How can I make my recumbent bike comfortable?
November 22, 2012 3:32 AM   Subscribe

I have a recumbent exercise bike that I'm lately using for longer periods of time while I read, etc. Which is great. Except that my rear end is going numb. Is a gel seat cushion going to help? What do I need to do to make this endurable for an hour or more at a time?
posted by gracedissolved to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd get padded shorts rather than a gel seat. You might look a bit funny, but padded shorts will move with your butt. A gel seat cushion will just move.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:43 AM on November 22, 2012

You could try taking a short break part way through your workout, get off the bike and walk around, get some water, stretch or whatever.

When I ride my regular bike on a trainer indoors in the winter I find that various body parts go numb. I think it is because I'm not changing position as much as when I ride outdoors where there is differing terrain to deal with, stop lights to pause at etc. Once I get up to rides of an hour or more, I pause every 30 minutes, get off the bike, fill up my water bottle and do some minor stretches, which really helps.
posted by valleys at 4:16 AM on November 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yup. Padded bike shorts or underwear are your friends. Also, I don't know recumbents very well, but make sure you've got the proper form and the bike is adjusted properly.

The other question is how long have you been riding this bike, and did you ride much before? Because for me, when I start riding again after a long break (aka winter), I become sore/numb quickly at first but slowly build my tolerance up again. As a data point: when I was riding 2 hrs/50km three times a week, no stopping or much changing of position (probably more than on a stationary, but no handlebars that could really deal with it) I could go at least an hour before feeling it at all, and would only be really getting sore around the 1.5 hour mark.

So some of it will just be continuing to ride and building up that endurance. In the meantime, shorts and yeah quick breaks just to stretch.
posted by Lemurrhea at 4:28 AM on November 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've heard motorcycle riders swear by Airhawk cushions for long rides.
posted by Quizicalcoatl at 4:37 AM on November 22, 2012

Response by poster: This is a stationary exercise bike, not a regular bike. The seat isn't at all like that of a regular bicycle. It's basically a chair with pedals attached, but the seat has next to no cushioning. It looks a bit like this--not the exact model, but I can't find a picture of the model I have.

I'm really not keen on the idea of buying all separate clothes for this, but looking silly isn't a problem, it's in my living room.
posted by gracedissolved at 4:42 AM on November 22, 2012

That seat looks awful -- can you retrofit a proper recumbent seat (like this, or one using a Ventisit pad)? I can sit on mine for a full day without any parts going numb.

Proper adjustment of the seat angle may also help, if you sit more upright your butt will not tend to slide forward as much and that reduces pressure. The seat-pedal distance should be set so you can fully stretch your leg if the pedal is away from you and under the center of your foot. When biking, move pedal to the front section of foot of course. Finally, you'll want the pedals to be slightly higher than the seat's front edge.

Padded shorts won't do anything in this geometry; they do work against a cold wind in sensitive areas when riding outside.
posted by gijsvs at 5:09 AM on November 22, 2012

There is a reason bicycle seats are shaped the way they are. It is a great frustration of mine that the manufacturers of exercise bikes completely ignore this.

However, I agree with gijsvs, you need to adjust the seat position. I'd also suggest contacting a bike store that sells recumbent bicycles and see if they have any advice / products.
posted by srboisvert at 6:20 AM on November 22, 2012

Response by poster: On my actual bike, the distance is set right and all, and pedaling is comfortable even over extended periods. It's really just the seat. I don't think it mounts anything like a regular recumbent bike seat does, it looks like it's screwed onto a sort of flat metal plate. I'm not all that mechanically inclined, and this cost under $150 to start with; I guess I should specify that I'm looking in the under-$100 range as far as fixes for this go. Student budget, at the moment.
posted by gracedissolved at 6:30 AM on November 22, 2012

I used to have to use the recumbent bike to train for months while waiting for my legs to heal up for running and yeah, numb butt was a serious problem. I found that sitting on a doubled hand towel or other cushy type thing made it much better! Also doing piriformous stretches to kind of stretch it all out later.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:51 AM on November 22, 2012

I suspect what is happening is that the nerves that emerge from the deep rotators of your hips, including the sciatic nerve and others that emerge to innervate the muscles and skin etc in the area are being compressed. Here is a reasonable snapshot of anatomy. Though you are not having any piriformis syndrome symptoms down your leg, it is likely that are dealing with a simple compression type problem.

In that type of a seat, with your upper body somewhat reclined backwards, you are going to be sitting less on your sit bones, and more on the posterior hip soft tissues including the nerves.

Since this is in your house, I would suggest doing more of a circuit style workout where you ride for 5-7 minutes, then get off the bike and do a structured 5-min routine (such as body weight squats, planks, etc) so you decrease the pressure and get circulation going.

Even with a seat change you may still have the problem due to the position on the bike. I don't think bike shorts are going to help in this case. You could potentially spend a lot of money on shorts and a new saddle, but I am 99% sure that simply taking breaks or doing other exercises interspersed in your bike workout would solve it.

Also maybe try this stretch demonstrated by yours truly.
posted by walmerhoz at 7:32 AM on November 22, 2012

We have a similar (cheap) stationary bike and the same problem. There's two of us with about 1 foot of difference in height, and despite multiple adjustments (our bike only has a "length" adjustment), it still happens to both of us in 30 minutes or less. I really have no idea how to retrofit a better seat on there either, because yeah, it's not at all like a real bike. Honestly, our solution was to stop using it, because it seemed like it might be doing more harm than good.

Of course, I couldn't bear to get rid of it, because that would be giving up, so I'm hoping someone comes up with a solution here.
posted by Secretariat at 7:50 AM on November 22, 2012

I'm baffled as to why a gel seat cushion is not the answer to this problem.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:01 AM on November 22, 2012

i think the best, and cheapest, solution is to get off the bike and walk around every 1/2 hour or so.
posted by cupcake1337 at 10:06 AM on November 23, 2012

> I'm baffled as to why a gel seat cushion is not the answer to this problem.

'cos — the way I understand it, at any rate — comfortable bike seating is all about supporting your weight on your butt's bony bits, and not the squishy bits. Gel tries to even out pressure hydrostatically across all contact points — so the bony bits don't get enough pressure, and the squishy bits get too much.
posted by scruss at 8:45 AM on January 1, 2013

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