s the body’s way of telling you, hey, somethin’ ain’t right down here! I’ll tell you what ain’t right. It’s all that padding. Additional padding is not the answer, though a reasonable amount is a good thing, this can easily be overdone. The answer is a good pair of cycling shorts and the proper setup of the right saddle for your body.
Finally, and this one will be surprising (it was for me – and I just figured this out a short while back), if your saddle is too low. That’s right, too low. I was trying out one of those aforementioned $400 saddles and I had a nagging pain, like the edge of the saddle was digging into my left hip bone. I’d set the fore and aft properly (through a series of measurements), set the level properly (2 degrees nose down, then fit to feel for that cradled balance described above), and I thought I’d set the height properly. After my second ride and the saddle just not feeling right, I checked the height. Sure enough, it was about two millimeters low. I raised the saddle and the pain went the way of the dodo, immediately. The clouds parted and the sun shone (and the wind died down) and all was well.
My friends, good saddles are a dime a dozen if you know what you’re looking for and how to set one up on your bike so it feels like it should. Don’t settle for feeling like you’re riding on barbed wire after 20 miles (once you’ve got your requisite saddle time in – new cyclists will experience some pain while they acquire their cycling legs). The answer is fixing the saddle’s position, width, or height, not adding another layer of padding.