Saddle Pressure Mapping has officially landed at The Bike The Body and we couldn’t be more excited!! So, why all the fanfare?
It may come as no surprise that saddle complaints are one of the most common reasons for booking a bike fit in the first place. The saddle takes the majority of a rider’s weight and as such it is the crucial and central contact point between the rider and the bike. However, as we know, humans come in all shapes and sizes with diverse differences in pelvic anatomy, bone structure, and location of blood and nerve supply - more on this later.
Thankfully, there is almost a near endless variety of bicycle saddles coming in a bewildering array of shapes, sizes, curves ,cutouts, padding etc - but how do you know which pelvis is going to get along with which saddle??
To understand this question we need to get a better understanding of the pelvic anatomy - ie what part of you is actually in contact with the saddle and why this matters.
Pelvic Anatomy 101
It’s worth orienting ourselves to the details of the contact points between the pelvis and the saddle so we can better understand what should be in contact with the saddle and how problems can occur when excessive pressure is applied to other more sensitive areas in the pelvis.
The pelvis is made up of 3 major parts - in the centre at the rear is the sacrum (green), with a hemi-pelvis on either side which each consist of three distinct parts. The ilium (orange), the pubis (blue) and the ischium (green). The pelvis then joins together at the front at the pubic symphysis.
When it comes to sitting on a bike we are largely concerned with the ischium, specifically the ischial tuberosities (sit bones) and the pubic rami which are the bony projections that connect the ischial tuberosity to the pubic symphysis at the front.
Amidst this bony anatomy we have quite a bit of more sensitive anatomy - male and female genitalia and the pudendal nerves and arteries which run along the base of the perineum which is the term used to describe the area between the genitalia and the anus. These structures do not tolerate pressure well and are not designed to be load bearing. The course of the pudendal nerve is depicted here as it courses alongside the pubic rami. But, no surprises here, the exact course of this nerve and it’s branches varies between individuals meaning some riders may be more susceptible to development symptoms of nerve compression compared to others.
Symptoms of excessive friction from the saddle can lead to chaffing of this sensitive skin and tissue, saddle sores, in-grown hairs, infections, inflammation and swelling of the external female genitalia.
When it comes to pressure we start to see issues associated with nerve and arterial compression which can cause symptoms ranging from mild tingling in the genitalia to numbness. This may initially be temporary (during a seated effort or ride) but can also progress to more concerning numbness that persists after bike rides. These symptoms are associated with the development of erectile dysfunction in males.
In most cases of saddle discomfort there is a combination of both pressure and friction related symptoms. However, there seems to be a misunderstanding that a certain amount of saddle pain is to be expected and unavoidable. As such, due to this expectation and often embarrassment discussing the issues they are frequently ignored.
Finding the Solution
For those that seek a solution it can be a nigh on impossible task to try and navigate the endless array of saddles with various claims to being the “best” or “most comfortable” saddle ever made. Of course, the key point here is that there is no one correct saddle that will work equally well for all riders. There are simply too many variables for that to be the case - pelvic shape, pelvic width, angle of pubic rami, exact location and configuration of genitalia and nerves, sensitivity in this area, riding position, riding frequency / duration, riding terrain and so on…
So many riders end up buying countless saddles in a ‘hit and hope’ approach to try and find the one saddle that will give them some comfort on the bike. But with little guidance on set up and position this can end up being a costly and time consuming endeavour. In most cases, riders end up with a box of saddles they have tried a few times, can’t return and now need to flog on ebay or similar.
Having a comprehensive bike fit is one of the most important first steps identifying the possible causative factors with an individual rider’s saddle pain. It is very often the case that an incorrect seat height or angle is the culprit leading to the discomfort and this can be addressed very quickly and easily. The other key elements in the bike fit that can negatively impact saddle comfort are the reach and drop of the handlebars. Once the contact points of the bike have been optimised for the rider it is much easier to see if the saddle itself is still where the problem is.
Saddle Pressure Mapping
This is where technology such as saddle pressure mapping can be an invaluable tool. It helps to visualise where the problem pressure areas lie and gives insight into what the solutions might be. The Bike The Body is delighted to have teamed up with the leaders in the field of pressure mapping, Gebiomized, to be able to offer this state of the art technology and take our bike fitting services to another level of detail.
What’s the Process?
A high resolution sensor mat is placed over your saddle which is able to take continuous readings of saddle pressure across the whole saddle while you are riding. This gives a dynamic picture of what is going on when you are riding.
We will be able to see where peak pressure concentrations are occurring and also the degree to which you move on the saddle (often termed as ‘instability’).
We can use the pressure mapping during the bike fit adjustments to see what impact each change has on your comfort, pressure, and stability. Then we can move on to testing individual saddles to find the best combination for you. Below is an image from a Gebiomized demonstration which shows the visual change in pressure from being more front dominant and causing pain to a more balanced weight distribution that was pain free for the rider.
So if you have been struggling to get comfortable on your saddle and you’d rather not build a giant collection of saddles (fit for a bike fitting studio) then get in touch to get your saddle pressure mapping session booked in.