How to Fix a Mountain Bike Seat That’s Too Hard – Step-by-Step
Bike seats, also called saddles, are naturally designed by most manufacturers to be hard. This hard design offers better support and improves cycling performance. However, when seat rigidity starts affecting your comfort and cycling performance, those needs for improved performance are hardly ever met. In this article, we’ll go through the different dynamics that contribute to discomfort and provide all the steps to fix a mountain bike seat that's too hard.
If a mountain bike seat is too hard, adjust the height or angle of the seat to make it more comfortable, wear padded bike shorts, add a small cushion to the seat, fit the seat to the rider better, or change the size and material of the seat.
This might sound like a bit of a no-brainer but your bike seat discomfort may not be from how hard it is. Instead, the discomfort could be due to improper saddle positioning. To rule out this possibility, check out our article on how to fit a mountain bike saddle, and adjust angle and height.
However, if that does little to nothing to relieve discomfort, another hack you could consider is wearing some adequately-padded shorts like these or adding a firm cushion like this to your saddle. And if these tips still don’t work, consider replacing your saddle with one that suits your needs better.
Similarly, you may also find interest in reading through our mountain bike saddle price guide or our tips and tricks to choosing a mountain bike saddle. If so, be sure to read through our related articles to find out more information.
Why are Bike Seats Hard?
Bike seats are designed to be hard to improve your overall cycling performance. A conventional bike seat like this consists of nylon, carbon fiber, and hard plastic. In some designs, fabrics like stiff leather are utilized for the overall design. These materials contribute to the sturdy feel of the bike and are used in saddle production to improve the bike seat's durability and provide ample support while cycling.
Most bike seats are hard because they are made from leather, carbon fiber, and/or hard plastic. Hard seats improve weight distribution and encourage proper riding posture.
Another factor that makes bike seats so hard is the narrow shape and small size of the saddle design. The shape and size of bike seats follow general aerodynamic principles. They are crafted to be lightweight and shaped in a manner that glides seamlessly with the rider while cycling. Most importantly, these saddles are made to fit onto bikes without causing any added pressure, friction, or issues to slow the body down or impede efficiency whilst pedaling.
Here is a list of reasons for mountain bike saddles being hard:
Reason 1. Bike Seats are Hard to Improve Weight Distribution
When most people, especially cycling newbies, think of bike seats, they think of soft, mushy pillows that provide maximum comfort which should not be the case. Instead, the first thing to keep in mind when considering bike saddles is that they are designed with a focus on efficiency rather than comfort.
There are mixed feelings about how hard a bicycle seat should be. Some people believe that the seat's firmness makes for a more comfortable ride. Others find the seat's firmness which causes pain and injury, intolerable. Bicycle seats are firm for a variety of reasons, but one of the main ones is to make riding more comfortable for bikers by improving weight distribution during cycling.
According to this article on saddle ergonomics by SQLab Sports Ergonomics, riding on a bike seat that’s too soft for about half an hour could cause significant pressure discomfort in the perineal area. Hence, it’s imperative to utilize bike seats that are firm enough to relieve such unpleasant circumstances.
Reason 2. Bike Seats are Hard to Encourage Correct Cycling Posture
A hard saddle could appear a bit cruel and uncomfortable on the first few tries. However, as stated in the above-mentioned point, a mountain bike seat that's too hard may intentionally be designed that way to facilitate better cycling ergonomics.
By giving your sit bones a firm, unyielding surface to brace on while you force your knee and foot downward, you are maximizing the use of your muscles. Proper cycling posture reduces the risk of developing common musculoskeletal problems associated with cycling which in turn improves the cycling experience.
Finally, since your mountain bike seat is made of durable and lightweight materials, there's no need to be concerned about bulky accessories weighing you down or soft foam padding wearing out.
Similarly, you may be interested in learning if you should position your mountain bike seat higher than the handlebars. Be sure to read our related article to find out more.
Why is a Hard Bike Seat Better?
Despite the intense level of discomfort, hard bike seats offer a better advantage than softer options. As mentioned earlier, not only do they last longer when it comes to durability and quality, but they also offer more pros when riding.
A hard bike seat is better because it supports sit bones, protects soft tissue, increases pedaling efficiency, and improves seating ventilation.
Here are a few reasons why a mountain bike seat that's too hard may be better for riding:
Reason 1. Supports Sit Bones
The part of your body that constantly comes in direct contact with your saddle is your sit bones. The two sit bones, also called the ischial tuberosities, are responsible for bearing most of your body weight when seated in an upright position, which is the conventional position when mountain bike riding.
A hard and firm saddle like this helps improve that weight transference and also assists in cushioning unpleasant friction that could arise from riding over bumps or rocky terrain.
Finally, hard bike seats do a much better job at improving weight distribution and protecting the perineal area in varying positions.
Reason 2. Protects Soft Tissue
Contrary to popular belief, hard bike seats like this do a much better job at protecting soft tissue than softer saddles. This is a result of the firm and rigid nature, hard saddles are less likely to get constantly squashed and molded to your varying positions.
On the other hand, if you were to ride with a soft saddle for an extended time, your glutes are more likely to get molded to the form of the seat, which would, in turn, lead to nerve compression and invariably an uncomfortable sensation of muscle numbness called neurapraxia. Constantly adjusting to such poor seating positions on softer saddles increases the likelihood of developing nerve damage and altered muscle function long term.
Reason 3. Increases Pedaling Efficiency
Several factors play a part in pedaling efficiency: muscle strength, pedaling power, being bike fit, torque, and also, qualities of your bike’s saddle. An important thing to remember when cycling is that, as opposed to constantly sitting while cycling, assuming more upright positions give a better cycling advantage.
In essence, “standing” pedaling is a much more effective cycling strategy than “seating” pedaling. That being said, to make the most out of the standing pedaling option, a hard saddle set at just the right height and angle would help you go a long way in acing your cycling performance.
Reason 4. Improves seating ventilation
Last but not least, as a result of the materials utilized in developing hard saddles, these seats provide a much better experience when it comes to seating ventilation. Soft saddles are more likely to absorb sweat which would in turn heat up the bike seats and cause discomfort while riding.
With this factor in mind, the fabrics utilized in producing hard saddles like this are designed to be water-proof and a lot more breathable. Such materials do a much better job at managing potentially sweaty rides and improving circulation while cycling. Both of which contribute to a better cycling experience and performance.
How to Make a Mountain Bike Seat More Comfortable
Optimal comfort is what each and every cyclist needs and it would be best for you to know exactly how to achieve this.
Make a mountain bike seat more comfortable by adjusting the height and angle to fit the rider, or purchase a new seat that is a better fit. To be more comfortable get the right riding gear, such as padded bike shorts.
Here are the steps to fix a mountain bike seat that’s too hard and make it more comfortable:
Step 1. Adjust the Seat Angle and Height
This research from the Journal of Medicine shows that there is a significant relationship between the position of the bike saddle and the comfort of various parts of the body. As mentioned in the early parts of this article, when faced with a hard and uncomfortable bike seat, the first thing to consider for comfort is adjusting the seat to a more desirable position. An effective method to determine if your seat is the appropriate height is the heel-to-pedal method.
With your bike propped on the wall or being held in place by a friend, sit on the saddle, place your heel on the pedal, and pedal backward to the lowest position. If your seat is at the appropriate height, your leg would be extended enough to not lock out your knee. However, if your knee is slightly bent, your seat is too low and if you find it difficult to reach the pedal with your foot, it’s too high.
Make the necessary adjustments by altering the seat post to your desired position. One that promotes leg extension and invariably improves pedaling efficiency.
Step 2. Get Padded Shorts
Thanks to clothing technology, whether you’re a long-term endurance cyclist or someone who’s just starting to learn the ropes of cycling, you can improve your biking experience with padded shorts like these. And if this is the case, you may find our guide on what mountain bike you should buy, quite useful.
Padded shorts are lined with a special material called chamois. This leather-like fabric contains a synthetic gel-filled material. According to this research paper published by the International Journal of Human Factors and Ergonomics, chamois material is actually underestimated in its effectiveness when managing urogenital pressure and discomfort.
This component lessens the risk of developing saddle sores, i.e. gluteal wounds developed from constant friction between the buttocks and the saddle, and also contributes to managing vibrations or bumps felt during your rides. Additionally, padded shorts like this are designed with breathable fabric which in turn helps improve circulation and reduce the discomfort that could be a result of sweating or constant heat generation. If you’d like to get the most out of this attire, be sure to have the shorts tailored to fit snugly to your frame. Your bum would thank you for it.
Step 3. Use a Bike Seat Cushion
If you’re considering an alternative to the above-mentioned padded shorts option, look no further because bike seat cushions are your next best bet. This bike seat cushion could be the missing link to improving your cycling experience. Not only do they help alleviate the rigid bike seat feeling, but bike seat cushions could also go a long way in prolonging the lifespan of your saddle.
A few factors to consider when purchasing a bike seat cushion are the ease of use, type of material, cushion design, and added features that satisfy your specific cycling needs.
Why are Bike Seats Uncomfortable for Females?
Most bike saddles are designed to accommodate the male anatomy. As a result of the different anthropometric qualities, women would naturally have a harder time adapting to such seats and hence need to fix a mountain bike seat that's too hard. From an anatomical standpoint, women have wider and larger pelvises than men. This is to support the female reproductive system and foster childbirth.
As a result of these pelvic qualities, women invariably have wider sit bones. Owing to this wide-pelvis quality, female sit bones tend to go beyond the support provided by most bike saddles. According to this research paper by the Journal of Science and Sports Medicine, saddle sores are a common and under-represented condition faced by most competitive female cyclists. This is arguably a result of female cyclists trying to adapt to male bike saddles. In the sense that such ill-fitted bike seats would cause an unequal transference of weight from the pelvic support to the soft tissue which would lead to extreme discomfort, pain, and injury long term.
Bike seats are uncomfortable for females because most saddles are tailored to accommodate males’ pelvic anatomy. Seats like this, designed specifically for females, are more comfortable because they accommodate the wider female pelvis geometry and have a cut-out to relieve pressure on the soft tissue.
How to Make a Bike Seat More Comfortable for a Woman
If you’re currently struggling with an uncomfortable saddle, there are several tips to help alleviate your discomfort. As mentioned earlier, most bike seats are designed with the male pelvis in mind. Owing to the different pelvic characteristics of both sexes, trying to adapt to a saddle not suited to your pelvic geometry would do more harm than good.
Hence, as a female cyclist, it’s in your best interest to equip yourself with a bike seat that’s specific to your pelvic geometry. Saddles like these with features like wider seats, firm cushions, and nose cut-outs all contribute to making your biking experience a pleasant one.
With that being said, here are a few tips to help make a bike seat more comfortable for a woman:
Tip 1. Get a Tailored Saddle
The first way to make a bike seat more comfortable for a woman is to get one that adequately fits your pelvic qualities.
Bike saddles are designed to offer support while cycling by relieving pressure on the sit bones, also called the ischial tuberosities and surrounding soft tissue. You need to equip yourself with a bike seat that offers reasonable support in these areas without compromising your riding efficiency. The best way to do this is by getting a saddle that fits your pelvic geometry.
To get an appropriate saddle, you need to measure your sit bone width. Get corrugated cardboard and sit on it with your toes pointed downward (in a tip-toe position). Mark the indentations left behind by your ischial tuberosities and connect them with a horizontal line. After measuring the line with a measuring tape like this add 20-25mm to the reading and there’s your saddle width. The width usually falls between 90 and 170mm in women.
Tip 2. Get a Saddle With a Cut-out
This research by Applied Ergonomics highlights that coupling a medium-width saddle with a partial cut-out reduced perineal discomfort and adequately distributed saddle pressure.
With that being said, getting a women’s bike seat with a cut-out like this would help reduce the friction of soft tissue. Furthermore, bike seats with holes encourage a forward rotated pelvis and other dynamic positions that allow for increased cycling efficiency.
Why are Bike Seats Uncomfortable for Males?
Male cyclists may find bike seats uncomfortable if they aren’t adequately sized to their narrow pelvic geometry. This can have them seek solutions for a mountain bike seat that's too hard.
Bike seats are uncomfortable for males because the narrow design often causes perineal compression and pain. For a more comfortable ride, look for bike seats that have a more ergonomic design, and alleviate compression without negatively impacting riding performance.
Constant compression on the perineal area, the space between the anus and genitals, could lead to the vascular supply of such areas being affected and lead to reduced sexual performance long term. In fact, these results from a study done by The Journal of Sexual Medicine indicate that adult men who rode about 100miles a week on a hard-nosed saddle were at a higher risk of developing erectile dysfunction.
Other factors to consider when looking for a male bike seat are the seat width, padding, and cushioning effect. Since males naturally have narrower pelvises, male bike seats like these are designed in that manner, however, it’s imperative to purchase a bike seat that’s tailored to your pelvic geometry.
How to Make a Bike Seat More Comfortable for Men
A comfortable male bike seat like this satisfies saddle ergonomics qualities. Meaning it should be properly fitted to the male cyclist’s sit bones, provide ample support while riding, and should in no way affect circulation.
Finally, it’s imperative to maintain an upright position while cycling. As earlier explained, bike seats are meant to support the sit bones and not the entire body weight. Constantly assuming a proper riding position while cycling makes that possible and more comfortable.
If your current saddle doesn’t satisfy all of the above-stated attributes, it’s time to make some adjustments that would improve your cycling health and performance.
Here's how to make a bike seat more comfortable for a man:
Tip 1. Adjust the Saddle Dynamics
The first and most essential tip to consider to make your bike seat more comfortable is to make sure it’s set at the right height and angle. Our tips to adjust your mountain bike seat angle will help you improve comfort and performance on your bike. Other factors to consider are the saddle width and the saddle nose - a factor often overlooked.
The nose of the bike saddle is the part most frequently in contact with the perineal area. This region contains delicate nerves and blood vessels. Constant compression could lead to numbness, pain, and in the long run, serious injuries. Hence, when getting a male bike seat, consider getting one with a properly-angled nose or select a nose-less option like this.
Tip 2. Consider Adding Padding
Research done by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health indicates that male cyclists are more prone to developing saddle sores. These wounds occur as a result of constant friction between the saddle and the upper thighs. Not only are they extremely painful but constant pressure on the sore area could lead to the development of open wounds and infections. In a bid to avoid such a situation, it helps to line your bike seat with gel padding in areas where there’s constant pressure.
Alternatively, you could consider padded shorts and wear them while cycling. The chamois material tailored into padded shorts like these reduces saddle friction and has antimicrobial properties that reduce sweat odor and bacterial growth.
Whether you're a man or a woman, you might find that your seat just won't stay in place. If that's the case, be sure to read about these easy steps to fix a mountain bike seat that keeps slipping to find some helpful tips.
Why do Mountain Bike Seats Hurt?
As a result of the rough and often bumpy terrain associated with mountain biking, manufacturers of mountain bike seats prioritize developing firm saddles. This design is more effective in cushioning vibration and impact on bumpy terrains, which in turn improves cycling performance.
Mountain bike seats hurt because riders are not used to sitting on a hard, small surface for long periods of time, and the bike seat is the wrong size, height, or angle.
In essence, despite being perceived as uncomfortable, hard mountain bike seats offer a better cycling advantage than softer options. But it should also be noted that mountain bike seats weren’t designed to cause excruciating pain.
If you’re experiencing any pain with your current saddle, our easy steps to improve mountain bike saddle comfort show you a few ways to make your saddle more comfortable. Factors like the bike seat height, width, and angle all contribute to the overall comfort levels and performance of the cyclist. It’s important to equip your mountain bike with a seat that satisfies the desired saddle ergonomic standards. This would result in a healthy cycling posture and improved performance while riding. You may also find additional information on how to reduce mountain bike saddle pain in our related article. So be sure to check that out too.
Is a Wide Bike Seat More Comfortable?
Depending on the cyclist’s pelvic geometry, a wider bike seat may result in improved comfortability. Female cyclists naturally have wider pelvises and hence benefit more from saddles that suit such wide pelvic geometry. Furthermore, wider seats have also been observed to alleviate pressure in the nether regions for male cyclists as well. This is because wide bike seats do a much better job at relieving pressure on the pelvis and inner thighs.
A wide bike seat is more comfortable because of the larger surface area and the extra padding. However, a wide bike seat can get in the way of maneuvering and adjusting positions, and cause a decrease in speed and efficiency.
How to Choose Soft Mountain Bike Seats
Unlike hard seats that are made with leather and hard plastic, soft seat materials are mostly composed of a lighter, more flexible fabric. However, although soft mountain bike seats provide greater comfort, manufacturers are more inclined toward producing hard bike seats because they offer more physiological benefits whilst cycling. A softer, more comfortable saddle might be a simple fix for a mountain bike seat that's too hard even though you might miss out on the other benefits.
Soft mountain bike seats are made with foam or gel padding for cushioning. To choose a soft mountain bike seat, look for one that has comfortable yet firm padding and offers ergonomic support while cycling.
Specific factors to consider when buying a mountain bike seat include the purpose of the biking, the type of cushion used in the saddle material, and the kind of support the saddle offers whilst cycling.
Here’s how to consider these factors when choosing a soft mountain bike seat:
Tip 1. Buy a Seat With Vibration Dampening
Mountain biking is a cycling type that involves a significant level of bumpy roads and rough terrains. As already discussed, it’s best to opt for a bike saddle that’s able to cushion the effects of vibration from such terrains.
When choosing a soft mountain bike seat, be sure to select one that offers enough comfort while cycling but is still firm enough to support your pelvic area in the long run.
Tip 2. Choose a Saddle With Gel Cushioning for Comfort and Foam Cushioning for Additional Support
Another factor to keep in mind when choosing a soft mountain bike seat is the type of cushion used in the saddle. Conventionally, there are two types of cushions used by most bike seat manufacturers: gel cushions and foam cushions.
The gel cushion is better at providing comfort because of the thin surface layer and is popularly used for recreational cycling. On the other hand, when it comes to offering support, the foam cushion does a much better job than its gel counterpart. Hence, foam cushions are recommended for heavier cyclists and riders who travel long distances.
Another option, which is pretty much an extension of the second, is a saddle cushion called memory foam. This type of foam cushion reduces pressure by as much as 50%! Furthermore, the memory foam cushion can conform to riders’ pelvic geometry and does a better job at distributing the weight across the surface area of the saddle. Needless to say, when considering choosing a soft mountain bike seat, it’s best to opt for one with a cushion that best satisfies your cycling needs. Our tips to prevent and manage mountain bike saddle numbness can also help you choose a saddle with suitable padding.
Tip 3. Balance Support and Cushioning So That You Still Have The Right Posture and Ergonomics
When choosing a soft mountain bike seat, the ergonomic features of the saddle should not be overlooked. You need to make sure your mountain bike seat is one like this, one that’s comfortable but still offers reasonable support to stop the occurrence of musculoskeletal issues long-term.
Tip 4. Support the Sit Bones
Finally, when choosing a soft bike seat, it’s vital to opt for one that’s firm enough to support the sit bones. A bike seat that’s too soft is easily squashed when accommodating pelvic weight. This could lead to increased pressure on the sit bones which could, in turn, lead to vascular compression, numbness, soft tissue injury, and severe pain. With that being said, before choosing a soft mountain bike seat, test a few options and make sure your final pick reasonably checks all the boxes.