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Optimizing comfort in the saddle
For some, the notion of being comfortable whilst riding a bike at a certain intensity is a platitude. “Toughen up,” “don’t be weak,” “embrace the suffering,” are phrases thrown at us when we admit to feeling discomfort. Is it something we’ve got to endure? In a way, that’s correct in the sense of how best to deal with a tired body, one that’s unwilling or reluctant to ride faster, further or harder, but the idea has been stretched to encompass the general notion of comfort in the saddle. That misguided belief that it doesn’t exist, or will never exist entirely. That’s where so many get it wrong. That’s where we’ll stand up and object.
For us, the idea of eliminating discomfort in the saddle is paramount.
Earlier this year, we invited world-renowned bike fitter and biomechanics specialist Lotte Kraus to chat on our ASSOS Audience. An expert at working with all levels of riders to improve their performance through optimising comfort in the saddle, Lotte works with gebioMized, a company with one of the best reputations for biomechanics research and customised saddles. Set up 15 years ago, it creates pressure-mapping devices that many of the biggest companies in cycling rely on for product development.
When it comes to the importance of contact points between you and the bike, how low is too low for your bars, how to select the right saddle, offset and more, Lotte’s knowledge is virtually unrivalled.
And in Lotte’s opinion, shorts are a vital part of the equation.
Lotte on bike fit
As a starting point, you need to make sure that your bike is fitted correctly to your body. That means everything from saddle height, layback, bars, etc. The position of all the contact points that you have with the bike need to work with your body — not in the sense of someone thinking that a certain way of looking on the bike is better. We use pressure mapping and movement analysis to record a baseline, then make changes and improve those numbers. There is a science behind bike fitting, and though there are so many different schools of belief surrounding it, we know we can rely on data and numbers to quantify what we are doing to make sure it is better.
There is no one-solution-fits-all, which means that you need to invest in a good bike fit. Find someone who is experienced and scientific about what they do, and use their input as the starting point to improve your comfort whilst riding.
If you can’t invest in a bike fit then you can work on improving your own position independently. The same principles of data apply, but in a looser sense. Change saddle height or position, etc., in very small increments and one thing at a time, then see how it feels. It will take more time and a certain sensibility of how you feel, but it can be done.
1 — Starting point — Use the heel method to get a ballpark position for your saddle height. Sit on your bike and move your saddle to a height where the heel of your foot is just losing contact with the pedal when it is at the lowest point of the stroke.
2 — Visual clues — Get someone to observe you riding: Is there excessive rocking or movement of your hips, which would indicate a saddle too high? Are you dipping your heel or pointing your toes to compensate for the wrong saddle height?
3 — Slow tweaks — once in this ballpark area, use very small tweaks, changing the height of your saddle up and down to fine-tune the position. Record the original height (measured from the centre of your cranks to the bottom of your seat rails following the line of the bike tube and seatpost), and note the differences in a notebook.
4 — If in doubt, ask a professional.
Lotte on saddle and short choice
After a bike fit, we roll into the two parts that make up your largest contact area with the bike. The saddle being the part connected to your bike and the short connected to you. It is within these two products that we get many variables that affect your comfort whilst riding.
First, let’s talk about the different needs of a soft and hard saddle. A soft saddle — similar to those found on town bikes — work on the principle that you won’t be using a short with an insert. Why? Because they offer enough movement to compensate for that. But if you want performance, this movement leads you to lose power.
The option for anyone focused on cycling for performance has to be a harder saddle, which flexes less underneath you, meaning your energy is transferred to the pedals and not lost. A hard saddle demands a padded short, which is why we see serious cyclists wear the apparel they are known for.
You need to focus on a short with a quality insert, with specifically shaped foam, that is sufficiently firm, yet with adequate padding to make sure you do not cut your rides short.
Our tests show that there is a significant difference in the performance of low price and high price shorts: the ones that cost more tend to deliver notably better comfort and support. But it is the details around this that really impressed us with the more expensive shorts.
Wider shoulder straps on the bibs reduce pressure on your shoulders and allow you to hold a better position on the bike. Fewer seams in the construction mean less areas to rub that will affect your biomechanics as your rides get longer. Fabric that stays tight and elastic throughout your ride, meaning the insert stays precisely where it needs to be. Another feature often found in shorts from the top end of the market is raw cut finishes on the textile, which guarantees an optimal flow of the lymphatic system.
We can say many things about different saddles, but the benefits of these come down to personal preference: cut-out or not cut-out, wide or narrow, firm with some padding or firm like a piece of carbon. It is clear that saddles need to be tested by riders to see what works specifically for them, whereas shorts are more able to mold to the rider.
Lotte on what cycling you do
The type of riding that you do — road racing, mountain biking, time trialling, triathlon — has an effect on how you should perceive comfort in the saddle. Why? Because each discipline has a different bike, meaning a different position, and demands asked of you, the rider. Time trials are all about aero optimisation, where you need a very different combination of bike fit and saddle to get optimal comfort. Whereas mountain biking is much more upright, over rough terrain. Again, demanding many different things from your position, saddle and naturally, your choice of cycling shorts.
Lotte on knowing how you ride
Finally, something that will help you make the most out of tweaks to your position is knowing how you ride. This is not in terms of over distance or during events, but more a case of being aware of how you sit on the saddle.
Are you a front-loader? More commonly done by female riders, this is something that can risk causing genital pressure and tends to be often caused by a too-aggressive fit, and aggravated by a weak core. To resolve this issue, you can introduce specific core work into your weekly routine.
Are you a back-loader or a “monkey-humping-a-football”-type rider, as we call them? This results in pain toward your sit bones, and comes from a lack of flexibility in the hips, hamstrings, and/or weak core muscles. Again, this can be alleviated with core work too.
The idea is to think about loading a relevant proportion of the saddle surface, spreading the load of your bodyweight over the maximum surface area possible.
ASSOS’ comfort in the saddle guidance — What shorts are you?
EQUIPE RS S9 — The racers’ short, engineered to work as hard as you do. Our most innovative bib shorts design with brand-new technology to elevate comfort and performance simultaneously, including rollBar bib strap inserts, butterfly panelling, and A-Lock Engineering that changes the game when hard cornering and hammering out of the saddle.
EQUIPE RSR S9 — Our lightest; your fastest. As the most comfortable race-spec bib shorts to ever leave the ASSOS laboratory, this 160-gram pair is our push-it-past-the-limits short for the ultimate performance.
The CENTO — Crafted for big miles in comfort, the Cento are a less compressive, more distance-focused short ready to take you down new roads and up big mountains.
The MILLE GT — Representing the go-to short for many, these utilise our proven Type.429 Titanio material and valued MILLE S7 EVO insert to give you signature ASSOS performance on your regular training loop or weekend club ride — courtesy of a custom fabric blend, refined insert, and versatile fit.
DYORA RS S9 — Built on our advanced S9 platform, these shorts firmly bring our women’s top-tier collection in alignment with the men’s.
LAALALAI — Built on the S7 platform, these are staple shorts for female athletes looking to perform at a high level, coming with bibs or no bibs.
UMA GT EVO — Put together with performance in mind, the bibless UMA shorts have a trim, tailored fit and functional design, making them ideal for hot summer days and the hard training sessions — indoors or out, week in, week out.
The full interview with Lotte Kraus can be found here: