Riders often complain about the hard seats on their mountain bikes, so why do their complaints still fall on deaf ears?
Why donʼt mountain bike manufacturers make a padded model or at least make the saddles more comfortable? After all, isnʼt it counterintuitive to have a hard seat for your soft tushie?
Well, it turns out that there is a great deal of science behind incorporating hard bicycle saddles (it’s called a saddle, not a seat) on mountain bikes.
In todayʼs text, we’ll go over some of the primary reasons why bike shops continue to sell mountain bikes with hard racing saddles despite stern protests from the vast majority of riders.
Reasons Why Bike Seats Are Hard
It turns out that there are three solid reasons for using hard bike seats over soft seats.
Hard bike seats are known to provide proper support to the sit bones, prevent soft tissue from damage, and help increase pedaling efficiency.
A large, comfortable saddle isnʼt suitable for riding on mountain trails, which is why hard saddles are commonly installed on mountain bikes.
1. Hard seats offer proper support to your sit bones.
When sitting on a bike saddle, you’re advised to sit with your tailbone partially tilted up and your pelvis slightly tilted down, allowing your sit bones to connect with the saddle. As you do this, youʼll find that your sit bones support the majority of your torso weight.
Granted, your legs also offer some level of support, but they are quite busy pedaling. With proper firm seats, you’ll see that the majority of torso weight is transferred through the butt and into the seat, keeping your thighs free and, thereby, increasing your legsʼ range of motion.
With a large cushioned seat, your point of contact with the seat (area of connection between your bum and the seat) would get larger as the softer seat would simply squish to the sides and spread out. When that happens, the butt’s soft tissues are more exposed, resulting in injuries.
2. Hard seats prevent soft-tissue damage.
With a hard saddle, your sit bones will bear the brunt of the stress. In other words, your sit bones will hold the majority of your torso weight, thereby facilitating proper weight allocation.
However, a large, soft cushioned bike seat will disperse the weight placed upon it as it would simply spread out. This would expose your soft tissues tremendously and put them under great stress as theyʼd need to carry your weight as well.
And, when your soft tissues are under undue stress, they are more susceptible to damage.
3. Hard seats increase pedaling efficiency.
To ride a mountain bike well, you’ll require a nice, stable platform that allows you to pedal forcefully from your hip muscles, and a stable platform is only provided by a hard saddle.
You see, your body’s weight moves from side to side when you pedal vigorously; the transference of body weight often aids in downstrokes and upstrokes.
Only a firm seat can facilitate the smooth transfer of weight from one side to another, allowing you to transfer most of your energy to your legs for swift pedaling action. In essence, a hard saddle enables maximum pedaling efficiency.
The right way to sit on a hard seat
Riders often find narrower seats extremely uncomfortable because they’re sitting incorrectly. Sitting on a hard saddle the right way not only makes riding more comfortable but also increases pedaling efficiency.
Hereʼs how to sit the right way on different saddles, just like elite riders.
- Try to place your weight onto your legs as much as possible. In doing so, youʼll protect your sit bones and allow your hands (and upper body) to remain light.
Work your legs by either shifting your hips forward or backward on the saddle.
- Your knees should be bent so that you’re positioned halfway between being fully erect and touching your saddle. This position will maximize pedaling and also enable your body to serve as built-in suspension.
When in this riding position, you’ll be able to handle bumps and absorb shocks much better than in a seated position.
- You must also alter your hip position to activate your glutes. To get your glutes performing properly, push your hips back and bend your torso forward.
While doing this, ensure that your tailbone and spine are in line. This position encourages blood flow and prevents your pressure points from being triggered.
- Next, focus on your shoulders. When riding a mountain bike on different terrain, your shoulders should be as low as possible.
You neednʼt focus too much on lowering your shoulders if youʼve followed the above steps properly. Your shoulders are bound to be low when your hips are back and your torso is pretty much level with the ground.
Keeping your shoulders low will give you a wider range of arm motion. And, with more arm range, cornering, jumping, and maneuvering the bike becomes much easier.
- After youʼve adjusted your shoulders, ensure that your elbows flare out and are in line with them. With the elbows out, it’s easier to activate your triceps, biceps, chest, and back muscles.
With these muscles fully activated, you will face fewer issues with pushing, pulling, and leaning on the bike. You also won’t experience a numb bum.
- When you ride up short hills, you should attempt to lead with your chin. Your head should be held high, and you should be looking in the direction you want to reach.
When you drop your head down, your weight transfers forward, putting extra pressure on your rear end.
Things you can do to stop mountain bike seat pain
- If your riding style and bike position are perfect, but you’re still feeling discomfort, you should check the position of your saddle.
Bear in mind that seat adjustment can make a big difference to comfort. Your seat should be placed relatively level, without tilting too upward or downward.
You can also make adjustments by tilting the bike saddle to the left or right. Additionally, ensure that your seat isnʼt attached too far forward or back to the seat post in the center of the rail.
An improperly attached seat often causes an improper distribution of weight, causing great discomfort during rides. Also, you need to have the right seat height.
- When going on downhill rides, make sure you point the seat nose upwards for better control and stability. Meanwhile, during uphill climbs, point the bike seat nose down as your full weight will mostly be focused on the rear end of your bicycle saddle.
- If you have strong quads and knees and want to develop them further, move your saddle more forward. However, if you want your pedaling strength to come from your hips and glutes, move the seat further back.
Keep in mind that most riders, especially the elderly, tend to perform much better with their bicycle seats positioned further back.
- Itʼs extremely common for novice mountain bikers to experience bike saddle discomfort as they’re simply not conditioned enough. At first, riders’ glute muscles are too soft to handle the stress of mountain biking.
So youʼll need to toughen up your butt muscles before taking on rougher rides on uneven terrain. In a nutshell, beginners should aim to break in hard saddles before going on long rides.
It can take anywhere between a few days to a few weeks to get used to a seat. Out of the different seats available, leather saddles are known to be the easiest to break in.
- Sometimes, there’s a simple reason why your saddle doesn’t agree with your body shape. It’s simply because you have the wrong bike size, which translates to the wrong seat.
Mountain bikers end up with fewer issues when they purchase the right bike size with the right saddle, so, if necessary, invest in a new bike and a new saddle.
Unfortunately, the perfect saddle doesn’t exist, but you can get one close to perfect by breaking the seat in. So, new riders shouldn’t get discouraged.
With a little patience and using the proper form, you’ll soon be cruising, pain-free. And, fortunately, there are a few things you can do to get around the problem and enjoy a more comfortable ride.
Avoid sitting in one spot for long periods. And standing up and moving around to shift your weight around on the saddle can prevent saddle sores and give your posterior end some much-needed relief.
If you still find mountain bike saddles a bit too hard, consider wearing specially designed bike shorts (padded shorts) or getting a bike seat cushion with thick padding. You can usually find these, for all bike types, at your local bike shop.