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A cyclist rides in downtown Toronto.

DAVE CHAN/dave chan The Globe and Mail

If you're leaving your bike at home for fear of a sore derriere, the solution may be to get a new seat. Here's how to find the right style and make it work for you.

Match it to how you ride

An ill-fitting seat can cause everything from groin discomfort to numbness, irritation and erectile dysfunction. When you visit a cycling shop, talk to an employee about the kind of riding you do.

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Mountain bikers need a saddle they can shift around on easily because they're moving up and down frequently. Recreational or commuter cyclists who travel at slower speeds in an upright position can go for a wide, well-cushioned seat.

"For longer distances, the problem is that a softer seat's not always better because it doesn't offer you the support," says Jeremy Simmons, sales manager at Trek Bicycle Store in Barrie, Ont.

If you're leaning forward on a racing bike, it will rub your nether regions in all the wrong ways, so opt for a narrow, light and firm style.

Attach it properly

Nicholas Palaj, an instructor with the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition, says seat height is key to comfort.

"Most cyclists ride with it quite a bit lower than it should be. It's quite harmful on the knees and causes you to work harder," he says.

You can test if it's at the right height by sitting in your saddle with one pedal at its lowest position, he explains. You should have a slight bend in your knee when your foot touches that pedal.

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Even if you have the right height, the wrong position can mean a bumpy ride.

"I'll sell a seat to somebody and they'll come back a week or two later and say it's the worst seat ever, and I'll take a look and it's not angled properly," Mr. Simmons says.

You don't want the nose or the tail too low. Start with your seat in a neutral position (horizontal) and then adjust it slightly from there, he advises.

But the easiest solution is to ask an employee at the bike store to install it for you.

"You can take the guesswork out of it," he says.

If in pain, think alternative

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If you've tried out a few different seat styles and still have problems, think outside the box. Prolonged riding on traditional seats can cause irritation in the vulva or prostate regions and damage soft tissue.

After a year of intense cycling, Vancouverite Ron Martens, 63, developed prostate problems and found cycling unbearable.

"I just had to stop riding a bike," he says. "Anything that went between my legs was an irritation."

He tried a cutaway-style seat for a month, but that didn't help. So he Googled for an alternative design and found one that featured two pads. That style of seat was developed specifically for those with medical issues, and offered painless support.

"It's a completely different area of contact," he explains. "I ordered one and have been using it for the last nine years or so."

*And don't do this: Simply throw a gel pad over a seat with a torn cover - it's safer to invest in a new one.

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