And how to use it to find a comfortable bike saddle
*contains explicit imagery
The quest for a comfortable, yet practical, bike seat has presumably been going on since the second day the bicycle was invented. It is the search for the Holy Grail, the quest for all the answers to the Universe, the only thing stopping World Peace, and it is on every person’s mind that straddles a bicycle. But how can something as enjoyable as riding a bicycle bring so much discomfort for some and yet still be disregarded or accepted as being the norm? Discomfort should not be accepted as a consequence of cycling. We believe that cycling, at all athletic levels, should be enjoyable, fun, and exhilarating, which is why we at Cobb strive to change the norms by adding greater comfort into cycling through knowledge and technical products. We also know that comfort on a saddle is personal, so we are opening up the readily avoided discussions of your “downstairs” soft tissue pain to bring joy back into your biking experience.
Imagine walking into a bike shop, preparing yourself to have a talk with your local fitter or bike shop personnel with one of the most personal topics known to cyclists…your crotch hurts on your bike saddle. Whether it is numbing, sores, pressure, or overall soft tissue discomfort, you know something needs to be fixed to continue cycling. But where do you begin this personal conversation? Do you dive right in? Men cyclists may have a less troubling time approaching another male in a bike shop, but a woman approaching a male for an answer to her soft tissue problems can be a problem in itself. Many men are not equipped with the knowledge to approach and fix the problems that females may have on a bike saddle and both parties of the conversation may be too embarrassed to even address the specific problems at hand. As the sport of cycling and triathlon expands, it is time to expand the knowledge of individual cyclists, bike fitters, and shop owners around the world on how to better recommend women to the correct bike saddle.
Before we go any further, many of you may have the question: What exactly do you mean by “soft tissue”? When we talk about soft tissue discomforts on women, the areas we are talking about include the labia (majora and minora), the clitoral area, and the perineum area. This area can also be referenced as the vulva. (See graphic below.)
For the men of cycling, there seems to be a tendency to just “suck it up” when facing an uncomfortable bike saddle; more miles in the saddle will make it better, just ride through the pain etc. Men have specific anatomy that requires various types of arranging to find comfort in the saddle without getting crushed, while women have a completely different set of issues that can be more complicated to address. For women, the concept of suffering through the pain in their soft tissue is not pleasurable, nor is it appealing. The thought of many hours in the saddle has kept many women away from the sport of cycling, and has even forced some out of the sport. Cobb believes it is necessary to break the barriers and open up the discussions to make women all around the world find comfort in their saddle. It starts with a simple question…are you an innie or outie? But we’ll get more on that later…
As a saddle manufacturer, we get numerous e-mails and phone calls from women asking for help on solving these highly sensitive issues involving the soft tissues. The calls and e-mails usually start about the same, “I can’t ride more than a few miles without discomfort” and “I’m not comfortable enough to discuss this with my local bike shop”. Something needed to be done to fix this, something needed to be said, and a system needed to be developed that made more sense. Not only that, but attention to the subject needed to be brought to light. As a saddle designer, John Cobb started asking questions to relieve this problem women were having. He began with his wife, Ginger. He asked her questions about specific saddle pressure points for women and where current saddles were going wrong. After gaining some useful answers, he then went on to ask other female customers similar questions. So in 1995, after researching around, John started modifying saddles from existing manufacturers, trying out different shapes and sizes to receive even more feedback from female cyclists. After some time, it soon became apparent that there were a couple of key issues and elements at hand for women cyclists. One factor that seemed to be a key element in women’s comfort is whether or not the rider uses aero bars, and another factor is how aggressive the front-end setup of the bike is. Looking at these two factors can help determine a better saddle fit. But these factors alone were not enough to eliminate the soft tissue complications facing women riders. Sensitive issues require more attention and detail.
As with so many advances in product designs, there seemed to be a clear pattern developing in relation to which women would choose which saddle shapes. One group of women would really like a narrower nose section, while another group of women would absolutely hate that design and completely love a wide nose section design. There was very little middle ground, it was love it or hate it, but what were the deciding factors? Why would some prefer the wide nose and some prefer the narrow nose? This required much more than just accepting the “wives tales” that all women needed wider saddles, and the need to look beyond the broad statement: women need shorts with thick padding to eliminate soft tissue pain (which is not the case).
While experimenting with women’s comfort on the bike, John was also doing skeletal studies of the human body (the pelvis bone structure) to help find increased comfort along with greater speed and power in riders of all shapes and sizes. During this time, a connection surfaced that showed a consistent trend in the relationship of the hip sockets to the pubic bone location in female riders. Along with this, it became evident that the females with the forward hip sockets also had a more forward pubic bone protrusion, while the females with more rearward hip sockets tended to barely show any pubic bone protrusion (flatter). There had to be some relationship between this finding and saddle comfort for women’s soft tissue. Striving to know more about this connection and what it may mean, studies were continued, more in-depth questions were asked, and more research was conducted. And after further research into this women’s problem by looking at numerous molds, x-rays, and more, John was beginning to see a connection between pubic bone orientation and soft tissue discomfort in women.
Over the next couple of years and throughout many fitting sessions, more serious questions were asked of women cyclists. Harder and more personal questions were asked and answered, and more trust was developed between the fitter and the subjects so that the very frank and exact questions led to answers that could be had. During this time, certain trends relating to female anatomy were being developed and followed. Tests were continued to identify consistency in these trends in order to help the female riders find more comfort on the bike. And then it suddenly became so clear. The answer was there all along, but nobody knew how to ask the questions to find the right answers. A social conversation triggered the thought: is your navel an “Innie” or an “Outie”? That’s a fair question, and a common one at that. But to make that relevant to saddle comfort for females, the question then is: are your soft tissues an “Innie” or an “Outie”? There is a physical difference between the two types, every single women’s body will be different and unique and that difference can help tell you what saddle will be the best fit for your body type.
The women’s sexual anatomy, the vulva, labia, and clitoris in particular, make up the women’s soft tissue that cause the most concerns and discomfort for female riders. The vulva area is the outer exposed soft tissue areas around the opening of the vagina (as outlined above). Because women’s sexual anatomy is lower in the pelvic region, and cannot be “adjusted” like men’s sexual anatomy, finding comfort can be more difficult on a bike saddle. Putting direct pressure on any of this soft tissue area can soon lead to pain, unhappiness, and short bike rides. But the question still remained: how does all of this information seem to work or not work together on a saddle?
For the women who are considered “Outies”, the labia are much more pronounced and exposed, often showing as a physically larger area. In other words, there is more fleshy surface area to the external genitalia for those who are considered outies. For the “Innies”, the labia tend to be more enclosed or drawn up internally so that the crotch area is flatter. The innies will have a smaller exposed soft tissue surface area. So far, it seems that either one can be found with either pubic bone style. While comfort is specific and personal for each body, we have found a trend that connects certain body types to a preference in saddle type. We have found that the “Outies” tend like the wider nosed saddles with larger relief channels or short nose saddles such as the Cobb Max or Fifty-Five models, while the “Innies” can typically ride more narrow relief channels such as the Cobb VFlow and Plus2.
So after a lot of dancing around, there is the answer! Go check out your downstairs and make the call. Comfort and happiness are what you stand to gain by looking and making the best choice for your body. If you still have questions, you can always give us a call or send us an e-mail…we are not afraid to address your personal comfort! Cobb is the only saddle manufacturer willing to discuss this topic out in the open. Because we know, Comfort=Speed.
Contact Me: Rachel Olson-Women’s Development
Office: (903) 253-8555, ext. 3
E-mail: [email protected]
outside picture source: