cyclist from behindQ: I am pleased to say I have been bit by the biking bug, but boy does my bottom hurt! I have been riding everyday for almost two weeks now and am enjoying the outdoors, freedom, and exercise. I have a standard run-of-the-mill mountain bike and my seat was not very comfortable. This resulted in a sore bottom for a couple of days . . . so I purchased a new "gel cushion" seat to no avail . . . still sore. Do you think a full-suspension bike would help? 

I would like something I can ride around NYC/Brooklyn and upstate NY. Any advice would be much appreciated. Please save my butt. 

A: Dear Bummed in Brooklyn, 

We have some bad news for you: Bike butt is a normal breaking-in process, and you can’t totally avoid it when you’re starting out. But with the right gear and riding methods, you can minimize or almost eliminate it. Here are some tips:

  • Make sure the bike is the right size for you, and that the seatpost is adjusted to the correct height. Bikes that are too tall or seatposts that are too high will increase pressure on your pelvis as your legs reach the bottom of the pedal stroke. The seatpost should be adjusted so that there is a slight bend in your knees at the bottom of the pedal stroke (with the ball of your foot on the pedal). Don’t have the seat so high that your knee goes straight at the bottom of the pedal stroke. Also make sure that the seat is level to the ground (some cyclists prefer a slight tilt in one direction or the other, but your starting point should be level). You can also adjust the seat forwards or backwards a couple inches. It takes some experimenting.
  • Bike butt isn’t caused by a bumpy ride, but by most of your weight being borne by a part of your body that is not used to having weight there. Get a dual suspension mountain bike if you plan to ride a lot on unpaved, technical trails. If you are going to be mostly on pavement, that type of bike is heavy and inefficient, and may in some ways worsen the problem by making you work harder to cover the same mileage.
  • Say no to gel. Gel seat covers are heavy and tend to slip around on the saddle, without greatly increasing comfort on longer rides.
  • A suspension seatpost isn’t going to work comfort miracles. Suspension seatposts also have a weight and complexity penalty. Carbon seatposts can take some of the rough stuff out of your ride, but they work better with a shorter bike frame, where a lot of seatpost is sticking out. Also beware that some designs don’t work very well, because they tend to get stuck and thus don’t compress with bumps.
  • The biggest factor is saddle shape, not padding. Everyone’s pelvic bone is different, so one person’s favorite saddle will feel like sitting on an anvil to someone else. Try out some models at your localbike shop to see what’s comfortable.
  • Good-quality bike shorts help too. If you are not into the skin-tight racing look, you can buy bike shorts that look like regular shorts with padding inside.
  • Alter your position on the bike sometimes during the ride. Standing gets the blood flowing back into numb areas. Stand and pedal when going uphill. Stand and coast for a few seconds on the flats.
  • Bike more, not less. The more often you bike, the more your body will adjust to being in the saddle and having weight there. People who try to bike any more than a mile or 2 only a couple times a year will continually experience bike butt, and their legs will never get strong enough to make longer trips faster.
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