On choice of saddle.
On a long distance ride, or for that matter, if riding a bike is an essential daily part of your lifestyle, finding the right saddle is crucial to your comfort and enjoyment. As with the bicycle, the saddle should be an invisible or undetectable presence. Just there to do its job but without making itself a nuisance in any way.
The annoying thing is, until you have given it a try over a decent time span, how is one to know if this saddle or that is going to be a good marriage with your derrière? It is possible to spend a small fortune and still feel glum.
I have experimented with many and in the end, after quite a struggle with the famous breaking in period I settled for the iconic Brooks. Mine is a classic mahogany colour, like my piano. In the words of the cognoscenti, you break it or it breaks you, although to be honest, I would have to say that we shared our brokenness together ….. in true Totnes style.
For one thing, it is a piece of beautiful craftsmanship and so, very pleasing to behold as you proudly wheel your bike out of the shed. Secondly, as it says in the literature, it does in time, mould itself to your own personal bottom. It becomes yours very literally. Your body heat and the precise contact points of your ischial tuberosities, (these are the sit upon bones), gradually soften the leather, creating lovely little concavities which you can snuggle into time and time again. Being shiny and smooth, there is a natural slight and satisfying slip with every stroke of the pedal. Compare this with bulky squadgy ‘comfort’ saddles. These glue your shorts to the seat and within no time at all there is a nasty build up of sweat and friction.
After a very long time, should the leather of your beautiful saddle sag, there is an ingenious extending long bolt with which you can take up the slack and if you take good care of it and feed it regularly on the right oils it will outlive you, Probably by another lifetime. You can even add a favourite essential oil if you are that way inclined, and waft around like an fast moving aromatherapy session.
There is more to be gained from this anatomical match and the rather austere hardness of the saddle. Please note, I am speaking for myself here. Bottoms and nether regions come in an infinite variety of shapes and sizes so I cannot say that the Brooks is for everyone.
I am also speaking as a woman and so cannot speak for men here. Naturally there are all the many reciprocal prostate issues to contend with etc.
The fact that the bum bones are so daintily and precisely located on such a hard surface means that the delicate soft tissues forward are surprisingly, not crushed. Aha, a slight snag immediately comes to mind. Of course, this depends very much on your preferred sitting position. I like to ‘sit up and beg’ with my handle bars high and close enough to reach without too much of a forwards lean. This is fine for me as I am not in a hurry to get anywhere and my bike was built for comfort over longer distances, not fast audax style or racing, when drop handle bars, a ‘dynamic’ position and a more stream lined profile is important.
As a former Physiotherapist and now in my capacity as an Alexander Technique teacher, I have given great consideration to the potential hazards of crouching over the handle bars with a back like a tortoise so that only with a tightly crooked neck can the rider see where he is going.
( incidentally, the compression of the vital blood vessels in the kink at the back of the neck which supply the brain or more importantly, the decreasingly hirsute scalp, guys, can have upsetting consequences )
Also, the tortoise-back and elbows-in posture, which is to reduce wind resistance unfortunately produces precisely the opposite in the heart and lung department. The poor ribcage is now in something of a straight jacket, so the already hardworking muscles of respiration are now meeting resistance instead of being able to bring about the wonderful expansion and blessing of free, deep breathing bellows. I don’t know what the efficiency quotient is but I am convinced that the loss of thoracic volume can only add to heart strain and diminish the actual amount of air flowing into and out of the lungs.
The old adage ‘function affects use and use affects function’ springs to mind. The more we do a thing, the more we become the shape of the particular activity we are ‘doing’.
I have so often observed a cartoon-like image of the massively overdeveloped thighs and calves topped by a rather stooped, and disproportionately underdeveloped, even, weedy torso….. I do wish that my own ample bosom was slightly less inclined to develope so, though….
Back to the main topic. Saddles and sore bits. Those of you with delicate sensibilities may wish to retire to the library with your cigars and whisky at this point, but I would be delighted if you read on, as it may be of some help if you are bewildered by your quest for a happy sex life. ( I am sticking my neck out here, with gender issues and sexuality. I should shut up now before I dig myself in deeper)
You might wonder whether I opted for padded shorts to cushion my tough mount. As with saddles, you can spend a fortune trying out different sorts of shorts and leggings. I did manage to find one or two that suited me, but overall, I was baffled at how huge I would need to be between the legs for some of these great wadges of padding to fit.
I can own up now to having a professional interest in this subject. For some years I worked as an Obstetric and Gynaecological Phsiotherapist, and so I was in daily contact with women who were suffering from post natal injury or recovering from surgery. There was also the more normal ward round of ante and post natal care and I was laughingly known as ‘The Pelvic Floor Queen’.
The menopause has a rather shocking effect on the precious soft tissues of the genitalia. I quote a colleague with whom I worked in the Maternity Unit
“it’s all dried up like an autumn leaf down there”
Vaginitis as it is known can be a real woe and is a subject about which many women are understandably very sensitive. It also can have such sad and isolating ramifications on the relationship front, straight or gay.
Hormonal changes are indeed a challenge and the effects are more often than not fastidiously avoided in our society and so clothed in a shroud of mystery.
I ferreted around on the Internet and found that there are many very good articles about this, particularly amongst high flying women cyclists. It is an aspect of cycling that can seriously impinge on performance. Having the right clothes and being meticulous about changing and washing is naturally of paramount importance to well being and health in this crucial part of the body, as is noticing any minor soreness and dealing with it promptly before it escalates. On a long haul it is wise to carry an antibiotic or remedy that will quickly address the first hint of cystitis if you are prone to it, for instance. It is also better not to use perfumed soap or synthetic deodorants. Cotton or merino wool pants may not dry quite as quickly but they are much less sweaty. There are dietary considerations too. Strong coffee and tea are dehydrating and can cause the urine to become highly concentrated, which in turn can cause irritation to the bladder wall. This translates as an urgent and frequent need to go to the loo. The numbing effect of a hard saddle can often mask the ‘need to go’ for far longer than is sensible with the result that once off the saddle, there is an almighty rush to disappear (frankly by this stage I couldn’t care less) behind the nearest available bush. Tricky when the winter foliage is non-existent. I digress.
It goes without saying that drinking enough water is vital to good bladder health. Sugar, or too much of it can predispose to thrush. Another horrid problem if it rears its ugly head while you are traveling.
I had to take into account the need to travel as lightly as possible and the likelihood that washing clothes and the challenge of getting them quickly dry was just one of many factors.
This was especially relevant at my life stage, as with more vulnerable soft tissue there could be a greater predisposition to infection or inflammation and so a greater risk of the much dreaded above conditions. It is utterly miserable to be afflicted with either, let alone on a bike. It is difficult to treat, and once it has occurred, has a greater chance of recurring. Ghastly.
I am happy to say that I had none of these problems.
As I couldn’t imagine having rigorous washing facilities or reliable drying weather, and as bacteria can easily build up in the padding, even with all the silver permeated fabric technology these days, I decided to do without.
Well, almost. In warm weather, my beautiful brooks saddle was simply hard.
As winter set in however, and the temperature dropped to below zero, it was like getting onto stone. Harder than hard, it leeched the warmth away from my nice warm posterior and for several days in Slovakia I was a bit dejected. And my well developed, muscular legs were cramping with cold. I found myself looking for a hill to go up to get warm and then regretting it because of course I would then have to come down and get chilled all over again.
The pretty town square in Banska Bystrica had the answer. Wherever I have seen bicycle shops I have been unable to resist going in.
I went straight to the padded winter tights rail. With much laughter and fraternal commiserations as well as some very satisfying gasps of admiration, I showed off Sir Galahad’s finer points and waddled blissfully out into the cold.