Biking makes my butt hurt
July 3, 2008 11:14 AM   Subscribe

I'm a girl who (after working her way up to it for a few weeks) has been biking about 10 miles per trip about 2 or 3 times per week for about 3 weeks now on a bike that is similar to the Electra Amsterdam Sport here. I feel great, except that my butt hurts. We tried adjusting the seat higher, and that didn't help, so we moved it back down. We tried moving the back of the seat higher (so it sort of looked like this from the side >), and that was noticably bad, so we moved the front of the seat higher ( < )and that helped a little. But, my butt still hurts.

I have read that when I'm biking I'm actually supposed to distribute my weight at about 1/3 butt 1/3 feet/pedals and 1/3 handlebars, but I'm definitely not doing that and I doubt that I could.

It's hard to describe exactly what hurts, but it seems like it's the area around my tailbone, though not my tailbone itself. Sort of the back of my butt, if you will.

Is it just that I'm new to biking and overweight, so that until my pear butt decreases in size it is in for some hurting? Is there some seat adjustment we could make that would help? (The seat looks basically like the seat in the picture -- puffy and with springs at the back.) Do I need to try another seat (and if so, what?)? Thanks!
posted by onlyconnect to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are you wearing bike shorts? You might want to give that a try.
I wear mine under skirts and shorts for the times when I am not feeling like sharing my spandexed butt with the world.
posted by smalls at 11:24 AM on July 3, 2008

Have you tried a different seat?
posted by drezdn at 11:25 AM on July 3, 2008

Try a different saddle. That one looks a little wide for my tastes, but saddles are definitely a personal preference.

My local bike shop offers a 30-day return policy on saddles. Call around and see if any in your area will let you try one for a while to see if it's more comfortable.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 11:27 AM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Like the poster above says there's personal preference, personally, I've found smaller saddles to hurt less in the long run.
posted by drezdn at 11:31 AM on July 3, 2008

There could be a number of factors contributing to your pain. I think your best bet would be take your bike in to a specialist and have him/her check your fit. In general, bike saddles are not designed to support your full weight for long periods of time. Here is a great article by Sheldon Brown to help you understand your bike saddle better: Link to article.
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 11:33 AM on July 3, 2008

Remember that as spikeleemajor... says, it's a saddle, not a seat. Sometimes the squooshy, wide seats are worse for you, because they push on things that are not sit bones.

One thing to try for the 1/3-1/3-1/3 idea is, put it in a harder gear, a little earlier.

NOt only does the seat move up and down, but front-back. Check that, too.
posted by notsnot at 11:34 AM on July 3, 2008

That bike seat is maybe too wide for you. Have you tried a bike seat designed specifically for women? I'd recommend Terry - their seats are amazing. Not hurty on butt*, not numby on what they call "soft tissues".

*not hurty on my butt, anyway. I can't speak for all ifs, ands or butts.
posted by iconomy at 11:36 AM on July 3, 2008

I used to have a fairly narrow racing-type saddle on my bike. Never had a problem. Then I borrowed a bike from a friend with a wide, super-comfortable gel-filled saddle and did my usual 50-mile ride. I could hardly walk for two days after that.

The moral being that a wide, well-padded saddle is not necessarily the best, even if you're overweight. As others have said, try some others.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 11:45 AM on July 3, 2008

I just bought a Trek bike a few weeks ago, and the second day I had it, I brought it back to the bike shop and said "The seat hurts!".
The guys said "Okay, where does it hurt?"
I said "Um... on my butt?"
He said, "Okay, I can fix it!"
He moved the seat forward by about a quarter inch, and I haven't had a single pain since.

If you have a good bike shop, go in and tell them what's wrong. They'll probably know just what to do to fix it.
posted by nataliedanger at 11:47 AM on July 3, 2008

Those puffy, wide seats are designed to look comfortable, not be comfortable. They don't provide enough support for anything resembling serious riding (and your ten-mile rides are, what, an hour or so long?). Switching to the kind of saddle made for recreational/sport riding (iconomy's recommendation of Terry is a good one, though I'm a Selle Italia fan myself. Fizik, Brooks and WTB, among others, also make nice saddles) would probably help significantly. And if you're not already wearing cycling shorts (the liner kind is just fine), that'd also be a good step.
posted by box at 11:51 AM on July 3, 2008

Nthing the suggestions to bring it to a bike shop for ideas & to pick up some padded shorts while you're there.

You also might try straight handlebars. My bike is cruiser-y, but it has straight mountain-bike-type handlebars that encourage me to lean forward and make it easy to transfer some of my weight to my feet and arms.
posted by PatoPata at 11:53 AM on July 3, 2008

Your butt hurts from a combination of factors.

Part of is that you're new - your butt will toughen up.

Part of is that it sounds like you're not entirely clear on the fit of your bike. You should take it into a shop and have the most knowledgeable* person there assist you.

*By knowledgeable I mean ask, "Who here is the expert in adjustments?" If you don't do this then you'll get whatever booger picker is on duty fumbling around with your bike's geometry and this may result in serious joint injury. Make sure you're dealing with an expert, and don't be shy about taking your bike elsewhere.

Part of is that you may need a new bike saddle. Or an entire new bike. I personally would not like to ride your bike for ten miles as I think upright bikes like it do tend to cause you to put too much weight on your butt and don't allow you to shift your weight easily from the bars, to the saddle, and to the pedals.

Saddles come in all shapes and sizes. One with more cushion or a different shape can make a huge difference. Of course the problem maybe that your current saddle has too much padding - a soft saddle will cause your "sit bones" to shift around uncomfortably. Talk with your bike shop - see if they will let you test ride saddles before you buy. And don't be afraid to try saddles that are weird or uncomfortable looking. Sometimes the alien-space-ship looking ones do the trick.

Please be careful when adjusting your bike. A saddle that is too low or too high can result in knee injury. Adjusting your handlebars incorrectly can also lead to shoulder and back pain.

If you still insist on adjusting your bike yourself, then take it slow. Make an adjustment, ride for a few minutes and then try again. It may even help to take a notepad and write down the changes you make.

Bike shorts generally help the most with dissipating sweat and preventing chafing. If I'm just going a mile or two I'll wear normal undies, anything longer than that and I'll usually wear my bike shorts. Shorts won't necessarily help with your butt pain, but some of them do have padding that could help... even if they don't address your pain you should still invest in a few pairs.

Good luck, and good job ridding 10 miles a few times a week! That's an awesome accomplishment! Keep it up!
posted by wfrgms at 11:55 AM on July 3, 2008

Response by poster: I have not tried any of these suggestions except moving the seat up and down and tilting it up and down (no success), so this is really helpful. It sounds like maybe I should try an initial combo of bike shorts (are they padded? is that why they might help?) and asking the bike guy for an adjustment, followed by trying a different (probably thinner) saddle if that doesn't work. Plus trying for some weight redistribution, but I'm really not sure that's going to work on this upright-type of bike, though I can give it a shot.

I thought the thinner saddles were more for boys than for girls, and if anything had been thinking maybe I needed to try a wider one. Go figure.

Thanks for all the suggestions so far.
posted by onlyconnect at 11:56 AM on July 3, 2008

In addition to that great Sheldon Brown article, you might try this. (I might have found it here, but a search doesn't turn up the URL.)

Your most likely issues are:

1. Your saddle may be too wide and cushy. I started cycling again this year and found that the club-chair-sized seat with massive springs on my Trek hybrid hurt my butt, but switching to my old mountain bike and its smaller, narrower seat kept things quite comfortable. Measure yourself as shown in that link to figure out how wide the seat should be to support your sit bones.

2. You may need to adjust the seat forward or back.

3. You may need a woman-friendly Terry-type saddle with a gap. You may find yourself somewhat sore from contacting the front of the saddle, so you've been unconsciously moving your weight back on your butt to avoid that, making your butt hurt instead of your lady parts.

But try measuring yourself and repositioning your seat before buying a new saddle. Go to a good bike shop for help if you're unsure.
posted by maudlin at 11:57 AM on July 3, 2008

REI, and probably other sporting goods stores, sell cycling underwear that you can wear with any shorts or pants.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 12:00 PM on July 3, 2008

I am not an expert, but I'd agree that there could be some inherent property of the seat itself that's causing the issues - not its position. It could be too wide, too narrow, too firm, too soft, etc.

My own bike, when I first got it, also made my butt hurt, but that was a factor of the seat just being really REALLY hard when I got it (even the guy at the bike shop I go to remarked on it once). But that went away in time -- I actually didn't even notice a problem when I first dug it out of storage this year after letting it winter in the garage.

I do remember it being a few weeks before that went away, so that could be all that's going on (your butt is still getting acquainted with the seat).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:00 PM on July 3, 2008

I'm actually supposed to distribute my weight at about 1/3 butt 1/3 feet/pedals and 1/3 handlebars, but I'm definitely not doing that and I doubt that I could.

You couldn't, not on a Dutch type of bike, with its upright sitting position. You'll lean a lot less on your handlebars than on other kinds of bikes. So some tips given here do apply, and others simply don't.

Depending on the saddle --- brands likes Brooks allow it, others don't --- you could win something by sliding it a bit backwards, or forwards.

Depending on your own build: your two 'sitting bones' may be either too far from eachother, or too nearby, to ever sit comfortably on that particular saddle.

If it's an oldfashioned leather saddle, like a Brooks, it may need some breaking in and it can simply be too hard for awhile. Rolling it with a dough roller seems to help.
posted by ijsbrand at 12:01 PM on July 3, 2008

Seat's probably too wide.

Plus, three weeks is still kinda not long when it comes to butt hardening.

One other thought-make sure you are seated on your "sit bones." that will help some.
posted by konolia at 12:14 PM on July 3, 2008

Just to add to what other people have said above: paradoxically, a harder saddle is usually more comfortable in the long run than a soft one. Feel underneath your backside when you're sitting down: you should be able to feel the ridges of the pelvis in the middle on either side. It's these that you want to take your weight. A soft squishy saddle spreads the weight over other, softer bits of your anatomy which really don't like being squashed very much.

But everyone is different & you have to find the combination of saddle and riding style that works for you.
posted by pharm at 12:16 PM on July 3, 2008

Response by poster: Some more folks answered while I was composing my last post, so I'm sorry if I seemed like I was ignoring you. I am going to try a bunch of these ideas and then come back and mark best answers according to what works. (I promise we will be careful with self-adjustments.) Thanks, AskMe!
posted by onlyconnect at 12:17 PM on July 3, 2008

A saddle should not have tilt. It should be level. Tilting the nose downward will cause your butt to constantly slip forward, and the tilting the nose upward will do the opposite, not to mention putting pressure in all the wrong places.

One problem with wider saddles is that they don't allow your legs to pedal in a line parallel with your top tube; rather they have to splay outward slightly, which is not the ideal motion for the hips. Which is why narrower saddles are easier to ride. It's counterintuitive, I know, but it's true. Buy the narrowest, firmest saddle that is comfortable for the speed you're riding.

Have fun out there!
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 12:54 PM on July 3, 2008

You mentioned you're overweight, but didn't say how much, so I figured I'd throw up some resources for padded bike shorts. REI sells many kinds of bike shorts, from spandex to ones that look like baggy hiking shorts with a padded liner (like a men's swimsuit). They also sell just the padded liner, which you can wear under whatever. These all come in men's and women's sizes, but be aware that bike clothing is often cut quite a bit smaller than other kinds of activewear, even after taking the spandex close fit into account. (Pearl Izumi, I'm looking at you.)

If you wear plus sizes, you probably won't find much in the way of bike gear at a regular athletic store or at a specialty women's store like Title 9. However, Junonia and Team Estrogen are good resources for quality sports gear in plus sizes. Junonia has spandex padded shorts right now, although I own a good pair of bike-liner baggies from them, and Team Estrogen has CUTE stuff like padded cycle skirts and whatnot.

Also nthing that your seat may be too squooshy and/or in the wrong place.
posted by catlet at 1:00 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I suggest heading into Capitol Hill Bikes, near Eastern Market. It's run by two women who are much closer to plus-sized than you are, so I bet they could offer some good advice.

They're not open tomorrow, so you can't stop by on the way over to our house!
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:44 PM on July 3, 2008

I have a 21-speed Townie, and it's great for commuting, hauling stuff around, short rides (under say, 8 miles). But because of the upright riding position (IMO), it's not so great on hills or longer 'exercise' rides. Such rides are far more pleasant on a hybrid or mountain bike. So, while your current saddle may not be ideal, part of your problem may be the bike itself, too. If your local bike shop rents bikes, you could try renting a more standard bike and going on the same longer ride.
And be sure to give the new saddle a couple of days - it took about a week for my soreness to go away.
posted by queseyo at 2:03 PM on July 3, 2008

That seat looks like it sticks up too much in the middle.

In addition to pain, that could lead to health problems, though it's debatable for women.

If this is the problem, then try one of these from Specialized, or something like it.

I put the men's version on a bicycle that I salvaged recently, and it is a vast improvement. And I mean vast. The old seat was a pain in the butt after a few miles, whereas on the new one, I can sit all day. (I'm not overweight.)

They have other designs as well.

And this looks interesting, the Moon Saddle, but I've never tried it.


P.S. - the seat part of the seat (not the nose) must be wide enough so your "sit bones," the ischial tuberosities, sit on the seat.
posted by coffeefilter at 2:52 PM on July 3, 2008

I know you said not tail bone, but..

I ride in a very aggressive style. I like to go fast. To facilitate this, I progressively swapped fatter tires for thinner (and consequently higher pressure) ones. Eventually I got down to 1.25" at about 100psi, and I developed a constant nagging tail bone pain. It was particularly bad when I was sitting in a slightly wrong position in a chair and went to stand up. Also, laying in bed it was very noticeable, and irritating, but not as intensely painful. Generally the pain went right across, not just the tail bone in the middle..

I went back up to a 1.5" 60psi tire, and the problem disappeared.
(it took a lot of adjustments before I finally discovered this solution.. Chair cushions, new chair, mattress pads, new mattress)

So, what is the size and typical inflation pressure of your back tire?
posted by Chuckles at 11:50 PM on July 3, 2008

Err.. in editing my answer lost some context.. The tire thing isn't a panacea, seat selection and adjustment will be very important, but that stuff has been covered already.
posted by Chuckles at 11:56 PM on July 3, 2008

Onlyconnect's rear tire pressure peaks at 75 and drifts toward 65.
posted by NortonDC at 7:27 AM on July 4, 2008

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