Saddle pain

Women's Cycling

Chorizo, wet weather training and saddle comfort: tips from the pedElle 2016 riders

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Last month we brought you the first of a three-part series of exclusive interviews with three riders participating in the Club Peloton pedElle 2016 women’s cycling charity event. PedElle 2016 is a three-day, 425km ride for female professionals from the property industry.  

We have partnered with Aspire PR to bring you this series and we’re thrilled to be catching up with riders Sam McClary, Sarah Jenkinson and Yvonne Smith ahead of the event which begins in Salzburg on Monday 23rd May. Read on for their training strategies, fueling tips, secrets to comfort in the saddle and more…

 

pedElle 2016 Rider Profile: Sam McClary

pedElle 2016

 

Sam, with less than a month to go before pedElle 2016 begins in Salzburg, how do you feel?

Desperately looking forward to getting out of the office and having only to worry about turning my legs and pedalling. If I’m honest, I probably haven’t cycled enough but hoping there’s some good muscle memory left in my legs from earlier in the year and last year’s adventures.

 

What kit will you be taking? What brands/favourite items do you rely on for comfort and performance in the saddle?

I have some AMAZING kit from Betty Designs which I love. And always get comments on. And people asking if the Kick Butt on, well, my butt, is an instruction. It’s great kit though. Not only does it look cool, the fit is great and the chamois is just right – not too much, not too little.

 

What do you use in the way of training aids – for example, power meters, rollers, turbo trainers? Do you have any tips for keeping up training in poor weather?

I don’t use any kind of training aid, which is weird because I love gadgets. Because I’m not racing anymore and just exercising for adventure and challenge I tend to just use how I feel as a training aid. If you can be honest with yourself about how hard you are (or aren’t) training then I think that is a great life skill. Tips for training in poor weather? Man up! Skin is waterproof.

 

Apart from chorizo (!), how do you plan to fuel yourself on the pedElle 2016 ride? What are your top tips for maintaining energy levels – and is there anything you avoid?

Is there anything else apart from chorizo? For the sake of friendships and potentially garlicky burps, I will also use other fuels. I’m really quite anti gels and the like, however, so for me it will be dried fruits – dates and prunes are my favourites – seeds (I can’t do nuts) and some dark chocolate for those dark moments. I’ll also have a greens drink in the morning and pop a vitamin c tablet in my first bottle on my bike. Recovery – apart from wine and Aperol Spritz (a traditional PedElle tipple) – will be a protein shake or chocolate milk. Not just to rebuild muscle, but also because it is a tasty treat after a long, hard ride cycle.

 

One of the biggest challenges on long multi-day rides is saddle discomfort. As an experienced pedElle participant, what is your advice to first timers for avoiding saddle pain?

Investing in a good saddle that works for you and finding the ideal pair of shorts is the key when dealing with saddle pain. Making sure you have been fitted on your bike and using correct form will also help alleviate any discomfort. And getting out of the saddle for a little wiggle never hurts. And of course, sometimes you’ve just got to break everything (EVERYTHING) in a bit.

 

pedElle 2016 Rider Profile: Sarah Jenkinson

pedElle 2016

 

Sarah, with less than a month to go before pedElle 2016 begins in Salzburg, how do you feel?

I’m feeling excited! We had a great training ride a couple of weeks ago in Surrey where 12 PedEllers turned up. There was a fun and supportive atmosphere in the group and lots of giggles. My knees have been feeling a little sore, especially as I’ve been doing more running recently too. So I’ve (slightly grudgingly) started some strength and conditioning sessions to strengthen everything up before the ride. This is particularly important now that we’ve been informed that the first day has 4000m of climbing over 180km with a few 20% gradients…!

 

What kit will you be taking? What brands/favourite items do you rely on for comfort and performance in the saddle?

Hopefully the sun will be shining so it will just be a case of shorts, jersey, sunglasses and a cap! I’ll probably take my Velotoze shoe covers in case it rains ­ I just love these. They’re like a swimming cap for feet and come in lots of bright colours. Lightweight and look good!

 

What do you use in the way of training aids – for example, power meters, rollers, turbo trainers? Do you have any tips for keeping up training in poor weather?

I’m pretty old school; a map and a bike. I don’t really like gyms or spin classes, so tend to just get on with it good weather or bad.

 

How do you plan to fuel yourself on the ride? What are your top tips for maintaining energy levels – and is there anything you avoid?

I try to eat natural foods where possible and just keep eating and drinking every hour. I avoid gels after a bad experience in a triathlon. A few of the ladies have been exchanging flapjack recipes in the run up to the ride and I think home made energy foods are always a great shout! In terms of recovery drinks, personally, I find the best is a cold beer!

 

One of the biggest challenges on long multi-­day rides is saddle discomfort. As an experienced pedElle cyclist, what is your advice to first timers for avoiding saddle pain?

Invest in a good saddle! I have a female specific saddle -­ a Selle Italia Diva and have used it on many long distance trips including a cycle across America. This combined with a decent pair of padded shorts (I use various brands including dhb, Liv and Rapha) should be fine. Of course, sitting in any position for 8+ hours will always lead to some discomfort but I have never really had any big issues.

[This just goes to show how the only way to find the right saddle for you is to go for a saddle mapping session – the Selle Italia Diva was hellish for Vamper’s Victoria but clearly the right saddle for other cyclists. Read more here.]

 

pedElle 2016 Rider Profile: Yvonne Smith

pedElle 2016

Yvonne, with less than a month to go before pedElle 2016 begins in Salzburg, how do you feel?

I am taking the training very seriously as I want to be able to complete the event and not pick up any injuries. PedElle provided me with the programme and it is achievable if you are single-minded with a great husband (shout out to Julian!). Once a week, I go to a spin class and another day will cycle to work and back (50 miles round trip).

Over recent weekends, I have done different rides both days to get some variety. Sometimes endurance and sometimes hills and last Sunday was both! I got up Ditchling Beacon without stopping for the first time and I was thrilled. The family is still planning, accompanying me and encouraging me. Mentally very positive – need to keep pedalling!

 

What kit will you be taking? What brands/favourite items do you rely on for comfort and performance in the saddle?

I haven’t found shorts with sufficient padding yet! I have received the kit list so will go through that and borrow off my daughter Hannah or wander down to the many cycle shops in the West End. To reward my efforts I have bought a Queen of the Mountains T-shirt and one with “Girls on bikes – keep up” for relaxing in the evening. I have promised to ditch the rucksack with all the extra layers, tools, torch, whistle, food, book (in case I get a puncture and have to wait around) etc. as I become more confident.

 

What do you use in the way of training aids – for example, power meters, rollers, turbo trainers? Do you have any tips for keeping up training in poor weather?

What’s the saying – “There is no such thing as bad weather just bad clothing and equipment”. I have only given up once and that was in Storm Kate. I love being outside and as I have a dog, you get used to carrying on regardless.

 

How do you plan to fuel yourself along the pedElle 2016 route? What are your top tips for maintaining energy levels – and is there anything you avoid?

I have actually started snacking on chorizo [like Sam!] when cycling and I prefer it to sweets. I don’t really have a sweet tooth. I have also bought Nuun rehydration tablets to add to my water bottle and these are not too sweet either. The usual – wine gums and Jelly Babies give you a lift and help you face the hills. I am ravenous a lot these days!

Multiple long days in the saddle can be quite uncomfortable. What is your strategy for staying comfortable on your bike over long distances?

I mentioned this earlier. I have bought chamois cream but when you are tender it stings like heck! Still looking for a solution and it’s one of my favourite topics of conversation with female cyclists at the moment. During the ride I move back onto the saddle going downhill and forward going up and this helps the balance and also gives a little relief to the under area!

 

 

In addition to paying an entry fee, the riders commit to raising a minimum amount for a number of children’s charities including Coram. To date, Coram has received £500,000 from Club Peloton events, making it Coram’s largest corporate partner. The funds raised by pedElle 2016 will go towards Coram’s adoption services, helping vulnerable children find stable, loving families.

Cycling AccessoriesReviewsWomen's Cycling

Cyclefit pressure mapping puts an end to saddle pain

Pressure mapping Victoria
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It’s really quite difficult to have a good conversation about saddle soreness while tiptoeing around some anatomical minefield. So I’m not going to tiptoe around, because I think female cyclists – hell, all cyclists – need to be able to have much more frank discussions about what goes on downstairs while you’re on a bike. Enough of the coyness.

I only took up road cycling this year and I did not know what saddle soreness meant.

A year ago, I was happily pottering about London on my single speed, never going further than ten miles at a gentle pace. I had a Selle Italia Gel Flow saddle on my bike which was perfectly comfortable for short distances (and that was wearing jeans, or dresses – not padded bib shorts.)

So, when I began feeling a bit sore on my road bike using the standard-issue saddle it came with, I immediately ordered another Selle Italia Gel Flow, which comes highly recommended by a lot of female cyclists. For rides to work, a distance of around 9 miles? All ok. Perfectly comfortable. I made the right choice! Or, so I thought.

A few weeks later, I went out on a 65 mile weekend ride.

Suddenly, that cushioning seemed less helpful. At the end of the ride, I was thoroughly sore: I had small lesions in my soft tissue, which were deeply uncomfortable.

Hmm, I thought. This is unexpected.

So, I read up online and it sounded as though chamois cream would be the answer to my prayers.

Boy, how people seem to love chamois cream! Apparently, no matter what you’re riding and in any old bib shorts, if you’ve embrocated thoroughly you’ll be assured of a comfortable ride.

Bullshit.

For my first recreational, group ride I slathered on the chamois cream and thought, right! Here we go. The pinching and the bruising and the lesions will be gone with some lubrication. Well, 20 miles into the ride and there was nothing I could do to find comfort on my bike. By the end of the 38 miles, I could barely sit down. I was in so much pain. Chamois cream was not the answer to my prayers.

By this point I was pretty sure that I’d made the wrong decision with my saddle purchase. I read around the subject, not finding much guidance at all, and thought, ok – if the combination of padding and the cut out section is not working, perhaps something firmer and without a cut out would be a good move.

I attempted to book a bike fitting session at a local, well-known store in South West London. No response. So I went into the store, and had a conversation that went something like this:

“Hello. I’m struggling with my Selle Italia Gel Flow. It’s really uncomfortable – can you recommend an alternative?”

“Err. There are a few women’s saddles. You might want to try a different one.”

“Yes, I thought so too. I was hoping you might be able to advise me… I’ve been wondering if a bike fitting would be useful.”

“Err. Let me get the guy in charge of bike fittings. He might know more.”

(Enter new guy)

“Hi. I’m struggling with my Selle Italia Gel Flow. It’s really uncomfortable – can you recommend an alternative?”

“I sell loads of the Gel Flow. Every woman who’s bought it loves it. Your saddle is too high.”

“Errm – I don’t think it is….”

“It is. Everyone puts their saddle higher than they need it. That’s causing the pain. It’s a great saddle, you shouldn’t be having any problems with it.”

“Right. Well, let’s just say that I am. Could you recommend an alternative for me to try?”

“Well, I could, but there would be no point because what you need is a bike fitting.”

“Ok. In that case, may I book one?”

“We’re booked up until the end of August.”

“Ahh. That’s a shame. I actually emailed to try to get an appointment a couple of weeks ago but didn’t hear anything…”

“Really? Well, I never saw the email.”

“Ok…. So, you can’t fit me in for a bike fitting, and you won’t recommend an alternative saddle…”

“No, there’s no point because it won’t be right and you’ll just come back for another. You need a bike fitting.”

“Right, but you can’t give me one. I think we’re done here. “

I left the shop in a huff. Being unequivocally told that because this particular saddle suits some other women, it will be comfortable for me is utterly ridiculous advice. We’re all built differently. One woman’s sit bones are not the same as another’s.

Left to my own devices, I read up some more online, and saw that the Fabric Scoop is really popular with a lot of riders, male and female. A nifty little calculator on the Fabric site tells you which saddle you should go for based on your body type and riding position. Aha! I thought; perhaps this will do it!

The saddle duly arrived, and it looked so smart, and I put it on my bike, and I rode to work. Not bad. Not amazing, but no worse than the Selle Italia, that’s for sure. It was a little bit hard, but nothing was pinching or chafing, and that was a definite improvement. So – foolishly!– after a day of commuting on it, I decided that this was what I would use to ride the Prudential 100.

(I know, I know. But I was stuck between a rock and a hard place at this point, with only 48 hours to go until the event).

The day of the Prudential arrives. I lube up with my trusty chamois cream and pull on my most comfortable bib shorts.

By mile 40, I’m wincing.

60 miles in, I feel like I’ve been kicked, hard, in the crotch.

80 miles in, I fear I may never sit down again.

100 miles, holy cow, my entire undercarriage is in agony. Bruised and aching and just wretchedly sore. (However, still no lesions!)

So, what now?

Well, as luck would have it (though, if luck really had it, I would’ve found all this out a month before the Pru…) a fantastic article appeared on The Guardian’s bike blog by Helen Pidd, recommending the saddle mapping sessions on offer at Cyclefit. The author had been encountering similar difficulties with the Selle Italia Gel Flow and had been given a new lease of cycling life at Cyclefit – which gave me hope.

Cyclefit has centres in Manchester and London so I immediately went online and booked a session at the London centre, near Holborn.

A Cyclefit session ain’t cheap: the two-hour saddle mapping costs £150. But before we go any further, believe me when I say that this is money well spent.

My session was with Jimmy. He popped my bike on a turbo trainer and placed a saddle pressure mapping cover on my existing saddle (the Fabric Scoop) which sent images of the pressure distribution to a computer screen. He set me to work pedaling steadily so that he could see where the pressure was causing a problem.

It was immediately apparent that the saddle was so completely wrong for me that there could be no hope for it. No amount of angling would make it comfortable.

Cyclefit

The image on the left shows the pressure on the existing saddle: my sit bones, which should be bearing the brunt of it, were barely making contact. Meanwhile, my soft tissue was taking all the weight: no wonder I was in so much pain.

I then sat on a strange little clear plastic cushion filled with a substance resembling mayonnaise. This gauged the width of my sit bones. (If I’m honest, I couldn’t actually have told you where my sit bones were before, never mind how wide they might be).

Jimmy fetched a saddle corresponding to that width, set it up on my bike with painstaking precision, and set me pedaling again. There was a big improvement: less movement in my pelvis, less pressure on the soft tissue, and more contact with my sit bones.

Progress.

He fetched the next size up, and suddenly, we were there. Stable pelvis, no contact with soft tissue, and both sit bones in full contact, taking the pressure that bones can withstand so much more effectively than flesh.

Cyclefit
The Bontrager Ajna saddle

Finally, he switched my handlebar stem for one 1cm shorter to reduce my reach.

I found myself in some sort of cycling nirvana.

Finally, I was sitting in comfort, feeling supported, stable, and not constantly shifting to find a (marginally) better position.

The following weekend I tested it for real on a two-hour ride, and it was a revelation. No chamois cream required, no shuffling after ten minutes in the saddle; it was just comfortable.

Interestingly, Jimmy made similar observations about the Selle Italia Gel Flow saddle to Helen Pidd’s technician: the amount of padding is problematic because it doesn’t support, it caves to the pressure. After about six weeks of use, the creases in my Gel Flow saddle already demonstrated the absence of support. It just goes to show that popular opinion is not important where saddles are concerned.

I’m now sitting pretty on a Bontrager Ajna 154mm saddle. It comes in three sizes, and this one is the most appropriate for my sit bones. It might look like a torture implement, but its flat profile and minimal padding serve to reduce pressure on sensitive soft tissue. It’s a winner.

So, if you are struggling to get comfortable in the saddle, do yourself a favour and book a session at Cyclefit. You won’t regret spending the money when you can sit comfortably, I promise.

Cyclefit
Happy bum, happy cyclist: a happy Victoria after the successful pressure mapping.