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CYCLING PERFORMANCE TIPS

  Latest update: 2/17/2023

Your Saddle



A COMFORTABLE SADDLE - NO EASY ANSWER

This interesting post initially suggested (to me) that there might be an easy answer, but then left me hanging. A few takeaways: In the end finding the best saddle is a trial and error approach. If you are buying a new saddle, see if you can get an agreement that you can return it and try another if it does not work for you out on the road. (For me, a Brooks is the most comfortable saddle I've ridden, but it took 2000 miles to conform to my buttocks.)

To quote from the article: "My personal success with recommending saddles has improved a lot since my early days. In spite of this, and the technology on offer, I still find there are some cases where it takes me two or three times to make the ideal selection."

SADDLE ADJUSTMENT

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

Here is a quick approach to assessing correct saddle height. Mount your bike on a trainer (or while sitting on the bike, balance with one hand on the garage wall), then place your heels on the pedals and pedal backwards. If you have the correct height, your legs are completely extended at the bottom of the pedal stroke WITHOUT rocking your hips. Then when pedaling forward, you'll have the optimal bend in your knees. For those that would like to read a bit further - and review other approaches to saddle adjustment, this a link is a nice summary.

If the seat post clamp is not tight enough, your seat post can slip over time from the vibration of riding. To avoid missing this, a simple approach is to mark the seat post where it enters the downtube and routinely check the mark. A more complex alternative is to 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 directly on the seatpost with a sharpie type marker - less durable but also less obtrusive. Don't scratch or score a mark on the seat post itself as it can weaken the structure.

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.

THE PROSTATE AND PERINEAL DISCOMFORT

Numerous studies have documented a decrease in cancer risk of 10 - 20 % in physically active individuals, and as much as a 50% decrease for certain selected cancers. A recent study from Sweden focusing on prostate cancer found a 35% decrease in the study subjects who were physically fit. A definite positive for male cyclists.

But there are cycling risks that can offset to a degree this cancer protective benefit.

A review in 2023 noted that 19% of cyclists with a weekly riding distance of more than 400 km commented on erectile dysfunction and 61% had experienced perineal numbness. It was assumed that compression of the pudendal nerve during pedaling, especially with strenuous effort and excessive pressure on the saddle, lead to transient hypoxemia of the nerve. And several studies found it was excessive pressures in the anterior region of the saddle that were most harmful to the perineal tissue and nerves.

These findings imply that changes in bike fit (saddle position) and pedaling style (intensity) are more important than a modified "holed" saddle to preventing problems. And if a change in saddle design is being considered, a noseless saddle would be a better design but at the cost of a decrease in stability and increase in posterior seat pressure.

If you are dealing with perineal discomfort or numbness these suggestions should be considered:

NOSELESS SADDLES

Again from RoadBikeRider.com:

"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 was testing a noseless saddle for a friend thinking of importing a seat from Europe to market to American men worried about prostate problems with conventional saddles. " 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.

PADDED VS HARD SADDLE.

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.

CHOOSING A SADDLE

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" and reduce pressure on the perineum (the area between the legs).

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

I have found the Sella Anatomica to be one of the most comfortable saddles I've ever used - from day 1. The split in the saddle allows each half to flex independently which both minimizes the break-in period and can also compensate for slightly unequal leg length.

But the initial setup does require a little tweaking. Here are review comments from an online review at Roadbikerider.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 with 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. It's the position I've been at ever since.

SUMMARY TIPS

SADDLE SORES

If there is an a topic in cycling that generates more personal testimonials than the use of supplements, it is saddle sores. A saddle sore is most commonly an area of low level infection, I suspect from bacteria entering the skin through a hair follicle. But some are true abrasions from poor fitting shorts or a lack of adequate time in the saddle during training (which does increase the resistance of the buttock skin at the sits spots to the shear forces that develop with pedaling). This article has no bomb proof remedies but summarizes nicely some common sense suggestions.

What works?

And finally, for long multiday ride, I take a gel seat cover and will use it if I feel a saddle sore developing. It will add a bit of weight to the bike (but less than an extra full water bottle), and does feel squishy, but is excellent for taking pressure off that area of irritation when you have no choice but to ride. It doesn't have to be thick, just redistribute pressure a bit - so look around before buying one. Lighter is better. Here is an example of what I am talking about.

Two additional resources are:



All questions and suggestions are appreciated and will be answered.


Cycling Performance Tips
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