Pls help. - "3D" vs Uniform Chamois & Gel vs Foam

Hi All,

I think / hope I have an idea that can help me, but also help us all ride more comfy.

Seriously struggling with saddle pain, working w a professional highly regarded fitter. On our 3rd saddle try right now. I basically can’t do more than about 45 - 65 mins, after thousands of kms ridden.

I know saddle fit is #1.

But shorts play a role.

I’m currently in an Endura “3D” short. 3D meaning the padding is sculpted, with different thicknesses in different areas. Xtract Gel Short II.

My concern is that while the concept is good, it then depends on the individual fit of the hip vs. saddle interface. And I’m 99% sure the thickest part of the pad is just floating in the air, and I’m riding on the parts that are 1 mm thick.

Leads me to think that a uniform chamois pad would always be better, because it eliminates that variable. You’ll have the pad between your pressure points, always.

Like doesn’t it make more sense to be on a uniform pad that is ____ mm thick, than a 3D pad, that may or may not line up with your hip bone vs seat interface?

I’m also wondering a lot about a gel vs foam pad. I’m thinking that because of the nature of the materials, gel / silicone / whatevs would be much more responsive / forgiving than just foam, that compresses to a point, and then gives no more and becomes much harder.

I really would appreciate some input from anyone who knows a bit on this stuff. I don’t really know what to say; I know little about these things, but it just seems this 3D foam thing is just not the right solution.

I’m dying here. I want to crank more, and the only thing holding me back is my pain. Sucks.

Honestly appreciate any input. Thanks, and Ride On.

Have you experimented with saddle tilt already? My experience has been that shorts don’t make a huge difference unless they are totally wrong for you. If you’ve already cycled through several brands of shorts, the problem may lie elsewhere. You don’t want to buy fluffy shorts to make up for the wrong saddle (try doing high cadence drills on a fat chamois). Saddles vary a lot more than shorts, so it can make sense to try many of them.

If the pain is in your perineum then saddle tilt and different shaped cut-outs might be the answer. If it’s in your sit bones then different saddle shape or width might be more likely to help.

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I think sometimes you just need to get used to it. But that sounds cruel.

Something that no one tells you is no underwear with bike shorts.

Try the bike saddle with normal shorts that will give you a indication if it could work.

Less saddle padding is better.

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It is a combination of shorts, the bike fit and the saddle shape.

I have two different 54cm bikes, 2018 Canyon Ultimate CF Evo with 410mm bars, and a Cervelo S5 2020 with same width bars. They both have Beast Components saddles, the canyon with the bare carbon version, the S5 with the padded leather version. Same shape, padding the only difference. Both bikes are near enough in fit, just the S5 is slightly lower at the front (more slammed).



Both very comfortable outdoors, even though the one above doesn’t look like it. The shape and angle help, but also having the correct height. If the saddle is too high and you are rocking then you’ll also get pain.

160km+ ride no bother. The padding on the “comfort” version of the saddle only has the effect of being less slippery. The bare carbon version you can slide about on that saddle more.

Shorts I wear are Le Col Hors Categorie. And don’t under estimate the effect good shorts with decent padding can have. Certain types like Mavic, Castelli (kiss padding) or any MAAP shorts are no good at all, very uncomfortable. The Mavic shorts have bulky padding that feels like sandpaper after a while. MAAP has thin padding, is comfortable over short distances. Le Col somewhere in between but better material IMO. But this is subjective.

Indoors your comfort will be helped by a rocker plate, once you have worked out the saddle.

You’ll have to keep trying the saddles and working out the fit.

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I’m originally of the leather saddle/leather chamois generation so all this may be just Italian old wives’ tales, but… As I understand it, the main function of the chamois is to prevent friction/rubbing, not to provide cushioning. Indeed any padding beyond a minimal (non-zero) amount in the load-bearing parts of rider-saddle interface is supposedly considered harmful because it just causes excess pressure elsewhere.

A part of it may be just a matter of getting used to longer time in the saddle, I certainly find that after a longer time (several months) without multi-hour rides it can take quite a while to get back to comfortable riding again even though the seat and the shorts are the exact same. And indoors you tend to spend almost all the time seated (a lot more than outdoors) unless you really make a conscious effort to stand up almost whenever you can.

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This is such an individual matter, with multiple possible contributing factors – as outlined already in this thread – that it’s hard to help at a distance. I know what it’s like to be frustrated by pain stopping one from riding, and I hope that you are freed from this rapidly. (In my case, about 18 months ago, it was burning balls of the feet after about an hour’s riding that got worse over a couple of months, for which I was happily able to find a solution. It was fit-related, but also came down to better understanding my anatomy and, ultimately, applying common sense and ignoring what is marketed as normal in the cycling industry.)

You mention saddle pain, @Chris1982, but what form does it take? Is there stabbing, numbness, burning, or perhaps a combination? And where exactly? Seat bones? Soft tissue? Elsewhere? Not to be indiscreet, but are there any other issues that could be contributing? Other health issues? Higher than usual/average weight on the contact points? (To be clear, I’m not expecting you to reply to any of these questions on a public forum, just exploring what might be causing this pain.)
You mention having ridden thousands of km, but are they all in recent months, or over the longer term, and your body isn’t currently used to riding for longer than an hour at a time indoors? Do you stand up off the saddle few minutes or so while riding indoors, or do you stay in one position on the saddle for extended periods? All these things would change the approach I’d use to help myself if I was faced with this.
We can hope that your experienced fitter is also trying to pinpoint the anatomical site of the pain and identify the root cause.
While I’ve been picky about saddles myself, I know that I can be comfortable on several different ones, as long as certain basic anatomical needs are met. I’ve not found that shorts/chamois forms make a real difference to that, certainly not to the extent of me being in pain or not. (But I know that’s just my experience and that yours is different and equally valid.)

I’m of the opinion that much of what is marketed to us as life-enhancing improvements in cycling equipment is based on pseudoscience – at best. Much of it is quite seductive. As Anna alluded to, people rode for extended periods on unpadded leather saddles with minimal chamois in the past. Some may have experienced pain issues, but not all. Not that it helps you right now, but I suspect that if you’re experiencing real pain after cycling for 45 minutes, a change in shorts/pad alone is unlikely to be the magic bullet to eliminate it.

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Sqlab “612 ergowave R” saddle and a Assos RS or RSR shorts is my recommendation

It really depends on a couple things. Your body shape/structure, your body weight, your saddle shape, the duration of your rides and how fragile your delicate tissues are.

Personally I’ve found a lovely balance in the Rule 28 bibs. A lot of companies use Elastic Interface chamois and those just don’t quite do it for me. I have NoPinz bibs with TaoSport chamois and they are good but not great. I absolutely love my BioRacer bibs but the fabric of the bibs falls apart around the amazing chamois. The list can go on and on, sadly it’s trial and error to find what works for you and your equipment.

Regardless of how good the chamois and saddle combo is, you will also need to condition your body to the friction and pressure in those sensitive spots. Use a healing chamois crème (like DZ Nutz) when necessary but I try to forego it 9/10 times to help condition the skin.

Hope this helps.

Have you tried/been measured for different saddle widths? I got measured on a Specialized “Ass-o-meter” years ago (basically some memory foam you sit on, then they measure the distance between the indentations). To my surprise, they said I needed a 130mm saddle. Made the switch and have been much more comfortable ever since.

Do you have saddle pain outdoors too, or just on Zwift? When you’re riding indoors, remember to stand up every once in a while to relieve the pressure.

To answer your question, check out Pearl Izumi Attack bibs. Nice uniform chamois, comfortable for me even on long indoor rides (like 4+ hours). Personally, I have both uniform and 3D pads I like, and ones that I don’t like.

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Thanks for the input all, I really appreciate it.

@Paul_Southworth Yes, have tried working with tilt.

@Roule_Thoune The pain is ultra high pressure on very small pressure points on the inside / lower surface of the ‘sit bones’. They tend to be only about 0.5" / 1 cm ish diameter. Identical spot on each side. It feels very specifically like ‘bone bruise’ type pain. “Thousands of kms riden” = over the past few years. On my previous bike & saddle I rode 45 - 90 mins often, both indoors and out, and up to 4 - 5 hrs outside a few times, with minimal / zero pain. I’m about 72 kg, 183 cm / 165 lbs 6’0.5". Have never struggled with or had perenium pain in the past, and still don’t have issues there, as I don’t tolerate any noticeable pressure there. I admittedly don’t stand up as often as I should on the trainer, but never did in the past, and never had a problem until trying these new “race” saddles. My previous was a Selle SMP TRK. Yes, I know this is an “entry level” / “comfort” saddle, and not really responsive enough for racing. That’s why on my new ‘race’ bike we are looking for a ‘performance’ / ‘race’ saddle.

So far I’ve cycled through a J Cobb (hell), Pro Stealth 152mm (different hell, but slightly better) and now ISM 30 PS 1.1. Better, but still painful, max 60 ish mins. But I’m going to give this some time; only about 5 rides so far.

I think it is caused by the curve of the saddle not matching the curves of my inner pelvic bones, in 3 dimensions; both sideways and up / down curvature, front to back.

I recently learned the ‘sit bones’ are not independent bones, or even a specific spot on the hip bone. The inner bones of the pelvic / hip bone are two long curved ‘bars’. The ‘sit bone’ typically refers to the part of that curve that protrudes toward the bottom when we sit in an upright position. But when we lean forward on a bike saddle, the main pressure points will roll forward along the curve of those bones. Thus the ‘sit bones’ essentially move along those bars / can be different spots along those bars, depending on the angle of the torso tilt, and curve match of the saddle vs. hip ‘bars’ in 3D.

I think if the 3D curve of the saddle closely matches those bones for a decent length; say 2 - 4" / 4 - 8 cm ish, the pressure is spread out over that area, and it’s comfortable. If the saddle vs bone intersect each other like a crossroads at an odd angle, they only cross each other on a small area, and all the pressure will be here. I think this would explain why saddle fit is so bloody individual; one can be heaven for rider 1, and hell for rider 2.

The reason for the shorts / chamois question is that the most recent saddle I’m trying is less painful. I think the fit is much closer, but maybe still not very good, because these pressure points still seem very small, and very focused in one specific spot. But it’s a bit less painful for the first time, and I started to wonder if maybe the shorts are part of the problem.

Investigation ongoing… : /

For what it’s worth, I will post back here if / when I find a “perfect” solution.

I sincerely appreciate everyone’s time to give input and try to help!!

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The only time I’ve experienced sit bone (“bruising”) pain was after taking a longish break from cycling; I’m talking months and, in one case, several years without riding. In this case, it was simply a case of “grin and bear it” whilst doing regular, shortish rides and eventually it sorted itself out. I’ve always used Specialized saddles (130 and 143) with various levels of padding and a whole range of bibshorts and never noticed any real correlation with comfort in the saddle. I now prefer saddles with minimal padding.

The only time I notice any discomfort now (indoors) is if I’m spinning a very small gear at a relatively high cadence in, say, zones 1-2. Here, I’m guessing there’s simply not enough resistance from the pedals to minimize the effects of body weight on the saddle.

A couple of (bike fit) things which may be worth double-checking which could have some contribution to the problems your experiencing? First of all, your saddle set-back and secondly your stem length. If either of these are too large, it may mean that you’re gradually scootching along your saddle towards the nose i.e. you’re slowly repositioning yourself onto a much narrower part of the saddle. Worth a look, anyway.

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My previous was a Selle SMP TRK. Yes, I know this is an “entry level” / “comfort” saddle, and not really responsive enough for racing.

Do you still have the old Selle saddle? Not sure what you mean by “responsive enough for racing” but I can’t imagine a saddle negatively affecting your performance that much unless it weighs 5 pounds. If the old saddle was comfortable and everything else you’ve tried is unbearable, I’d just stick with the old one.

There’s a great YouTube series called “Bike Fit Tuesdays” that goes way down the saddle rabbit hole: 6 Things You NEED to Know About Saddle Setup - BikeFitTuesdays - YouTube

I’m going to gentle/tacitly suggest you keep at the bike fit approach rather than continuing to swap saddles.

Does your bike fitter have a saddle pressure mapping device? You situation sounds fairly similar to what mine used to be and real-time pressure mapping was the key to identifying the problem and then finding a fit that worked best to reduce peak pressures. For me that involved moving seat up / back so my pelvis could rotate forward, take the weight off the ‘sharp’ bony areas and onto less ‘sharp’ bone areas. My saddle was already a suitable width for my pelvis so no changes there.

The underlying issue could be this: Ischial bursitis – How to spot this sit-bone injury and stop it ruining your ride | road.cc

If it is, there is no ‘riding through it’ as others might recommend.

Re: uniform vs 3d chamois patterns - If you can find bibs with a high density chamois that fits the shape of your anatomy / contact points, I think a 3d is preferable as you can have the high density / 3d parts where you really need them and less material where not needed. That said, I’d rather have a uniform density chamois than a poorly matched 3d chamois where I’m sitting on the thin parts.

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