Bike Seat Bruising
March 23, 2010 4:03 PM   Subscribe

I finally hauled my old touring bike out of the closet and am commuting to work. I'm prepared for a certain amount of pain, but how can I get it over with faster?

Specifically, I'm concerned with the bruising on my ass. (Muscular pain is no big deal - I know what it feels like, how to fix it, and when to ignore it.) I've got a standard narrow saddle, and I'm not dying, but I am definitely wincing a lot.

Some things I'm definitely doing:

- Easing into it - for the first couple weeks I'll only be riding 3ish miles a day, weather permitting.
- Getting padded bike shorts
- Trying hard to remember how to float over the rough spots properly.

Should I get a saddle pad to use temporarily? Is there any particular cream that's safe for very-near-mucous-membrane bits? Any other tips that would help? Ten years ago I was an 80-mile-a-week cyclist, but I was 18 and about forty pounds lighter, too. I'm happy to be back in the saddle, so to speak, but my ass is not as pleased.
posted by restless_nomad to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
It goes away fast on its own. Seriously, keep riding and in a week you'll be fine. Maybe less than a week. It's all about acclimation.

I go through the same thing every spring.
posted by COBRA! at 4:12 PM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, uh, there's talcum powder.
posted by dhartung at 4:12 PM on March 23, 2010

You may need to tweak the position of your saddle a bit to make sure that you're sitting on your sit bones rather than unsupported flesh. And I find that if I'm on a long ride and start feeling buttsore, just shifting back a centimeter gives immediate relief.
posted by maudlin at 4:14 PM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Make sure your saddle is aligned well. I was in a lot of pain when I got my new bike until I fiddled with the saddle position.
posted by pombe at 4:17 PM on March 23, 2010

Saddle pads suck. Instead of putting weight on body parts that can handle it, they distribute it and cut off circulation to a larger area, including (on a guy) something very important.

Three days in the saddle, and the soreness from the actual pressure should subside. Might take a couple weeks, to wear off any extra chafe-happy fat in the area. IN the meanwhile, get some padded shorts, and coat the inside of your sitbones with nad butter.
posted by notsnot at 4:20 PM on March 23, 2010

Yeah, padded bike shorts. That's usually enough. A newer saddle with a cut-out centre bit (like one of these) may help and may prevent excessive pressure on nerves in the perineum that you don't want damaged.
posted by GuyZero at 4:25 PM on March 23, 2010

Also, once you get back into it, keep at it. If you don't the same thing will happen every time you dust off the old bike to commute to work. Also, you have actual bruises? Or your butt is just sore?

Congratulations on making the decision to ride to work!
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 4:29 PM on March 23, 2010

In addition to great ideas above, depending on how old your bike is, you might want to consider getting a new saddle. And, as others have said, play with positioning too. Have fun riding! (I have yet to get my bike out now that winter is hopefully over -- soon, soon.)
posted by stillwater at 4:31 PM on March 23, 2010

The ass pain will go away in less than a month.
posted by everichon at 4:36 PM on March 23, 2010

My boyfriend has a Brooks Saddle that he swears by. It's pricey, but it's tensioned leather so it stretches to fit.
posted by shoesandships at 4:41 PM on March 23, 2010

What's going on is that your ischial tuberosities, the bones in your butt that bear your weight, need to be toughened up. And the way you toughen up any muscle, bone or tendon is through cycles of overloading (excercise) and recovery (which is when you actually get stronger). So yes, ease into your biking. Short distances are good, but more important are the breaks in between to allow your butt bones to recover and strengthen. I'd start out by riding only every other day.
posted by randomstriker at 4:47 PM on March 23, 2010

Yeah, it'll go away in a week or two.

For longer rides, some chamois cream is nice, but absolutely not necessary for some commuting.
posted by The Michael The at 4:48 PM on March 23, 2010

My boyfriend has a Brooks Saddle that he swears by. It's pricey, but it's tensioned leather so it stretches to fit.

That would take 2-3 months to break in. Probably better to get one of those after the initial pain has subsided.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:48 PM on March 23, 2010

FWIW, both my Brooks saddles were comfy from day one.

You can also get padded underwear if you don't want to change when you get to work or want to bike in something other than spandex. Bike shorts are the best, but it's a viable alternative.
posted by paanta at 5:03 PM on March 23, 2010

Work on using your legs to hold more of your weight, so you're sitting less and have less weight on your ass.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:17 PM on March 23, 2010

Brooks sells pre-softened saddles now under the Aged line, I believe.
posted by box at 5:48 PM on March 23, 2010

Building on what the corpse said: check your saddle position--a slight (!) forward tilt will move more weight onto your hands and off your sit bones. Also, lower your handlebars.

Most people (and most 'comfort bikes,' like beach cruisers and suchlike) put too much weight on their butts and too little on their hands.
posted by box at 6:03 PM on March 23, 2010

As others have said, time is the best remedy. I do like my Brooks Champion Flyer saddle, but it does take a few hundred miles to break in properly; it won't help you in the long run. Maudlin's suggestion to adjust the saddle, per the late, great Sheldon Brown's guidelines, is excellent.

I find that chamois cream is useful on rides over 40 miles, but I don't use it for shorter rides. If you do try it, Chamois Butt-R is good. Some folks swear by Bag Balm, a cream developed for cows' udders.
posted by brianogilvie at 6:20 PM on March 23, 2010

When I'm trying to avoid spring bike butt, I try to remind myself to use my whole butt. Sometimes that means being mindful of how my sit bones are sitting on the saddle. Sometimes that means reminding myself to shift my weight so I don't spend the whole ride planted in one place. And sometimes that means to get off my butt and put a little more weight on my feet.

(Since someone mentioned the ischial tuberosities/sit bones, I thought I should mention that in our house we called them tubers before we learned about taters.)
posted by advicepig at 6:32 PM on March 23, 2010

Is your saddle level? Meaning neither nose up nor nose down? Is it aligned perfectly center? Is it the proper height?
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:38 PM on March 23, 2010

You can easily go decent distances and not end up sore as long as you take it easy. Push yourself like you are trying to win the Tour de France and you will be sore. Peddle like your grandma and you will be fine. Unless you are riding a fixie and then you will suffer...
posted by JJ86 at 7:28 PM on March 23, 2010

Thanks guys! I guess I'll mostly just have to suck it up.

To answer a couple questions - the saddle is positioned correctly, near as I can tell. The pain is in two nice round spots over the "sit bones", rather than more delicate bits :) Also, I don't think leaning forward more is the issue - the bike is a (now ten-year-old) Bianchi Volpe and I don't think I could sit very far upright and still reach the handles. It's a pretty aggressive geometry.

It's definitely good to hear that it goes away pretty fast, though. I have to sit all day for work, and that was distressingly uncomfortable today.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:00 PM on March 23, 2010

A couple important things left out - are you male or female? And how long (miles and minutes) is your commute? The earlier comments were pretty comprehensive, but it might impact the relevance of some of the advice.

If your bike will clear them, you'd be amazed at what a new set of fatter, slightly lower-pressure tires will do for this problem. You called it a touring bike, so you may be able to get something like that to fit. I love chubby 80-90psi tires for around-town use - they make any saddle more comfortable.

My only other idea that I don't see above would be to ensure you're cleaning up and changing quickly after arriving. Bike shorts make excellent petri dishes, and a saddle sore will intensify and prolong your misery.
posted by richyoung at 10:03 PM on March 23, 2010

Nthing comments about you'll get used to it. I find for acclimatisation that pushing hard for a couple of minutes or so through the journey gets me fitter quicker - i.e. a bit of casual interval training.

Also, what computech_apolloniajames said - if your saddle is the wrong height it will be especially knackering.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:23 AM on March 24, 2010

IAA bicycle mechanic. I'm coming in a bit late to the party to recommend a couple minor things not suggested above. Presuming that your bike was properly set up for age-18 you, it may not be anymore— the core geometry of your Bianchi is great, but it may need some tweaking. Most mechanics, including myself, would configure a bike differently for an 18 y/o general rider than a 30 y/o commuter— it's about finding comfort and fitting that rider's needs.

Number one is a saddle— unless you have a perfectly broken-in Brooks that's been maintained, after ten years in storage it's probably not performing as designed. I'd recommend the Brooks 'S' models if leather hammock saddles are OK with you, and saddles from Terry or Specialized if you prefer a standard type. Take some measurements on the existing saddle to estimate the position; I use seat tube from BB center to saddle top, then headtube center to sit bone position. You'll have to adjust this as every saddle fits differently, but you should be close to your familiar position.

Number two is analysis of your cockpit position— you might not notice it yet since you're dealing with the obvious butt pain, but do you still love your handlebar position as you did before? Commuters often ask for a more upright riding position for visibility, and you may not be as flexible anymore. You can possibly raise your stem, or swap it for a taller quill or a shorter/higher stem (depending on your headset type) and increase the comfort in your lower back and pelvis. Should you decide later that your fitness level and desired riding wants the old stem back, it's also easily reversible, but there's no sense punishing your upper body now.

MeMail me if you want any more details. Good luck and happy cycling.
posted by a halcyon day at 4:16 AM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks, a halcyon day. I may just take the old girl in this weekend and see what my friendly local mechanics have to say.

Richyoung, I'm female, and I've got narrow knobbies on the bike now. (It's not really designed for the sort of gravel trail that makes up 2/3rds of my commute, but the knobbies help.) It's about 3 miles each way - takes about half an hour right now, but half of that is dodging joggers and their dogs. I'm going sloooow.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:04 AM on March 24, 2010

If the off-road parts of your commute aren't too hilly, I'd definitely look into "inverted tread" tires. They work well on the street, on packed trails, even gravel, just not off-road climbs and descents. The buzzing from knobbies on the street will increase your discomfort, both hands and butt, plus they're pretty inefficient so they'll make you slower and/or tireder.
You could even do that ride on an ordinary treadless road tire if it's not too narrow, say 28 mm or wider. Look at for their Rolly Poly or Jack Brown tires.
For your bum, try Chamoic Butt'R. or your local bike shop. If you need lady-specific advice, Diane at hubbub is very helpful.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 8:31 AM on March 24, 2010

A lot of women seem to like saddles with a cutout. I am male, and also like my saddle with a cutout (designed for males). It is leather and I'd describe it as firm, but not hard. Works well for my 5 mile commute. I tend to prefer padded shorts too but that's mostly because they are not as baggy, generally.

I don't think most people with that bike would do it (generally for reasons of vanity), but you could always go for a suspension seatpost.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 2:39 PM on March 25, 2010

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