uncomfortable bike seat

Stationary bikes are uncomfortable as hell in the beginning.

Getting a few rides under your belt will help. Positioning the saddle and handlebars correctly can also make a big difference to the comfort of your ride, but why are indoor bikes so uncomfortable? And what can riders do to relieve sore sitz bones, aching coccyx, and chafing?

Why are Indoor Cycling seats so uncomfortable?

It’s not just indoor cycling bikes that are uncomfortable. Road bikes are tough on backsides, too. Saddles often get the blame. But before you swap yours out for something wider or with more padding, it’s useful to understand why bicycle seats are shaped the way they are. It could help you find the solution to a more comfortable ride.

And it's worth knowing that for a lot of people, any discomfort often reduces and then disappears with experience. Road cyclists build up stamina the more miles they do. Indoor cyclists often see a decrease in soreness after the first few classes. If you’re just starting, you may only need time to adjust.

Why are bicycle seats shaped the way they are?

  • Bicycle seats are actually called saddles.
  • The difference between the two is more than just semantics.  Seats bear a person’s weight entirely but saddles are designed to support a person in a specific position. The pointed front of a saddle is called the nose.  Its narrow edges prevent a rider’s thighs from rubbing against the saddle during pedaling. The rear of the saddle then widens to support the sitz bones: the two rounded bones extending from the bottom of the pelvis. The rest of a rider’s weight is shared between the two other contact points: the handlebars and pedals.
  • Width and positioning of the sitz bones are important in ensuring a comfortable saddle.  Females have wider sitz bones than men so a saddle sold for women is both shorter and wider.  Some women may still prefer to use a male saddle and vice versa.  Cycling in an indoor studio often means settling for whichever saddle came with the bike.
  • Bike saddles vary in size and shape. The most suitable for you will depend on several factors including how much riding you do and over what types of terrain; the distance between your sitz bones; how intensely you intend to pedal, and your gender.
  • Personal preference plays a role, too. No two people have exactly the same build or bum even if manufacturers of indoor bikes appear to insist otherwise. The perfect saddle for one person won’t work for someone else.
  • Firm and longer saddles are often preferred by those opting for long or intense riding sessions. Wider saddles can be more suited for slower or shorter training sessions.
  • But don’t assume a wider or padded saddle is better even on indoor bikes.  Soft saddles put more pressure on the sensitive soft tissues which can be very uncomfortable. Hard saddles may be better in the long run. You just need to get used to them.  Saddles that are much wider than your sitz bones can be awkward and painful to use. Those that are too narrow can be painful.
  • Outdoor cyclists have an advantage as road bikes can be taken apart and the saddles replaced or readjusted to fit the individual rider. Specialist stores can help with this. Some can map a person’s sitz bones to ensure a better fit and they may also allow you to try a saddle for a few weeks before committing to buying one.
  • Indoor cyclists can take advantage of this, too, if they have a universal post to swap the saddle out.  Gym cyclists and indoor cyclists may have to make do with what brand the class or studio is using.
  • If this sounds like a lot, then don’t panic. One of the biggest benefits of the stationary bike is that it’s very beginner-friendly and with a low-barrier of entry.  Don’t worry too much about the saddle as most people can manage a little discomfort whilst they get used to a new training regime. And if you do need to make your indoor bike more comfortable, there are several easy ways of doing it.
exercise bike pedal close up

How to Make an Exercise Bike Seat More Comfortable (or Road Bike)

Manufacturers treat us as if we are all the same shape and height so never assume the factory-setting position of the stationary bike will be suitable for you.

  • Adjusting the saddle can help.  Try moving it up or down.  The information should be in the instruction pack that came with your bike or ask your instructor if you’re in a class. One quick way of adjusting it to your height is to stand next to the bike and either raise or lower the saddle so that it’s level with your hip. Next, sit on the saddle with the pedal in its furthermost downward or ‘6 o’clock’ position. You should be able to place your foot on it with the leg almost straight but with a slight bend in the knee.
  • Check the angle of your saddle. Too far forward and you’ll put too much pressure on your wrists and you’ll slide forwards.  Too far back and all the soft tissue in your *ahem* delicate area can get tender.
  • Your tailbone shouldn’t be touching the seat so adjust accordingly.
  • Position your handlebars either level with or slightly higher than the saddle.  Handlebars that are too high put added weight on the sitz bones.
  • Padded shorts can help make indoor bikes more comfortable.  You may find this more beneficial than padding the saddle itself.  Cycling shorts also reduce chafing and friction by creating a smooth barrier between the skin and saddle.  Bib shorts worn by road cyclists can be used in indoor cycling classes or at home but if you’re self-conscious, add sports shorts over the top.  Just remember that some cycling shorts will only reduce chafing if you’re riding commando.
  • Chamois cream is used to reduce chafing.  It’s popular with road cyclists but can be used by indoor cyclists, too.  Add a small amount either directly to the skin or directly onto your cycling shorts.
  • The more you ride, the less saddle soreness you should experience. Think of it like breaking in a new pair of shoes. It’s something discussed on a lot of forums.  You may just need to persevere for a little while.
  • An indoor bike with a universal post means you can change the saddle. Take time to research and test the different saddle types and sizes. Measure your sitz bones to ensure you’re buying the right size.
  • Include standing intervals when you ride.  This not only relieves some of the pressure on your sitz bones but it also increases blood flow.  It’s a great way to imitate the hill climbs you’d be doing on a road bike and get a little ab workout as you cycle.
  • You can buy padded seat covers for your at-home bike.  Some riders swear by them.  It’s down to personal choice but padded seats can put more pressure on the soft tissue between the sitz bones. In the short term, it can be a welcome respite. If you’ve been struggling with discomfort for some time, and have exhausted all other avenues, a padded or gel seat may be worth a shot.

Why are stationary bike saddles so uncomfortable?

·        Beginners assume that a saddle is the same as a seat.

·        Beginners may not have racked up enough time in the saddle to get used to it.

·        Incorrect saddle height, width or angle may put additional pressure on the sitz bones.

·        No saddle is universally comfortable. Riders should find the most suitable one for them

·        Too much friction between the saddle and the leg can create chafing and sores.

·        Not enough time standing up and out of the saddle during classes to relieve pressure.

·        Women sitting on male saddles and vice versa but also…

·        Riders assuming that saddle gender will solve all discomfort issues

·        Too little or too much padding for an individual’s need.

·        Not wearing appropriate clothing

·        Not using chamois cream

Indoor cycling bike seats are often uncomfortable when we first start riding them.  Fixing that may just be a matter of getting used to it or it can be a process of trial-and-error using the bike’s ability to adjust or by purchasing accessories such as clothing or chamois cream. How to make an exercise bike seat more comfortable often comes down to finding your own preferred methods through experience.

If you’re experiencing longer-term discomfort, you may need a new saddle. Speaking to a bike specialist can help road cyclists. If you’re in a class, talk to your PT or instructor.

If the soreness or pain continues without reasonable explanation, visit a doctor or medical professional to rule out any medical issues.