Tech & Wearables

Technical FAQ: Indoor cycling saddle woes, outdoor protective clothing

The VeloNews technical expert discusses saddle woes on the trainer and also why apparel manufacturers are just starting to make protective clothing for the road.

Have a question for Lennard? Please email him at veloqna@comcast.net to be included in Technical FAQ.

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Dear Lennard,
I’ve a comfy road seat — a Fizik Arione — that kills me on the trainer. My hypothesis is that, because of a fixed trainer (a/k/a “Strainer”), the forces of abuse on my tail end differ. I’ve changed saddles but still far from the comfort I have on the road where I can ride four to six hours with no complaints. Do you think my hypothesis about the trainer being fixed is reasonable? Do any manufacturers make a trainer-specific road saddle?
— Jeff

Dear Jeff,
I ran your questions past some saddle experts and got a few responses below:

From bike-fit guru Andy Pruitt, who designed many Specialized saddles:

“The timing of this question was so perfect. I had just finished an indoor ride. I have a permanent indoor setup, with my exact position and saddle to duplicate all of my bikes. That said, I have much more saddle-pressure discomfort indoors than outside. I believe that is the result of several reasons, all having to do with gravity. Inside, we tend not to stand as much, and we don’t use body English to control the bike, which requires some degree of saddle involvement. We tend to ride steady, working on pedaling style, or even one-legged pedal training. During all of this, gravity is just pushing down through us, pressing our soft tissue into the saddle. The discomfort is primarily caused by ischemia (the lack of capillary blood flow in the tissue due to pressure). Another thing I have noticed for myself is that, if I saddle up inside for a hard interval session with heavier loads, I don’t have the same level of saddle discomfort. As we press hard on the pedals, we levitate off the saddle, letting the capillary blood flow through the tissue, and no ischemia occurs.

There have been attempts at indoor-specific saddles, but as far as I am concerned, more padding doesn’t solve the problem, as all foams ultimately bottom out, therefore not solving the issue. I suggest that, if you are going to ride inside, make sure you stand for a few seconds every few minutes, whatever it takes to alleviate your discomfort.
— Andrew Pruitt, EdD, sports medicine consultant

From the former CEO of Italian saddle maker Selle San Marco:

“Talking about trainer, a good solution could be a GEL saddle together with good, padded cycling shorts. Yes, cycling on the trainer is not a normal situation. The time on the trainer should be shorter, and various positions should be used, including standing on the pedals often (this is also better training).
— Luigi Girardi, cycling consultant

From Selle Italia:

“It’s a good question, especially in this weird period. It’s really strange how this pandemic period has changed the use of the rollers, creating a new sport, and, in certain cases, an ENDURANCE sport. There are a lot of riders doing 6 hrs on rollers.

Extending the time on the rollers in a more fixed position brings an increase in the pressure on all the contact points (also hands). Even if the pressure on the ischiatic bones/perineal zone is small, if you prolong it for hours, it can become a real problem. In case of an ischiatic bone pressure problem, we suggest a saddle with thicker padding and also GEL. Our gel is studied and tested by a lot of endurance riders; they usually suffer from bum sores. The gel layer on top helps to reduce pressure and maintain active blood flow as well as reduce skin sores.

What I suggest is to evaluate a big cutout in case of a perineal zone pressure issue. Having a pressure-relief cutout is an easy solution for this kind of issue.

I want to underline that all the problems related to the saddle are really personal and related to the sensitivity of the rider itself and most of them are related to the position you have on the bike.
— Mirko Porta, Selle Italia product and racing manager

From Mitch Schlecht, product manager at SQ Lab:

Question: I’ve a comfy road seat (Fizik Arione) that kills me on the trainer. My hypothesis is that, because of a fixed trainer, the forces of abuse on my tail end differ.
MS: Well, looks like it’s the same bike mounted on a fixed trainer, right? The next thing to know is, is the position of the bike the same; is it still with rear-wheel-mounted, and is the front wheel leveled up?

Question: I’ve changed seats but still far from the comfort I have on the road (four to six hours with no complaints).
MS: Another theory is that he may not be pedaling as hard on the trainer as on the regular bike, so the weight on the saddle becomes higher on the fixed bike.

Question: Do any seat manufacturers make a trainer-specific road saddle?
MS: Not that I know of. I would maybe use one with a little more padding if the pain is coming from the seat bones on the fixed bike; if it’s more the middle area and numbness, then the right size saddle is mandatory.
— Mitch Schlecht, product manager, SQ Lab

Yours is a perfect question in these strange, pandemic times. I hope you and others get some relief from saddle pressure during indoor training.
― Lennard

Sunweb’s kits are made by Craft, which employs Dyneema fabric for abrasion protection on the sides of the short legs. Photo: Courtesy Team Sunweb

Dear Lennard,
Below I attached a letter I wrote to Bioracer. The crux of my letter is asking why clothing manufacturers have not developed a line of cycling clothing incorporating abrasion-resistant materials in key areas, lightweight, temperature-regulating fabric throughout with a high SPF rating. Also, if some cyclists use sun sleeves and knee “coolers” to both keep cooler and prevent sun exposure, why haven’t clothing companies designed lightweight long sleeve jerseys and bib knickers using the latest technologies in fabric?

It also appears to me if such clothing were properly developed, it would be a massive hit with the gravel crowd. Given that it’s so obvious to me, but no one has done it, I must be missing something! What am I missing? I read with interest the news of Team DSM and Bioracer forming a partnership to develop a line of protective cycling clothing. I am excited about the potential.

I have contacted a few custom cycling clothing manufacturers in the past asking why such gear did not exist and pressing for research and development in this area. Given the advancement of lightweight protective fabric, I questioned why such fabrics were not incorporated into cycling clothing. Equally important, I questioned why cycling clothing did not also utilize SPF fabric to a greater extent. I live in South Texas where temperatures average 36C degrees, or more, in the summer, and the sun is intense. High temperatures and blazing sun are common weather conditions for many, if not most, cyclists. Like many, I now wear sun sleeves to help with the sun’s intensity. There is very little fashion involved with sun sleeves. As effective as both sun sleeves and knee “coolers” are, they are ugly!

So, it seems the question is: why hasn’t a clothing company developed a fashionable line of clothing with both protective fabric, SPF fabric, and abrasion-resistant fabric all incorporated into a seamless design? Why hasn’t any manufacturer developed a line of clothing specifically aimed at gravel riding?

Ideally, I would love to see long-sleeve jerseys with SPF fabric for the arms and upper back, mesh fabric in key areas for ventilation, and abrasion-resistant fabric in the elbows and shoulders. Added would be bib knickers utilizing the same technologies. I am convinced that a lightweight kit consisting of a long-sleeve jersey and bib knickers, designed for summer wear, with protection, would be a massive hit. I would go even further and predict that such kits, once properly developed, will become as common as helmets, which, not long ago, were shunned by most avid cyclists.

There are two or three companies currently offering summer-weight long-sleeve jerseys aimed at gravel riding, but little else. When contacted, the replies I received basically stated that the public buys what the pros ride, and pros will not ride the clothing I was suggesting. I believe if the clothing were properly designed, the pros would be the first in line.

Reading the article about the new partnership between Team DSM and Bioracer, I imagined the public will soon be able to buy team kit replicas with protective fabric in key areas, similar to what Hirschi wore at the Tour de France. Hopefully, your future plans involve kits more in line with what I have been imaging. This market is wide open, just waiting to be filled. I am looking forward to how you are going to fill that void.
—Peter

Dear Peter,
As DeFeet has made protective clothing in the past for both sun protection and abrasion resistance, I asked Shane Cooper, the company founder and owner about this, and this is what he said:

“Here at DeFeet, we also see the need for UPF-rated clothing and accessories for cycling. We developed and sold an Arm Skin called the ICE back in early part of the new century. What we found as a garment was stretched, the UPF value declined. Cycling hot-weather garments need to be light, breathable, and moisture-wicking to keep the rider from overheating. Also, a key element on a bicycle is form-fitting or spandex-type material. Our ArmSkin ICE was made with an ultra-high-density polyethylene, or Dynema, as it was called. This material was very difficult to work with, very expensive, and, at the end of the day, at full stretch, barely at 15UPF, depending on the size of the arm. We had one report of a cyclist wearing this item for 9 hrs in the desert and became sunburned. We abandoned this project due to the inconsistency of the UPF value.

As new studies are starting to show of health and time spent doing endurance athletics, long-term exposure to sun is not the only detrimental aspect. I personally have been riding 35 yrs., seldom over 4 hrs, and I have yet to experience any sunburn through my jersey that would indicate high exposure to sun on my back. However, the back of the neck arms, nose, and cheeks get lots of baking. These areas are easy to use sunscreens. It’s hard to use fabric to cover these areas.

SPF is used as a measurement for sunscreens. UPF is used as a measurement for clothing. UVA and UVB are the ultraviolet rays we need to try and block from our skin. The key to UPF is tight weaves; it is basically acting as a sunshade.

We have found no magic formula that will be any better than tight weaves, which don’t really work for endurance sports when exposed to the sun. The companies making sun-protection products for less endurance type of activity are doing great jobs and have many great offerings in the outdoor space. Many claims have been made for magic sun-blocking treatments, however I am very skeptical about these claims until I can read the double-blind studies and independent lab results. I have yet to see any pass.

That all said, anything is better than nothing at all; we recommend doing all you can to avoid too much sun exposure. Use the sunscreens on your exposed skin and avoid long exposure. All this is just my opinion.

— Shane Cooper, founder, president, and chief sockologist, DeFeet International

I think your assessment may be correct, Peter; I suspect that plenty of riders are looking for similar features in cycling clothing.
― Lennard


Lennard Zinn, our longtime technical writer, joined VeloNews in 1987. He is also a custom frame builder (www.zinncycles.com) and purveyor of non-custom huge bikes (bikeclydesdale.com), a former U.S. national team rider, co-author of “The Haywire Heart,” and author of many bicycle books including “Zinn and the Art of Road Bike Maintenance,” “DVD, as well as “Zinn and the Art of Triathlon Bikes” and “Zinn’s Cycling Primer: Maintenance Tips and Skill Building for Cyclists.” He holds a bachelor’s in physics from Colorado College.

Follow @lennardzinn on Twitter.