Are you sit­ting com­fort­ably?

Women’s anatomy is dif­fer­ent to men’s so choose a sad­dle, bars and shoes that will of­fer proper sup­port and long-term com­fort

Cycling Weekly - - Focus On Women’s Bikes - Han­nah Bussey

Get­ting a good bike-fit is vi­tal to en­sur­ing the per­fect set-up on your bike, and in or­der to re­ally dial your ride it’s cru­cial to fo­cus on the three touch points: hands, back­side and feet. While most bike com­po­nents are gen­der-free, se­lect­ing a women-spe­cific sad­dle, han­dle­bars and shoes could be the key to un­lock­ing your per­for­mance by re­duc­ing numb hands and feet, dead legs and aching backs.

Sad­dle

Anatom­i­cally speak­ing, the area in con­tact with the sad­dle is the big­gest dif­fer­ence be­tween men and women. That’s not to say that one size fits all, and in­deed pick­ing a sad­dle can of­ten be an ex­pen­sive and ar­du­ous process.

“There are some fun­da­men­tal anatom­i­cal dif­fer­ences be­tween the male and fe­male pelvis,” says Jan­ina Haas, sport sci­en­tist and chief er­gonomist at Er­gon Bike Er­gonomics. “We spent two years re­search­ing and de­vel­op­ing the lat­est Er­gon SL and SM Women road sad­dles. Us­ing X-rays and CT scans, as well as work­ing with the Canyon-sram pro­fes­sional team, plus in­tense test­ing with am­a­teur rid­ers, we’ve been able to ver­ify that, sta­tis­ti­cally, most women have wider pu­bic bones than men, as well as a lower pu­bic sym­ph­ysis and higher flex­i­bil­ity.”

Lee Prescott, di­rec­tor of Velo Ate­lier and ex­pert bike-fit­ter, agrees and adds: “Many women are sit­ting too up­right on the sad­dle, and most would find a more com­fort­able po­si­tion by ro­tat­ing their pelvis for­ward and spread­ing the load across the wider pu­bic area.

“This also pre-ten­sions the glutes, al­low­ing rid­ers to get power down ear­lier in the pedal stroke.”

Haas and Prescott both agree that, once in the cor­rect rid­ing po­si­tion, many women would ben­e­fit from a wider re­lief open­ing fur­ther to­ward the front of the sad­dle to spread pres­sure more evenly.

Both also agree that wider-nosed sad­dles may help re­duce pres­sure points, al­though Prescott points out: “It isn’t a hard and fast rule, and it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that while there is a cor­re­la­tion be­tween hip and sit bone sizes, there isn’t with hip mea­sure­ment. For ex­am­ple, if you carry more mus­cle or fat around the mid­dle, you may still find a nar­row sad­dle more com­fort­able.

“The same is true for a sad­dle with lots of pad­ding. It's easy to think that you need more pad­ding if you are heav­ier, but the weight of the pelvis on a sad­dle with lots of pad­ding will im­me­di­ately com­press and in­cor­rectly re­dis­tribute it, mak­ing con­tact with ar­eas such as soft tis­sue, which will be in­cred­i­bly un­com­fort­able.

“The ideal way to shop for a sad­dle is by get­ting pres­sure-mapped, which will high­light is­sues such as pelvis tor­sion, which is of­ten more com­mon in women, es­pe­cially after child­birth or car­ry­ing small chil­dren on a hip. The best way to counter the lat­ter is to al­ter­nate hip car­ry­ing so it bal­ances out."

How­ever, if you’re not in a po­si­tion to get sad­dle mapped any time soon, there are some gen­er­al­i­sa­tions that nor­mally ring true.

If you sit in an ag­gres­sive po­si­tion, with your hands of­ten on the drops, then you will prob­a­bly suf­fer more with soft-tis­sue dis­com­fort. Such rid­ers of­ten get on well with sad­dles that have a large pres­sure re­lief area — the Selle Italia SLR Lady Flow is an ex­am­ple. The Spe­cial­ized Power also suits this type of rider well, as do ISM sad­dles.

Cobb Sad­dles did some very in­ter­est­ing re­search where they found cor­re­la­tions be­tween the (self-as­sessed!) phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance of women’s anatomy, and the type of sad­dle they liked. Yes, re­ally. In short, they found that ‘in­nies’ tended to like sad­dles with a nar­row nose and nar­row re­lief chan­nel, whilst ‘out­ies’ liked those with a wider nose and larger re­lief chan­nel.

If you do tend to sit in a more re­laxed, en­durance po­si­tion, your pain will of­ten be in the sit bone area. For you, sad­dle width is im­per­a­tive, so make sure you visit a lo­cal bike shop that of­fers a sit bone mea­sur­ing tool (Selle Royal, Selle Italia, Fizik and Spe­cial­ized all have these tools to be used by their deal­ers).

“Women have wider pu­bic bones than men, a lower pu­bic sym­ph­ysis and higher flex­i­bil­ity”

Re­mem­ber, wider doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean more com­fort­able.

Fi­nally, if sad­dle sores are pre­vent­ing you from find­ing com­fort in the sad­dle, then it could be down to hair re­moval. The hair around your gen­i­tals acts as a nat­u­ral sweat soaker and pro­tec­tive layer. Re­mov­ing hair also means re­growth, and thus the risk of in­grown hairs and in­fec­tion of the fol­li­cle.

Han­dle­bars

Talk to any de­cent bike-fit­ter and they will tell you that the most com­mon cy­clist faux pas is rid­ing with han­dle­bars that are too wide. The ideal width is as wide as the rider’s shoul­ders, mea­sured from the knob­bly bit of the AC joint on each side.

“Ev­ery­one could do with down­siz­ing,” Prescott says. “But it can be es­pe­cially hard for women, who tend to have nar­rower shoul­ders then men, to find any­thing in a sub-40cm cat­e­gory. FSA and Deda brands are cur­rently the best, es­pe­cially if the rider is look­ing for high­end car­bon.”

The more your shoul­ders are in line with the han­dle­bars, the more in tune you’ll feel with your bike and the better con­trol you’ll have. That said, un­less the whole anatomy of a han­dle­bar suits the rider, the fit will still be un­com­fort­able, and po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous.

Sta­tis­ti­cally speak­ing, women gen­er­ally have smaller hands then men, and it can make reach­ing the brake levers (and shifters), from both the hood and drop po­si­tion, im­pos­si­ble. Many groupsets will have an el­e­ment of ad­justa­bil­ity built in, but this is of­ten not enough by it­self. Women-spe­cific or shal­low-drop and shal­low/blunted-bend han­dle­bars will al­low you to curl your in­dex and mid­dle fin­ger round the brake lever when ei­ther in the hoods or drops, al­low­ing you to re­main to­tally in con­trol of speed mod­er­a­tion.

Shoes

Like sad­dles and han­dle­bars, there are no ul­ti­mate an­swers to what works best for women when it comes to shoes. How­ever, there are gen­er­al­i­sa­tions that mean women-spe­cific shoes will work best for fe­male rid­ers.

“It’s im­por­tant to have a foot-up ap­proach to bike fit­ting,” says Prescott, “and 90 per cent of shoes on the mar­ket have the bare min­i­mum of foot sup­port. This can have a knock-on ef­fect with col­lapsed arches, caus­ing knees to bend in when ped­alling. As a higher num­ber of women have higher arches, this of­ten af­fects them the most.”

Ideally, ev­ery pair of shoes should have pro­fes­sion­ally moulded in­soles and fea­ture plenty of ad­justa­bil­ity. “Sidi pro­vides one of the best shoes on the mar­ket for this,” ex­plains Prescott. “It’s women-spe­cific last has less vol­ume on the in­step area, en­sur­ing the arch is nicely sup­ported, and then, de­pend­ing on model, there are of­ten sev­eral ad­just­ment points to de­liver a be­spoke fit.

“If you’re won­der­ing if a shoe is a good fit, re­move the in­ner sole and stand on it to see if it matches your foot.”

Shal­low-drop bars al­low easy ac­cess to shifters for small hands

Good arch sup­port is cru­cial

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