Why Bike Seats Have Holes / Cutouts (Explained for Beginners)

Does your butt get numb after a bike ride? What about your…genitals?

I know I know, I’m getting kind of personal. But it’s an important question: one you shouldn’t be shy about asking yourself! When you’re spending hours a week on your bike, that discomfort or pain can get downright irritating. But there are ways you can correct it. One way is by buying a bike seat (saddle) featuring a cutout.

A bike saddle’s cutout helps alleviate pressure on the perineum, prostate and sensitive soft tissue in your groin. This can greatly reduce discomfort and prevent inflammation that could lead to long-term issues. 

A cutout is just one of the ways to deal with saddle soreness, but may not be the best for you depending on your unique anatomy and how you ride. I’ll cover some other ways to address pain and discomfort so you can choose the right saddle for your bike. 

Get rid of that butt and groin pain so you can focus on other things…like how your legs are burning and your lungs feel like they’re about to explode. Ahh, the joys of biking. 

Potential Benefits of Holes / Cutouts on Bike Seats

Relieves Pressure on Soft Tissue of the Groin

Anyone who has siblings or immature friends (you know the type) has probably taken a shot to the groin at some point. Let’s face it: no matter your gender, stuff is pretty sensitive down there! Our bike saddle shouldn’t be contributing to the problem.

Bike saddles are pretty small and have minimal padding, so resting most of our body weight on our most sensitive area just doesn’t sound like a good idea. A cutout helps alleviate pressure in this area by, in essence, giving that soft tissue somewhere to go…rather than being crushed under our weight. Ouch!

Relieves Pressure on Perineum

So we know the groin is a sensitive area, but let’s dive deeper into our anatomy. Lying underneath that soft tissue is the perineum: a region that protects the pelvic floor muscles, blood vessels and nerves that supply and innervate our genitals and urinary tract. 

An injured perineum can’t protect these key structures. You don’t need to have studied anatomy to know that damaging the nerves or impeding blood flow to the genitals sounds pretty bad. A cutout gives the perineum a little room to breathe. 

Relieves Pressure on the Prostate

Ok, so this is a male-only problem, but it’s an important one. Though it used to be a common belief, there hasn’t been any scientific evidence linking bike riding to erectile dysfunction, infertility or prostate cancer (phew). But increased pressure on the prostate can lead to inflammation. This is something a cutout can help mitigate.  

Do Bike Seat Cutouts Work?

Womens bike seat

Why bother with a bike saddle with cutouts? Couldn’t you just buy a saddle with more padding to take care of the problem? 

Well, more padding does not always equal more comfort. Extra cushioning doesn’t really alleviate much of the pressure on your sensitive areas. It does however increase your odds of chafing and getting saddle sores. The movement (squishiness) of the saddle while your body weight is shifting during pedaling can cause more friction…which means more irritation.

Despite their ability to relieve pressure, whether bike saddles with cutouts will work for you also depends on your riding style and unique anatomical structure. 

If you spend most of your time in an aggressive, forward leaning position (think road cyclists or cross-country mountain bikers), you’re putting way more pressure on your perineum and all that sensitive soft tissue. If this is your riding style, you should definitely consider trying a saddle with a cutout.

If you have a more upright riding posture (casual bike riders or trail and enduro mountain bikers), or don’t spend a ton of time sitting at all (downhill mountain bikers), cutouts may not offer much benefit. You aren’t putting as much pressure on your perineum; instead, it’s all on your butt. Your ischial tuberosity, or sit bones, to be more precise. 

If you fall into this camp, you’re better off looking at two other factors: saddle shape and size. Choose a saddle with a more “butt friendly” shape…more support on the rear for your rear. Also take into account your sit bone width. This will determine the right saddle width for you. 

Check out THIS ARTICLE for a guide to measuring your sit bone width. Some companies, like SQlab and Ergon, design saddles around this measurement. They may be more expensive, but it’s hard to beat having a saddle that feels like it was made specifically for your butt. The more time you spend sitting on your bike, the more you’ll appreciate your purchase! 

Why Women’s Bike Seats are More Likely to Have Cutouts

Before we cover this topic, let’s be clear about one thing: very often, women-specific product marketing (not just in biking) can be deceiving. For example, many bike brands are coming out with bikes “designed specifically for women.” The thing is, this really isn’t necessary. 

Since women generally tend to be shorter and lighter than men, do they need to buy a bike designed specifically for women? Or do they just need to pick the correct frame size and tune the suspension for their weight, like everyone else? This makes the assumption that “regular” bikes are designed specifically for men, which isn’t the case. 

Making gender-specific products is a great way to charge premium prices though…

However, this isn’t always the case. There are obvious anatomical differences between genders, so it makes sense that items like bike clothing, shoes and saddles would be designed specifically for women. 

Women tend to have wider sit bones than men, so bike saddles designed for women are usually wider at the back. They also have more sensitive soft tissue in the groin; the reason many women’s saddles have cutouts. 

Does this mean that if you’re a woman, you need to buy a saddle specific to your gender? No. Always pick the saddle that feels the best for your structure and riding style. Remember what we discussed above: if you have a more upright riding posture, that cutout may not provide any benefit. Instead, look at saddle shape and width.  

Should YOU Try a Bike Seat with a Cutout?

If you don’t experience any pain or discomfort in your groin while riding, the saddle you currently have is perfectly fine. Pain is your body’s way of letting you know if something is wrong. No pain, no problem! 

If you’re a casual rider, you might not be logging enough miles for the pain to set in. If you start riding more and begin feeling discomfort, you can always reassess at that point. But as of right now, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Biking is expensive, so you’ll find plenty of other things to spend your money on.  

If you do experience pain or discomfort in your groin, you have nothing to lose by trying a saddle with a cutout. It can help relieve pressure, reduce discomfort and prevent any long-term inflammation and injury. 

If it’s your butt that gets sore, try a different saddle shape or width. Measure your sit bones to see if your saddle is the right width to support your unique structure. This will offer more benefit than a cutout for those of you that get a numb butt on your rides.

For more helpful tips to get more comfortable with your bike seat, check out this article.

Get a New Saddle: Your Groin Will Thank You!

If you experience pain or discomfort in your groin while riding, it’s hard to think about anything else. It makes riding less fun, but can also distract you enough to negatively impact your performance. You may lose focus, which can lead to sloppy technique, dumb mistakes and potential injury. 

A saddle cutout can provide a more comfortable ride for those of us who deal with this discomfort. It won’t correct every situation, so make sure you know where the pain is coming from before you buy a new saddle. But if it sounds like it could be a fix for the issue you’re experiencing, it’s worth a shot.

A new saddle could be the key to spending less time focusing on your sore groin and more time just enjoying the ride!

Rob Marlowe

With years of experience as a dedicated mountain biker and an unwavering passion for research, I have cultivated a deep expertise in all facets of cycling—from the intricacies of bike mechanics and gear optimization to the subtleties of riding techniques. My journey has been one of continuous learning, driven by countless hours delving into the science and art of biking. It's this wealth of knowledge and practical know-how that I aim to impart, offering a trusted resource for novices to gain their footing and for seasoned riders to refine their skills and push their limits.

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