Padded Seats Vs Padded Shorts

Discussion in 'Cycling Equipment' started by LivingInThePast, Feb 21, 2015.

  1. LivingInThePast

    LivingInThePast New Member

    Feb 21, 2015
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    As the name implies, I'm returning to cycling after a twenty year hiatus and finding all the equipment has changed. One change I'm finding particularly weird is they seem to have moved all of the padding from the saddle to the shorts. Cycling shorts nowadays seem to come with half an inch of foam in them and the saddles are just plastic shells. What's up with that? When I try these new shorts on it looks like I've got a bike seat jammed in them and if I try to ride on these new saddles without them they hurt like Hell. Is this progress?

  2. dabac

    dabac Well-Known Member

    Sep 16, 2003
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    Padded saddles are one of those kinda-sorta inventions that looks good on the sales floor w/o bringing any benefit on the road.
    A saddle isn't meant to take your whole weight other than temporary.
    You're expected to spend most part of the ride pedalling so hard and consistently that your legs will acually be carrying an important part of your body weight. (and some through your arms, but never mind that.)
    Now, if you're new to riding - and maybe a little on the chunky side too - you probably haven't got the stamina for that.
    Nobody told you that exercise had to be strenuous, right?
    So you end up sitting real heavily on the saddle, which makes you sore.
    Has to be equipment failure, right?
    Maybe you even stop riding because it's so darn uncomfortable.
    One way or another, the bicycle business found out that one thing their customers really wanted was more comfortable = softer saddles.
    And we got them.
    Either as after-market replacements, gel covers or the stock option on cruisers and comfort bikes.

    Trouble is, they don't work for extended rides. So you don't get them on "serious" bikes. The kind expected to be owned by people who are dedicated enough to put the hours in to become/keep fit enough.

    There are two "knobs" on your pelvis called the sit bones. These might not like the new requirements of the job, but they can take your weight.
    But when you put these on a padded saddle, they sink into the surface, causing the padding to put pressure on your soft tissues between your sit bones. And this area is not built to take the pressure.

    Initially comfortable, but eventually numbing.

    It's a bit like if you walk barefoot in sand.
    Feels nice at first, but after a while your arches begin to get tender.

    So, on bikes expected to see a decent mileage you get firm saddles, as that's what works for longer rides.

    The padding you see in the cycling shorts is a lot softer than the one used in saddles, so it doesn't transfer pressure to sensitive areas the way saddle padding does.
    And the purpose of it isn't as much padding as to embed and smooth over any seams that might otherwise be between your body and the saddle.
    Quite an important job, as seams in that area can cause serious chafing.

    Now, the area of your sit bones is quite small, about like a golf ball each.
    If you're new to riding, it'll take the skin some time to toughen up enough to do the job w/o complaining.

    If you've ever had a foot in a cast you know a little about how it is to train a body part to become weight bearing again.

    You may need to limit yourself to a 10 minutes rides/day for the first week or two.

    Even with all this in mind, not all saddles fits all riders.
    If you want to be "scientific" about it, find a piece of corrugated cardboard, put it on a flat, firm surface and sit on it.
    This should create two indentations from your sit bones.
    Measure the center-to-center distance between these two indentations.
    Then go shopping for a saddle recommended for that width.
    Some shops run a saddle try-out program. Meaning they'll let you test ride saddles before purchase.

    Keep in mind that there's no immediate link between waist measurement or hip girth and sit bone spacing.

    Progress? I don't know about that.

    More like change.

    Same, same but different.

    Back in the days, the seam-smoothing was done through chamois panels in the currently padded area.
    Worked the same, needed more upkeep.
    Special creams, washing routines, questionable hygiene, things like that.

    Saddles for dedicated performance riding have "always" been rather firm.
    A traditional leather saddle isn't exactly a downy pillow.

    CAMPYBOB Well-Known Member

    Sep 12, 2005
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    Quote by litp:
    "I'm returning to cycling after a twenty year hiatus..."

    Not much has changed. You STILL have to throw a leg over and make the bike go by working hard.

    Yes, some of the chamois pads have become thicker, but certainly not all new shorts have memory foam pads so thick a mattress could be made from them. I prefer a less thin pad, myself. Finding shorts with thinly padded chamois is still easy. And speaking of chamois...finding a real chamois is going to be tough. The synthetic chamois took over many years ago.

    Seats? Brooks, nylon track shells and thinly padded saddles were available and popular among racers 45 years ago. I used to ride a nylon track shell on the road back in the early 1970's. Lightly padded saddles have been around for years. Not everyone sat on a 500-gram Rolls.

    And speaking of can STILL buy the new, heavily padded reproduction/re-issue Rolls. And the re-issue Concor Profile if that is to your tastes. There are still lots of saddles for those that like it plush. Just shop around a bit. Maybe check out the re-issue Selle Italia Flite model. Yeah, in saddles it's 1990 all over again.

    So...the old saw, "The more things change, the more they remain the same.", is true in this case.

    I advise you try saddles of varying designs and widths until one feels good enough to start getting your backside back into good condition and able to withstand hour after hour without pain.

    Good luck and welcome back!
  4. mpre53

    mpre53 Well-Known Member

    Feb 20, 2013
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    I have a couple of pairs on Primal shorts/bibs that have pretty thin padding. I prefer a thinner chamois, too.

    If you're just returning after a long lay-off, your butt is going to need some saddle time to toughen up. It should get better. Don't look to switch saddles too quickly. Give your arse a couple of weeks to see if it gets used to the saddle first, because "saddle safaris" can run into a few bucks.