Saddles are a tricky item to buy. What’s great for me, won’t necessarily be the best saddle for you. Simply put, our butts are different (probably).
That said, it gets pretty hard and expensive to keep trying saddle after saddle at random until you find your dream perch. For this article, we decided to reach out to the saddle experts at Wiggle – these guys know all the saddles and how to choose the right one.
Are you sitting comfortably? By the end of this article you will be!
I have found that when faced with too much choice, it is best to break the problem down and make yourself some selection criteria. Therefore, here are the criteria to lead you to saddle nirvana:
Shape is arguably the most important factor in saddle selection. The thing that makes saddles so personal is the shape and width of your ischial tuberosities, or sit bones. These bones are what share the weight while riding a bike and therefore they need to be supported and in the correct place on the saddle. There are several aspects of shape that have an impact on fit and comfort:
- Width – As your sit bones can be different distances apart, then the saddles need to be different widths. Whilst it is possible to use a saddle that is wider than you need, it is very uncomfortable to use one that is narrower. Ones that are too wide won’t hurt in the short run, but have a higher chance of chafing on the insides of your legs. Many saddle models now come in several widths, even the sex specific saddles, with women’s ones being generally wider than the men’s ones.
- Length – Length is less important than width, but can impact the pressure you feel on soft tissue. It is important if you are going to be in an extreme position, such as a very aggressive aero position on a road bike.
- Surface contours – Some saddles are completely flat, while others have dips and cutouts. Channels and full cut outs are becoming more common on saddles as they have been proven to lower or remove the pressure on sensitive soft tissue that doesn’t like being squashed.
Position on bike
Your position on your bike determines the exact separation, and therefore width, of your sit bones and how much pressure you are putting on them. The more aggressive your position and the further forward you lean, the narrower your saddle will need to be. Similarly, if you are sitting very upright then having a large platform on which to perch your derrière will probably be the most comfortable.
The main contributor of weight in a saddle is the rails. If you have a lightweight bike, or you are trying to upgrade your saddle to cut weight, then look for rails made from titanium, or even carbon if you are really trying to make an impact on weight.
The covering of saddles can impact weight, but it also impacts durability and comfort. Solid leather saddles such as Brooks will last an incredibly long time if cared for. Padded saddles can be covered in leather as well, but they tend to be a little heavier. Synthetics can be bonded rather than stitched, which makes them more durable, smoother and lighter. Some saddles will have quite a rough exterior which is something to think about if you intend to wear jeans or regular clothing as they will inflict a little more wear on your clothing.
One thing to avoid is the ‘squish test’. This is when you judge how comfortable a saddle is going to be based on pushing your thumb into it, on the belief that a softer saddle is better. This isn’t true. If it fits you, a firm saddle can actually be more comfortable as it will not dig in or chafe.
The guys at Wiggle suggested that for longer rides, padded shorts are helpful. However, feel free to judge this on personal preferences. My commute into central London takes about 45 mins and I have never done it in padded shorts. Most of the time I have not been uncomfortable.
Price will determine the quality of materials and therefore the weight of the saddle. For most commuting duties, a very high end saddle is not necessary, and is more of a target for theft than providing you with any significant benefits. Unless of course it is the only saddle you have found to be comfortable.
Fore and aft position of your saddle is also important, as well as the height of your seat post. Your exact fit on the bike will vary by saddle, but it is worth tinkering around with it, before giving up on a saddle. If you are intending to ride a lot and are experiencing pain, consider getting a bike fit as this can also point you in the right saddle direction.
Well, this is all well and good I hear you say thanks to my magical blogging super-hearing, but how do I start picking a perch?
Well, if you want to get scientific, then the first thing you want to do is work our how far apart your sit bones are. Many bike shops will have a special mat you can sit on that will allow the distance to be measured. You can DIY this as well with layers of corrugated cardboard, or layers of paper towels (sit on them with a wet bum, peel off the layers until you find the last one with wet dots – measure). Saddle manufacturers also give guidance to the type of rider most suitable to their saddles.
Once you know your sit bone width, you can start narrowing down the saddles a little. Obviously, the measurement is going to be taken siting upright, so you could consider a saddle a little narrower than your measurement, but not much.
Start by figuring out what is wrong with your current saddle – is it too flat, too narrow, chaffing the inside of your legs, too plush, not plush enough? Armed with a critical analysis you can then start looking for a new saddle that has a similar width but with a cutout, or is wider, narrower, thinner, more padded, etc…
Try friends bikes to get an idea of what other saddles feel like. Make a note of the characteristics you like and what saddle it is if you can tell.
If you want to just get on with it and try a new saddle, then Wiggle have a great line of own brand saddles called Cosine, starting at £15, with a flavour to please most people. They will allow you to try something different without breaking the bank. Charge’s Spoon also seems to be a general crowd pleaser and is pretty cheap. Some brands have trial periods so this is also something worth looking for.
What saddle buying advice have you found helpful in the past? Do you have any tips to pass on about how to narrow the crazy selection out there? Let everyone know below!
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.