Buying a saddle is a very personal affair, the compatibility of the body and saddle can make or break a ride, and can even make or break a rider.
Many potential cyclists have been put off by a few early rides on a saddle that didn’t agree, quickly abandoning the bike based on its one flaw, with no idea what could be if they upgraded the seat.
The problem with saddle buying and advising is that no two bums are the same, however, there are various styles of saddles that will be more likely to suit a certain body type and riding style.
Here’s a few things to look for:
If you’re a fan of longer, slower rides, you’ll likely be sitting with your hands on the hoods, or riding a more upright bike such as a hybrid or tourer. In this case, there will be more pressure on your sit bones, so you’ll need a saddle with a wider back.
For those who adopt a more upright position, and put the miles in, Brooks saddles are a popular choice – these are designed to mould to your body over time making them truly fit you. These leather saddles are long lasting, but need firstly to be “worn in”, and will need some care over time.
Meanwhile, if you like to ride hard and fast, you are likely to be on a road bike, often with your hands on the drops, and therefore you’ll be rolling your hips forward, taking the pressure away from the sit bones, and often onto sensitive soft tissue. In this case, you probably want a saddle with a narrower nose. I reviewed a selection of more racey women’s saddles on my blog here.
If you’re looking for a new saddle because your current one is not comfortable, it is worth properly analysing what exactly is uncomfortable – if you can pinpoint the issue, you can then look for a saddle that directly addresses it. For example, chafing on the inner thighs implies the nose is too wide, whilst discomfort on the sit bones implies you might want a wider base or more padding.
The problem with testing out various saddles to see what “works” is that it can be hit and miss, and can become expensive. You want to reduce the guesswork.
Brands such as Specialzed, Fizik and Selle Italia all have a fit system, which is based upon your width, and flexibility.
Most LBS’s that sell these brands will have various “assometers” (the name for the Speialzed version!) and measurement tools which will help you establish the best version. Brands that have these measurement approaches take away some of the guesswork and room for error.
Many of these saddles come in a variety of widths, this is based upon your anatomy and width of your sit bones, not the actual width of your bum, so bear in mind measurement corresponds with your bones, and not any extra soft tissue you may or may not have on your derriere.
Some LBS’s will let you test ride a sample saddle before you buy, too, and if this option is available, it’s definitely worth going for.
Padding and cut outs
Saddles for long rides will often have more padding – but this doesn’t suit everyone, and especially riders who enjoy a more aggressive riding position will find extra padding can result in unwanted pinching or chafing.
Cut outs are designed to increase blood flow to important nether regions. As a rule, women will nearly always want a saddle with a cut out, so it’s a good place to start for a female shopping for a saddle, and many men prefer them too. Some women are happy on men’s or unisex saddles, but if you a women it is worth exploring the world of women’s saddles as obviously female anatomy will be different, and our sit bones are usually wider.
If you find a cut out makes a big difference, and you plan to be riding with your weight very far forwards, it is worth looking at the ISM Adamo range. These are incredibly popular amongst those who ride time trial bikes, where the weight is far forwards, but they suit road bikes. Admittidly, Adamo saddles don’t look great on the bike, but the Adamo Breakaway is my own chosen perch, and I wouldn’t attempt a time trial or very long ride without one.
Bike fit, chamois and chamois cream
If you’re not sitting comfortably, the problem might not just be with the saddle. Before opening your wallet, do some research and have a friend or your LBS look at your fit on the bike – as a badly fitting bike can usually be fixed with some tweaks to saddle height and position, and this can make a big difference.
What sort of saddle do you use, and did it take some trial and error to find?