Like this site? Help us to make it better.


Paralympian pushes for better saddles for female cyclists after suffering swollen vulva

Hannah Dines, who competed at Rio 2016, had to undergo surgery after enduring five years of pain

A Paralympic cyclist who represented Great Britain at Rio 2016 has spoken of the pain she has endured for five years due to swelling of the vulva, and is calling on saddle manufacturers to urgently research better products for women.

Hannah Dines, originally from Glasgow, started racing in the T2 trike classification in late 2013 and within two years was winning World Cup medals. Fifth in both the time trial and road race at Rio, she is currently ranked fourth in the world.

> Buyers Guide: 9 of the best women's saddles — how to choose the right one for you

But in a candid article published in Guardian Women , she spoke of the pain and swelling she has endured to pursue her cycling dreams and which, after five years, has led to her undergoing surgery to alleviate the problem.

“While there is no love lost between me and the necessary evil that is my saddle, I have continued to train, despite huge amounts of destruction to my body, pain and trauma,” she wrote.

With her UK Sport funding ceasing after Rio, the postgraduate student admits that it is a financial struggle to carry on competing with the goal of riding at Tokyo next year, only possible thanks to the backing of her team, Storey Racing, plus money raised through crowdfunding, grants and other sources.

“Mostly, my race costs are covered, but I struggle to pay my rent,” she confessed. “Cycling is my labour of love – I just didn’t realise what a literal pain in the ass and more it would turn out to be.”

She wrote about some of the problems that women face in seeking treatment: “Your regular general practitioner will be flummoxed by any chronic saddle complaint. On top of that, evidence-based healthcare needs research to work properly and there is none.

“There is nowhere for individuals to go and nobody has ever systematically and scientifically documented the problems women on the saddle can face, at least in a form that medical practitioners can access, though a quick online search brings up too many unhappy stories to count.

"Finally, in November, I found Phil Burt, the former head of physiotherapy at British Cycling, who runs the world’s first multidisciplinary saddle health clinic in Manchester,” Dines continued.

“He said my swelling was too bad for his preventive methods in which riders sit on a pressure-mapping saddle to visualise problem areas as they pedal. My only option was surgery.”

She wrote in graphic detail of when she first became aware of the swelling, in 2014, and of her reluctance to raise the issue with British Cycling, saying that “The message [from within the organisation] was: show weakness and you’re out.

“While valuable parts of the male genitalia can be moved out of the way, female cyclists sit right on the money,” she noted.

Dines said that by 2018, she “could no longer” ignore the swelling on one side of her vulva, which had become a lump that had “got quite hard and was, literally, massive.”

Her surgery was performed by a vulval cancer specialist, with the paracyclist observing that “When a doctor sees another woman like me, ‘cancer’ will often be their first thought as that can be the cause of vulval swelling.

“If there were studies into the vulva and its lipoma-formation-defence against constant and unremitting pressure from the saddle, maybe this wouldn’t happen. But there has never been a study – only articles like this and experiences like mine,” she said.

The Guardian article contains advice to female cyclists about issues such as saddle choice, and what Dines, who expresses regret that she didn’t seek help for the condition sooner, terms “a hierarchy of injury from the easiest to alleviate to the direst of consequences.”

She also urged women to “Learn to be open about pain and swelling, too. Silence, secrecy and shame only exacerbates the problem.”

Acknowledging that, “Of course, men get horrendous saddle sores too,” she added: “But when bike helmets are marketed by the Germany transport ministry using a model in her underwear with the slogan ‘Looks like shit. But saves my life’, instead of maybe using one of the country’s host of Olympic champion bike sprinters; or the fact that women are still excluded from the Tour de France, there is a feeling that female bike racing is not taken as seriously. This has a huge impact on health and research.”

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

Add new comment


BehindTheBikesheds | 5 years ago

plenty of lady saddles available and have been for a while, just as per above, adopting a certain position is always going to cause issues for some. Maybe they should ask the likes of lady racers BITD what they used, if you look at how Burton, Sheriden et al used to ride then maybe some are ignoring that saddles not on trend or might not 'look' right or indeed saddles that the sponsor don't supply might actually work for you?

Seen far too many narrow saddles on bikes for ladies that are seemingly more sporting than your average. Well if it's going to shred your chuff to bits and knacker your overall performance then maybe, just maybe have a think about your overall position on the bike so that you're not putting so much pressure in that area in the first instance and expand your thinking with regards to saddles that aren't out and out 'racing' types. If you can't ride due to sore bits (or worse needing to go to the hospital etc) then you're utterly fubar'd, far better to be comfortable and ride something that looks ugly, doesn't match the bike and isn't a particular brand than not.

As the generally heavier gender with narrower sit bones I think men have at least as much problem as women do with regards to saddle comfort despite the massive selection. I love my Brooks Swift on the winter/audax/tourer and Fizik on the daily, I can easily ride for miles in a pair of kecks and bog std shorts or even jeans. The most comfortable saddle I had I think was a  Selle Royale something or other that came stock from the shop on my 1990 Raleigh record Sprint, that said the San Marco I replaced it with (only because it was a fancy LOOK La Vie Clare design) was pretty awesome.

ktache | 5 years ago

The Gaurdians article is a beautifully written peice on a very painful subject.  If us possessers of penises thought we had problem with finding the correct saddle....

I was very lucky, my arse happened to fit the Flite ti that I purchased, and have never looked back, on my fourth at the moment, and will be fitting my fifth, the rerelease of the early 90s model, to my soon to be built NEW bike!!  It's only been at the LBS for 6 months.  Rohloff stuff, getting excited now.

Awavey replied to ktache | 5 years ago
1 like

ktache wrote:

The Gaurdians article is a beautifully written peice on a very painful subject...

that it is, but it also points out the real problem isnt so much a lack of female specific saddles,but the riding position she and the other pros mentioned adopted "Now, our forward-leaning position is a peritoneal pressure cooker of pelvic rotation: your front bottom takes your full load."

now I dont believe there is any saddle in the world, either for men or women, designed, or even could be designed, for you to ride a bike with your front fleshy bits supporting your whole weight like that,

and the accompanying photo, that just visually looked to be an awkward bike setup,, now that may well be because I doubt there are many trike frame variants and sizes available and so you end up fitting to a onesize fits most bike rather than the other way around and finding something more tailored to you, youd think BC would be experts at custom frame building by now.

but rule #1 should be, if you are finding you are riding on your front bits,and it will cause pain if you do, you need to go back and check the bike fit first, its got nothing to do IMO with a lack of gender specific saddles or not using chamois cream, padded shorts etc

boringbutton | 5 years ago

*sigh* ^

Specialized seem to have a decent number of female specific saddles... might be worth a look for any ladies reading this. 

Expatpat | 5 years ago

Well, disappointed or what?

I quickly scrolled down looking for pictures but nothing!

Latest Comments