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Critique My Fit: Crotch Numbness and More

Our fourth edition of “Critique My Fit” digs into yet another member’s issues: Numbness in the crotch, foot pain, and worn-out saddles.

Each month, we’ll be choosing one of our members to get a free virtual fit from expert bike fitter, Jon Blyer, owner of Brooklyn-based ACME Bicycles, a Retül Certified Master Bike Fitter, and teacher at the Guru Academy in Bethel, CT.

Using the member’s email fit feedback and three video angles, Blyer gives his recommendations below, along with suggestions that can apply to other readers’ situations with similar problems. 

For your chance to get a free virtual fit from one of the top fitters in the country, be sure to sign up for our Outside+ or Triathlete membership.

Dear Jonathan,

Thanks again for the opportunity to obtain a professional bike fit. 

The main discomfort I have is numbness in my crotch when I do long rides. Sometimes in those long rides, the big toes of my feet also feel numbness (mostly on my right foot). And of course, I wish to achieve an optimal position on my bike to be more efficient on longer rides because my dream is to race a full Ironman in the near future.

When I feel numbness, I try to solve the problem by moving my body front and back to change the pressure point on the saddle, but the relief is short-lived. 

My height is 5 feet 4 inches and my inseam is 30 inches. My bike is a GW, model Flamma, size S (45cm) from 2015. 

I’m a 41-year-old man who has been racing since 2015, and my favorite tri distance is 70.3. My target for 2021 is to maintain my fitness and—depending on the development of the pandemic—race another 70.3 maybe in December or so.

My pedals are Look Keo Classic, my saddle is SP1 DDk and the handlebars are Zoom Short Alloy Dropbar

Alejandro P.
Bogotá, Colombia

 

Alejandro,

Thanks very much for submitting your issues! I certainly hope that we all can get back to racing a normal schedule sometime soon—70.3 is my favorite distance as well.

Your bike position is off to a great start. All the major aspects of your fit (seat height, seat setback, and handlebar position) seem to be right around where they should be. I am sorry to hear about the numbness from your saddle and the occasional foot numbness though.  Nothing can ruin a bike ride faster than an uncomfortable saddle, so it’s definitely worth spending the time, and unfortunately, the money, to figure out a saddle that will let you ride forever without trouble. I have never heard of your saddle and don’t have any first-hand experience with it unfortunately but in looking at the pictures you sent in, I can see why you may be experiencing some trouble.

Saddle Wear

The first issue I see is that your saddle may be fairly worn out, and I say this based on the depression that I can see in the saddle when viewed from the side. Saddles eventually wear out and need to be replaced, even if the outer surface of the saddle is still in good shape—much like running shoes with good-looking outsoles that contain compressed midsoles. The foam on the inside of a saddle degrades over time, and it may not support you as well as it did when it was brand new.

Your saddle also looks to be on the narrow side, and while I like that it has a pressure relief split in the middle, I definitely don’t like the bulbous shape of the saddle nose. Saddles with bulbous noses should be illegal in my opinion because they apply pressure directly to the center of the perineal region, which is exactly where we don’t want it. Saddles like the Specialized Power, the Ergon SR Pro, the PRO Stealth, the Prologo Dimension, and the Selle Italia Novus Boost Evo are all much better options in my opinion. These saddles mimic the shape of the pelvis and are designed to support the weight of the rider on their Pubic Ramus—a bony part of the pelvis located just to the left and right of the genital region—rather than on the central part of the genital region which is far more sensitive to pressure. Sitting with your body weight on the pubic ramus is not something that will feel natural at first, but in time you will get used to it and this is a far safer place to bear your body weight than on your genital region. Unfortunately, of the dozens of saddles like the ones listed above, it is hard to know which one is a good match for you without trial and error—but they all should provide better support and pressure relief than your current saddle.

I see some other issues in the video you submitted but before we dive into these, it’s worth noting that your complaints probably don’t have anything to do with them, so proceed with caution.  Any time you make a change to your bike position, even if there is technically “an issue,” there is a chance that you will introduce a new problem.

Foot And Knee Alignment

The issue I see relates to your feet and knee alignment, and assessing what exactly is going on with your lower body would definitely require some type of physical evaluation, so I would add on an extra layer of warning here since we haven’t done that. As you pedal, you’ll notice that your toes point outward a good degree and your heels are closer to the centerline of the bicycle. When I look at the pictures of your cleats, I can see that the cleats are twisted and this seems to be intentional since they look to be symmetrical. While pedaling your toes pointed outwards is far less risky than pedaling with your toes pointed inwards—from an injury or performance perspective—you may still be at risk from a knee or hip injury in the future.  The occasional foot numbness that you mentioned may also be related here.

The first thing I would investigate is to see if your feet could benefit from some arch support in your cycling shoes. A weak or flat arch will cause your foot to overpronate when you pedal, which can cause your feet to be positioned as they are. If your feet are flat, then I would definitely suggest some level of arch support for your cycling shoes. Most insoles that come stock with cycling shoes are fairly useless. There are some very nice insoles available from G8, Superfeet, and Solestar.

Insoles

A cycling-specific insole varies from a running shoe insole, in that it will be very thin so as to not take up too much space inside your cycling shoe. Insoles will not only support your arch and improve your alignment, but they will also better distribute pressure across the bottom of your foot which can help with numbness. If you were in my fit studio, I would probably start with straightening out your cleats and testing out some arch support to see how that affects your foot and leg mechanics. I might also try to move your cleats outboard as far as they would go, which would move your feet closer to the bike which may further straighten things out.

Numbness issues are very common in cycling. None of the three contact points on a bicycle are considered natural from any perspective, and it can definitely take some experimenting to achieve comfort. As you experiment with different saddles and changes to your feet, I suggest trying to make these changes one at a time so you can determine if the change you made was beneficial or not. Considering that your main complaints have to do with the saddle numbness, and since that can make or break everything I would start there and address the foot “issues” down the road. Please keep me posted on your changes and progress and I hope we all get to race sometime soon!

Good Luck!

Best Regards,
Jonathan