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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Bicycle seats: What you have to know


The only part of the bicycle that hasn't really evolved until recently has been the seat. It sounds strange until you remember that the body parts in contact with the hardware was a taboo subject. Nobody would complain much about numb genitals back in 1898 to bike manufacturers.

First off there are two main categories of bicycle seats: women's and men's seat. You can identify them easily by eye right away, skinny seat=men's seat, wide seat=women's seat. This is due to the fact that men and women don't have the same width at the hip sitting bones. The end of the sittings bones are what makes contact with the bicycle seat. So a man could ride on a wide seat, but a woman would feel very uncomfortable riding on a skinny seat. Her sitting bones are not on the seat, but on each side(My girlfriend told me that it actually feels like giving birth!). So ladies get yourself a proper size seat.

Another concern is numb genitals. When this happens to you, it is not something to be ignored or a small inconvenience in exchange for the benefits of cycling. Blood flow is just not going where it is supposed to and this goes for men AND women. New seat designs are out these days with a channel in the middle to allow free blood flow to the genitals. If you are doing any kind of serious mileage on your bike, go to your local bike shop and spend the bucks on a decent seat. My personnel seat is a wide gel padded, spring loaded, cruiser seat with the aboved mentionned channel for proper blood flow.

Once you have your seat, the next thing you need to do is determine the proper height. The proper sitting position on a bicycle is with a slight flex in the knee while pedaling. The way to determine that is to put your heel on a pedal while seated. Your leg should be straight. If it isn't, then you have to put your seat higher. Once you pull your foot back on the pedal, as if you were pedalling, you should have the proper flex in your knee. I've seen many cyclist riding with their knees in their chins just wondering what kind of damage they are doing to them. The proper seat height is very important for the health of your knees, especially if you do a lot of mileage. Take note that your feet might not be flat on the ground when stopped after a proper adjustement.

"Shouldn't my feet be flat on the ground when I'm stopped?" That is a question I hear often and it is a very valid one. If you are new at riding a bike, a child just starting to ride on two wheels or just uncomfortable with standing on your toes, you can adjust the seat lower. Children will not do hard mileage and they will be good at riding pretty quick, so no harm done when it is time to pull up the seat. Adults and seniors not comfortable with this can lower the seat to be "flatfooted" as long as they don't ride hard for long periods of time. Another option is to buy a trike or a new design introduced by Electra bicycles called the Townie bike. This design is the next revolution in bicycling in my opinion. The bottom bracket has been brought forward on the frame instead of directly under the seat. This brings the pedals slightly forward and permits flat footed stops while maintaining proper leg extension. I've tried an Electra Townie myself and it is very comfortable. They look great and I'm buying one as soon as I can.

Remember, the more comfortable you are on your bike, the more often you will ride it.

Until next time, ride safe.

Gerry

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bike company listing, more up to date than most:

Link

Gerry Lauzon said...

That's a great link, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Your knee should be directly over the pedal when the pedal is in it's most forward position.

The Townie design is just begging for knee damage. What you call "comfort" in the short term will have you in physio in the long term.

Gerry Lauzon said...

I've riden at least 5 different set ups of pedal placement bikes from recumbents, to cruisers, to customs for thousands of miles in the past 15 years with no problems to my knees. That's my reference and I'm sticking with it.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Gerry, I am a long distance rider...I've done 150+ mile days in Europe (and since I'm carrying panniers, we're talking 15+ hours or so of riding) and am currently on a ride through Eastern Europe. I can tell you that for this kind of riding I've yet to find a good gel seat that will not cut off the flow...even after an hour, even with that channel in the middle. I've heard from others that the Brooks saddle (which is a hard leather - brookssaddles.com) is the best/most comfortable for long distance rides, though I've yet to spend the money or the time looking, since I simply stand up when I notice the lack of blood flow, and wait for it to return.

Gerry Lauzon said...

I had a Brooks saddle when I was young and I'm still wondering if the saddle formed to my ass or if it was the other way around. I just know that now it would be too hard for me. That sounds like a great adventure you're having right now. I wish I was with you. Be careful out there, ride safe and Godspeed.

Gerry

Anonymous said...

Jerry,

stumbled upon your website. Great site. I purchased a Trek Pilot road bike, but I am getting numb and a persistent rash when using their Bontrager seat. I am changing the seat. I ride 40-50 miles at a time and training for a double century ride in about 4 weeks.

I have done some research and noted the Selle Royal Respiro Moderate after my local bike store told me that I needed a narrow, but soft seat. The Bontrager is a narrow hard seat. Just wondering what your opinion is of this.

Thanks

Rick

Gerry Lauzon said...

Hey Rick,

My experience with Selle Royale seats is very good. Make sure the channel is wide enough to prevent numbness. If you are getting a rash, you might have a rip somewhere on the Bontrager seat that is chaffing your skin. Even the smallest rip can cause that, I lost an entire season because of such a rip once. A bike seat is a very personal thing and I can't guaranty you that you will like the Selle Royale, but in my book, hard is bad. That's my .02. Ride hard but ride safe bro.

Gerry :)

Anonymous said...

Gerry:

First off, great website. I’ve been checking it out and have gleaned a lot of useful information on bikes in general. Last night I received a beach cruiser for my son that I ordered online. A sweet looking Micargi with classic lines. This bike (like your Chief) also appears to be well made. One problem I had though was the Shimano 3 speed nexus hub gears. The gears were already assembled so all I needed to do was to make the adjustment (line up the yellow lines. Unfortunately 2 out of the 3 gears make a lot of noise when I’m riding it. A guy at a bike shop had mentioned that this is just the way they are but I’ve searched online and found few if any complaints about this. Have you come across this problem? And if so, any ideas on how to fix it?


Jim

Gerry Lauzon said...

Hey Jim, I didn't get the chance to ride the new Shimano 3 speed but if the sound you are referring to is the "tick tick tick" kind, the old ones used to make it too and it was normal.

Gerry :)

Anonymous said...

Unapproved Brooks leather saddle break-in procedure:

1) Select the saddle that seems to fit you in the store. Don't bother to get an "Aged" version, because they do not last as long as the regular versions.

+++

Step 1) is important, because if you do this to anyone else's saddle, you will ruin it for them.

+++

2) Take it home and Proofide the bottom thoroughly, and put a thin coat on the top surfaces.

3) LOOSEN THE SADDLE TENSIONING BOLT. Go ahead, loosen it all the way if you want.

4) The day you are going to break it in, put a moist washcloth on the back half of the saddle and leave it there for an hour or so.

5) Put on your cycling shorts that match or are darker than the saddle color, because a little of the saddle color may bleed onto your pants.

6) Remove the damp cloth, and ride for about five miles. By now it should feel bouncy like a firm mattress.

7) Ride for about another five miles. You should notice a distinct "hammocking" of the saddle, and it will be hard to sit all the way back on it.

8) Let the saddle thoroughly dry out.

9) Lightly Proofide the top of the saddle, or use regular wax-based shoe polish.

(This step merely exists to shine up the leather and limit the amount of water the leather absorbs, so just use plain-old shoe polish wax if the saddle already feels OK, or use Proofide if it still seems a mite stiff.)

10) Tighten the saddle tensioning bolt. (I had to use an adjustable spanner, as the supplied wrench slipped once I pulled the leather back into the stretched position.)

That's it! Ride and enjoy!

--Alan, another satisfied Brooks customer.

p.s. I was able to mostly break in a new B17 saddle in about 20 miles, and it's truly a joy to use now.