Why Are Bike Seats So Uncomfortable?

December 3, 2021

Whether you are a new to electric biking or an experienced biker, we bet you have wondered at one point - why are bike seats so uncomfortable? At first, it doesn’t make any sense that bike manufacturers create hard, skinny, narrow seats. If you don't understand the method  behind the madness, it might seem like they really want us to suffer after long rides. Believe it or not, there are practical reasons why bike seats are made the way they are.

We have talked about this important topic before, and even made a list of the most comfortable bike seats on the market. If you want to take your riding experience to a new level, we suggest you check those out.

Did you know that more than half of the bikers that quit biking after a few months of riding say that the body ache and the discomfort they felt in their backs and bottoms played a major role in their final decision? Don’t be one of those folks; read our article below to find out why bike seats are made specifically this way. Of course, there are always things you can do to make your biking experience better and your rides comfier.

Are Bike Seats Used Incorrectly?

I was stunned when I learned many years ago that bike seats are not meant to carry our full weight. Many bikers are reassured that we’re supposed to relax completely and sit with your full weight on your seat, but your seat is actually meant to hold only the weight of your seat bones. Your thighs should be moving freely. However, it’s natural that people get tired while riding their bikes, and they use the seat like a chair instead of a saddle.

In ads and manuals, you’ll rarely see the term saddle, although it’s the right one to use. Long story short, saddles are meant to carry a certain part of your weight, while the majority of the weight “sits” on your pedals, and you are the one supporting the mass. However, since we have been seeing the term seat everywhere, it’s natural to think we’re supposed to rely on this part of our bike with no holding back.

Many say that the best way to ride a bike includes continuous, active movement. We’re supposed to balance our weight and lean forward, putting more strain on our feet and hands. Instead, a very small percentage of our mass should put pressure on our back and bottom. This way, we are essentially only leaning on the bike seat instead of fully sitting on it. Not many people use their bike like this, thus rides can get very tiring and uncomfortable after some time. Beginners don’t have the stamina to hold their weight while moving, either, which is why they sit while riding.

Why Are Bike Seats Shaped The Way They Are?

Seeing such a small bike seat with a narrow, thin design can be quite funny if you are an adult. Unfortunately, some of these are so small that we barely understand how we’re supposed to feel comfortable on them in any way -  even if used correctly as explained above.

The original design of bike seats was somewhat similar to what we see in the stores today, and the shape actually only got more narrow as sports bikes were introduced to the market. Vintage bikes, especially mechanical bikes, had a slightly wider seat, as they were also made for people with luggage and those who were carrying their groceries and their flowers from the nearest shop. However, as bikes became more of a hobby and a really popular sport, there was a need for better aerodynamics, which resulted in a redesign of many bike parts, including the seat.

Several city bike lines included slightly wider bike seats, but this did not gain popularity at all. Interestingly, harder and more narrow seats are usually more comfortable than wide, circular, padded models. Such are delightful to look at because they remind you of a good sofa or a fancy couch, but they are very soft, can cause more friction, and get warm quite easily. This is why they might even create a slight rug-like burn on your thighs, and they move around more, resulting in a very uncomfortable ride.

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How Should We Sit On Our Bike Seats?

Well, believe it or not, there is a proper way to sit on your mechanical or electric bike. Bike seats are quite narrow, so you have to distribute your weight properly, relying on the strongest part of your bottom - the sit bones. These are also known as ischial tuberosity. So we are talking about a set of two bones that support you well whenever you are sitting, not just when you’re using your bike.

The less muscle, thigh, and skin you put pressure on, the better. Try not to create too many contact points between the seat and your bottom, and make sure that your thighs are not rubbing against the front of your seat. Although wider and more padded models look more comfortable, they’ll annoy you more in the long run. This is why getting a model that includes the best of both worlds is beneficial, but if you don’t want to get a new bike seat, you can always get an accessory for the top.

Read next: Gel vs Memory foam bike seats

Our Best Tips For A Comfortable Ride

Make sure that you use the proper seat size. Although this might sound as if it contradicts what we’ve been talking about, we actually advise you to check the “whole bike seat size.” For some people, the model they have is just too small. It’s not even too narrow - the whole bike seat is not big enough to provide them with a good contact surface to put their sit bones on. Everyone has a different bone structure, and just like you wouldn’t wear your brother’s shoes, you might want to try out different saddle sizes until you have one that you are really happy with.

Make sure you have proper form. As we said, you mustn’t put your whole weight on the seat. Instead, you should actually put most of your weight on your feet and create pressure points with the pedals. Naturally, inexperienced riders have problems with this, as they lack stamina and need more time to relax. Try to adjust your body differently, and try to change the height of your steering wheel. This might introduce some new angles for your biking style, which could benefit your sit bones and heal your muscle ache.

Make sure you have a bike seat meant for the terrain you ride on. Obviously, there are situations where we ride on more difficult terrain, and this completely switches up the biking style we use. Not only are there different sizes of bike seats, but there are also very different shapes. The curves on the top can create more or less comfort, depending on the angles and the material’s roughness. For example, If you have bought a city bike, but you use it as a mountain bike, and you like to bike on difficult terrain sometimes, there is a possibility that your bike seat is just not cut for what you’re using it for. 

Get a bike seat with a cut-out. There are lots of seat models out there that have a cut-out in the middle. There are different models for men and women, and the point of these is to give you less of a contact surface and make sure you are supporting yourself on your own. Also, if you’ve been feeling weird back pain, especially if it’s a burning or itching pain, you can try this type of seat, as it also helps the nerves in your lower back and your hips.

Bike seat with a cut-out.

Use proper clothes. Many don’t appreciate the impact a good pair of biking shorts can have on your rides. If you experience lots of chafing and you are annoyed by your bike seat, you should consider the possibility that your clothes are the ones creating all the friction. You can always visit a nearby bike shop to get a very comfortable biking short .

Make small adjustments to the system. Sometimes it’s not the seat that’s the problem, but the combination of various elements on your bike. For example, we suggest you try switching up the height of your steering wheel, your seat, and your pedals, if possible. Sometimes it’s the angle that’s problematic, and sometimes it’s the height. Maybe you’ve been riding the way other people are riding because you think that it’s the proper way to do it, but your back still experiences some discomfort. It would help if you did what works best for you and kept your body happy and healthy.

Get a seat cover. As mentioned before, you can get various accessories that will make your biking experience more comfortable. One of such choices is a seat cover, often filled with gel or made from thicker materials such as leather or rubber. Beware of very thick ones, though, as they can cause a lot of friction, and they can move around, making your rides unsafe. If you’re getting such an accessory, make sure that it properly ties around the seat and doesn’t wiggle in any way. Again, we suggest you choose gel over rubber, and we advise you don’t go overboard with the padding.

Use cushioned shorts. Maybe you’ve been blaming your bike seat for something that a proper pair of bike shorts could have fixed easily. Of course, getting cushioned shorts should not be a must-do for bikers, but it’s very helpful for those who seem to be fitter or skinnier. These shorts are usually made from lycra, which is very helpful when it comes to chafing and rubbing. It is always a good choice to make sure that the seams are properly sewn, as your shorts will roll up if this is not the case. The padding should be comfortable, but it shouldn’t change your riding experience too much. If that’s the case, we suggest you spend some extra time figuring out whether the shorts make you feel unsafe.


Conclusion

Although you might be surprised by the hard, narrow bike seats you find on most bikes nowadays, both on mechanical and electrical, these actually seem to be healthier than the padded ones. Important to note is to have a holistic approach ensuring that all parts of your bike work properly together. As mentioned above it is important to use your body weight properly. So before you get a new bike seat, or invest in a pair of cushioned shorts or a gel cover, make sure that your steering wheel and your saddle are set to a proper height and that you are using the seat properly. If that doesn’t work out, you can try some of the other solutions listed above. Happy biking!

About the author

Emma was born and raised in the UK, studied in Amsterdam (where she discovered her passion for biking), and is currently living in Ohio. Her main passion is cycling, that's why she is always looking for an amazing new e-bike to make her journey even more unforgettable!

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