Why Are Bike Seats So Uncomfortable? 3 Hacks to Prevent Discomfort

Author: Amanda

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How can you sit on the hard little seat?” my friend asked after inspecting my new road bike. “That looks like it would hurt!” Another friend got on his bike after a 10-year hiatus. But after one ride, he was in so much pain he decided not to try it again.

He just couldn’t figure out why riding his bike would hurt so much. 

My friends both brought up a good point. Bike seats can feel really uncomfortable, especially when you are new to riding. And if you ride your bike indoors on a trainer, the discomfort is multiplied. So why are bike seats so uncomfortable? And what can you do about it

In this article, we’ll talk about the reasons why different types of bike seats can be uncomfortable. We’ll also give you some solutions that you can try to get more comfortable in your seat. Let’s get started. 

male cyclist sitting in a bike saddle

Why Are Bike Seats So Uncomfortable? (Key Reasons)

A bike seat isn’t designed to feel like sitting on a recliner. It’s designed to support your sit bones while giving you the freedom to spin the pedals. 

Bike seats are skinny, which may feel uncomfortable when you aren’t used to the riding position. Skinny seats let you move your legs freely. If they were wide, like a cushion, you wouldn’t be able to use your muscles efficiently.

Also, a wider seat can rub against your inner thighs, causing a lot of chafing and discomfort. 

Bikes seats are also firm – they shouldn’t have a lot of padding. If your seat is too cushy, you’ll sink in, which means you can’t pedal the bike well. So instead, the seat is firm to support your sit bones, which gives you stability on the bike without interfering with your pedaling technique. 

When you first start riding a bike, you’ll likely experience some pain in your backside. This is because you’re used to sitting on seats that support your entire bottom rather than just your sit bones. But if you keep at it and build up slowly, your body will adjust to this new type of support.

Over time, you won’t feel that discomfort anymore. The key is – little and often, and then a little more!

However, everyone’s body shape is a little bit different. For example, if you have wide or skinny sit bones, you might need a wider or skinnier seat to fit you just right. You might also feel better on a seat with a short nose rather than a standard seat. 

You may also have discomfort in the delicate tissue between your legs. As a result, you may get chafing, swelling, and even saddle sores from long rides. Although some see this as a taboo topic, it’s an important consideration when riding – especially if you ride a lot or long distances.

If this is an issue for you, you’ll want to look into a bike seat with a cut-out in the middle. This type of seat will increase your comfort. 

measuring bike seat - Why Are Bike Seats So Uncomfortable?

Why Are Spin Bike Seats So Uncomfortable? (3 Hacks)

You’re not alone if you love your spin class but not the seat you sit on. You might find that your spin bike feels really uncomfortable than your other bikes. 

First of all, these seats are made to fit ‘most people.’ They aren’t customized to your specific body shape and type. Also, the “Q factor” – how far out the pedals are from the bike – is typically wider on a spin bike than on your average road bike.

This can make you sit differently on your seat, which feels pretty awkward. So what can you do to make a spin bike feel better? First, make sure it fits you.  

First of all, most spin bikes can be adjusted, so get to your bike spot early so you can make a few adjustments. 

  • Move the seat forward or backward. Try to get the spin bike as close to your road bike as possible. If the seat is too far backward or too far forwards, the seat can’t properly support your sit bones, which can cause a lot of discomfort in your bum, neck, shoulders, and hand. 
  • Move the seat up or down. If the seat is too low, you won’t be able to put out as much power or energy. On the other hand, if the seat is too high, you’ll rock back and forth at the hips, which can cause bum, back, and knee pain
  • Wear padded shorts. Road cyclists wear padded shorts – called a chamois – to help relieve chaffing and pressure points. If this is a problem, get a pair of quality padded cycling shorts. There are also brands specifically for indoor cycling, which will help keep you cooler.

    And never wear underwear with your chamois – it’s designed to sit against the skin to keep you more comfortable. 

Why Are Mountain Bike Seats So Uncomfortable? (Try This)

Mountain biking is a specific discipline that needs lots of freedom to move around your seat, shift your weight, and stand or sit easily. For this reason, mountain bike seats are small and hard.

Additionally, most mountain bike rides aren’t as long as road rides, so the seat is designed with freedom of movement, not comfort – in mind. 

However, your mountain bike might double as your commuter bike or your daily driver. If that’s the case, you’ll want to find a little more comfort for your ride. Consider a few of these ideas to make your mountain bike seat more comfortable. 

  1. First, ensure you have the right saddle for your body. You can go to a bike shop to get fitted or measure your sit bones yourself. Hincapie shows you how to measure your sit bones with cardboard, a marker, and a tape measure. Measure your sit bones in millimeters, then add 20 to 25 millimeters to get your saddle size. 

For example, the average man’s sit bones will measure anywhere from 60 to 160mm, while an average woman will measure anywhere from 90 to 170mm. This isn’t at all relative to the width of your backside, just the width of your sit bones. 

So if your sit bones measure 120mm, you can look for a 140mm wide saddle. 

  1. Wear some padded underwear. It’s trendy for mountain bikers to wear baggies – or loose shorts. But that doesn’t mean you have to be unprotected! A pair of padded underwear or a padded liner works great and still lets you have that MTB style. 
  1. Probably the most important is to move around. When you mountain bike, you must move around on your saddle as you shift your weight to get over obstacles, climb up hills, and stay upright.

    But if you’re riding your mountain bike on the road, your saddle will feel really uncomfortable because you’ll be in the same position most of the time. So find time to stand in the saddle, shift your weight, and change positions to make things more comfortable. 
Bike seat, Bicycle saddle on street background

Why Are Exercise Bike Seats So Uncomfortable? (3 Fixes)

For years, I had a small and very uncomfortable stationary bike. The seats are terribly uncomfortable, especially when compared to riding on the road. 

1.     Adjust your workout. 

First, stationary bikes aren’t designed to be ridden for hours at a time. They just aren’t designed for long, comfortable rides. If your stationary bike is uncomfortable, you might be riding it too long. Instead, do shorter, more intense workouts or take breaks throughout. Over time, you’ll build up a better tolerance for the seat. 

2.     Change the seat. 

Second, the seats that come with stationary bikes are pretty generic. You can find a seat that fits you better, like a road bike, and replace it. You need to make sure that the seat post will fit and can be inserted into the frame far enough that it won’t fall. 

3.     Adjust the seat and handlebar position 

Stationary bikes don’t really come in different sizes like road and mountain bikes do. Instead, they have one size frame. You can adjust the seat and handlebar positions on most bikes, but it might not be enough to fit you so that you feel comfortable.

For example, if the seat is too far back from the handlebars, you’ll feel stretched out, and the seat will put extra pressure on your delicate tissues. On the other hand, if your seat is too far forward, you’ll end up rolling your hips too far forward, which will put pressure on your tailbone. 

Rider adjusting seat height on bicycle

Uncomfortable Bike Seats (Closing Thoughts)

If your bike seat feels uncomfortable, there are a few steps to take to make it feel better, no matter what type of bike you have. 

1.     Give it a little time. 

If you are new to cycling, you might have soreness in your backside for a few weeks. Your body isn’t used to sitting on a seat that only supports your sit bones, so you’ll need to build up a tolerance for this over time. The muscles you use to support your body while cycling also need to adjust. 

For example, maybe you’re in good shape physically, so you hop on a bike and go for a long ride. However, even though your cardiovascular system may be in great shape, it doesn’t mean your cycling muscles are ready for the task.

Your sit bones, quads, hamstrings, and even your low back and core need to adjust to your position on the bike. 

So if you start riding and it’s uncomfortable, try backing off and starting with shorter rides. Then, add on a few miles at a time until you’ve built up a tolerance for riding. 

2.     Wear a chamois. 

Padded bike shorts eliminate chafing, soreness, and tenderness while riding. A quality pair of padded bike shorts can be a game-changer if you get sore while riding. 

3. Adjust your bike position.     

 If you’ve tried this and your seat is still uncomfortable, you may need to adjust the position of your seat on the bike. 

  • You can use the KOPS or knee-over-pedal spindle method to find your fore/aft position on the bike. First, while sitting on your bike (you might want to put it on the trainer or have a friend hold it for you), put your pedals in the 3 and 9 o’clock positions.

    Next, dangle a plum-bob down over your knee. The string should intersect the pedal spindle. You can find detailed directions here
  • Once you’ve set the fore and aft positions, you can check your saddle height, as we mentioned. 
  • Check your saddle angle. A saddle that is pointed too high or too low can cause pressure on your delicate tissues or other areas of the bike. If the difference is subtle, it might not be obvious. Make sure your saddle is in a neutral position.
making sure the saddle is balanced

4.     Try a different saddle. 

If you’re still uncomfortable on your saddle, you might need a different one. For example, you might want a short-nosed saddle or a saddle with a cutout. Don’t forget to measure your sit bones and find a saddle with the proper width. 

5.     When in doubt, seek help!

You shouldn’t have to suffer on your bicycle, so if you can’t get comfortable no matter what you do, go see a professional. Your local bike shop can help you get a professional bike fit that makes you feel better – and more powerful- on your bike. 

Don’t be like my friend that gave up riding! By taking just a few steps, you’ll probably have your saddle discomfort fixed so you can ride pain-free. 

How did you get over your saddle pain? For me, it was a combination of changing the stock saddle that came with the bike and also building up time in the saddle. Let us know in the comments below what worked for you and what didn’t work!

Frequently Asked Questions:

Are bike seats supposed to hurt?

Bike seats are not supposed to hurt. You may experience some initial discomfort when you first start riding, but eventually, that will fade away with time. However, you may need to change your bike seat or setup if it hurts. 

How can I make my bike seat more comfortable? 

Wearing a chamois is the easiest way to make your seat more comfortable. Also, check that your seat is set up in the right position. 

How do you deal with an uncomfortable bike seat?

If your actual seat is uncomfortable, the easiest thing to do is swap it out with another saddle. Many bike shops have a loaner program. For a small fee, you can test an unlimited number of seats. Once you pick a seat to purchase, the deposit may count toward the cost of the seat. 

Is it normal for a bike seat to hurt? 

It is quite common for a bike seat to cause discomfort or pain, particularly if you are a beginner or haven’t been riding for a very long time. 

The discomfort may result from a poorly-fitted saddle, incorrect positioning, or lack of padding in the seat. However, it is important to note that with time, most riders develop a level of comfort and adapt to the saddle’s shape and positioning. 

It is recommended to start with shorter rides and work up to longer ones to allow the body to adjust to the saddle. Additionally, investing in a high-quality, well-fitted saddle and padded shorts can help to decrease pain and improve the overall cycling experience.

How long does it take to get comfortable on a bike seat? 

If you’re not used to riding a bike or haven’t done it in a while, becoming comfortable on the seat may take some time. Yet, after a few weeks of riding regularly and making little adjustments, most riders eventually discover a position that works for them. 

You should get started with a bike and saddle that are tailored to your height, weight, and riding preferences. Start riding for shorter periods and shorter distances so that your body can adjust to the saddle and your cycling muscles can develop. 

Try out different combinations of saddle height, angle, and posture until you discover what works best for you. When riding for extended periods of time, it is important to remember to wear padded cycling shorts and to get up and stretch every so often.

You can learn to ride your bike comfortably with practice, experimentation, and time.

Why are bike seats so small?

Bike seats are made to be small on purpose for several reasons. First, smaller seats reduce wind resistance, making it easier for cyclists to keep going faster.  

Secondly, a small saddle encourages the rider to pedal with proper technique, using their legs to support their weight instead of relying on the saddle.

Additionally, a smaller seat reduces the amount of pressure placed on sensitive areas of the body, reducing discomfort and the risk of injury.  However, it’s important for cyclists to remember that not all saddles are the same and choose one that fits their body type and riding needs and preferences.

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Amanda discovered a deep-rooted passion for encouraging others through her love of all things cycling, writing, and inspiring hope. You'll likely find Amanda pouring over bike specs and tech, riding road, gravel, CX, and track.
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