Gender Differences in Bicycle Saddle Pressure Distribution during Seated Cycling

Jed Williams Research Review

With saddle comfort being such an important tenant of bike fit, it is vital to understand how saddle pressure can be affected by gender, position and power output. Potter et al. looks to find if there are any significant differences in the aforementioned conditions.

The study took 22 cyclists, an equal mix of male and female, they then used a saddle pressure mapping system to measure how pressure changed in different conditions. The study considered saddles without a cut out, as well as whether a wider female specific saddle offered more support to female riders. As women often have a greater distance between ischial tuberosities or ‘sit bones’. They recorded data with cyclists pedalling at 100 and 200 watts. The researchers looked at the riders with their hands on the top and the drops.

The researchers found significant differences not only between how men and women experience saddle pressure, but how different positions change the way pressure is applied. The major differences between men and women are attributed to both the physical differences, as well as how the pelvis and the saddle interact with each other.

When moving from the tops to the drops the centre of pressure moves forward and reduces in size regardless of gender. However, women experience less of a reduction, this is attributed to men having a higher centre of mass meaning they have more weight to shift onto the bars.
There is also a different pattern of pressure between men and women. Men tended to have one centre of pressure at the front of the saddle which then trails off towards the sit bones. Women had a centre of pressure at the front of the saddle, but then also two distinct points at the back
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The researchers claim this is due the different pelvis shapes across genders that mean different structures are contacting the saddle. Women often have wider ischiopubic rami which means on a narrower saddle the body is supported on the pubic symphysis and the posterior sections of the ischiopubic rami. Men have a narrower more rounded ischiopubic rami which can be more easily supported by the narrower front section of the saddle.

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When looking at the female specific saddle they found there was a significant pressure reduction towards the front of saddle. This is because the increased width may provide more support for the specific pelvic anatomy of women, providing them with a more stable base and even pressure distribution.

One limitation to consider with this study is that there was limited time (5 minutes) for riders to warm up and get used to each saddle. This means that the data might not be an accurate representation of how everyone truly interact with the saddle. They also admit that while they tried to match each riders bike fit, some of the studies parameters could have restricted their ability to do this.

The study concluded that more research was needed to understand how saddle properties change how pressure is distributed and how the saddle feels. It is worth noting though that as they found an improvement with the women specific saddle that when fitting women with saddle issues either a wider or a women’s specific saddle may be advisable.

POTTER, J. J., SAUER, J. L., WEISSHAAR, C. L., THELEN, D. G., & PLOEG, H. (2008). Gender differences in bicycle saddle pressure distribution during seated cycling. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 40(6)

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