Finding a bike seat or saddle that is right for you is an essential step in experiencing optimal comfort while riding. Whether you’re a weekend rider or a regular long-distance cyclist, there’s no need to feel sore at the end of your ride. Here are a few important points you should know when it comes to choosing a saddle.
First, an important note on conditioning:
No respectable saddle will feel perfectly comfortable if it’s your first time riding in a while. That’s because your body and backside need a bit of time to get conditioned to riding. Don’t lose heart or get discouraged! Start with some shorter rides to get your body used to the saddle; don’t be surprised if you feel a bit of soreness, and before long you’ll be simply enjoying the exhilaration of riding your bike. .
If you haven’t ridden in a while and want to go on a longer more-challenging ride, be prepared for your legs, neck and arms to feel a big of fatigue. This fatigue will result in you putting more weight on your backside than your saddle was designed for. So, if you think your saddle is uncomfortable, don’t forget to take into account this element of fatigue. If you’re new to riding or just getting back into it, gradually increase your saddle time over the course of four or five rides. Start with very short rides, and slowly get up to about 25 miles. If you’re still aching, then it’s time to find a better saddle for you.
When it comes to finding the most comfortable saddle, proper fit is the most important element. Even a top of the line saddle can be uncomfortable if not fit for you. There are three main things to look for when choosing and adjusting a saddle: width, angle and height.
Width. Width is arguably the most important of these saddle qualities. A saddle is designed to support your weight via contact with your seat bones, sometimes also referred to as “sit bones”—not your groin, legs, butt or prostate but the bones in your pelvis called the ischial tuberosities (commonly called “seat bones”). If the saddle is too wide, it can cause chafing on your thighs. If it is too narrow, your seat bones will hang over the sides, and there will be too much pressure on your soft tissues.
Angle. Having the saddle too far forward or back can also affect how well it fits your seat bones. The angle at which your saddle is positioned will affect where your weight is distributed. If the nose is tilted too far down (this is often done with ill-fitting saddles to relieve pressure on the soft tissues), you will end up putting more pressure on your arms, wrists and neck. This can lead to many problems. If, conversely, you tilt the saddle nose too far upward, you will increase the amount of pressure on your soft tissues, which can eventually cut off circulation to your legs and generally be quite uncomfortable!
Height. Finally, having your saddle at the proper height will affect your overall comfort. While this is not quite butt specific, a too-low saddle can injure your knees and make for inefficient riding. A saddle that is too high can cause you to rock back and forth as you pedal, as well as put too much pressure on your soft tissues. Finding the perfect seat height may require some trial and error, but a bike shop or your backroads leader can help you get started. Don’t be afraid to tinker with it until it feels just right.
Choices, Choices, Choices—Selecting the Most Comfortable Bike Seat for You
Backroads Pro Tip
If buying a saddle for your personal bike, or one to ride on your Backroads trip, you should start at your local bike shop. They will have the expertise to fit a saddle to you, install it and adjust it on your bike.
Once you know your appropriate saddle width and how to adjust it, it is time to decide which one to get! There are many options, and, the right one depends on both your body’s anatomy and riding style. The following are a few basics, but remember, whatever saddle you get, make sure it fits you and is adjusted properly.
Design: This is perhaps the most subjective of the following categories. Saddles come in a variety of aesthetic styles and shapes meant to contour to the body. The best way to choose a saddle is to try them. Most quality bike shops will have a try “before you buy” or test saddle program. Try a few saddles out before settling on one. Remember to tell the sales agent at the shop what kind of riding you do and what your cycling goals are.
Material: There are three basic types of fabric that cover all or part of a saddle: leather, Lycra or vinyl. You are looking for something breathable, durable, soft, not slippery and yielding. The shell or support of the saddle also matters. High quality nylons and carbon fiber can provide great ride quality. Suspended leather can mold to your body but requires a long break in period. Regardless of what appeals to you or what your riding style is, buy quality and don’t be surprised to spend over $100 on a quality bike saddle.
Cushion: Many companies advertise “gel” or super soft seats. This is (mostly) misplaced advertising. Many people instinctively press into a saddle with their thumbs to determine whether or not it’s going to be comfortable. This is generally a bad strategy. What you are looking for is well structured support.
Backroads Pro Tip
If you’re concerned about cushion, focus instead on buying some riding shorts or bibs with a high-quality chamois. This will allow you to focus on a saddle that fits properly—without worrying about the false promises of gel.
Perhaps the most important thing to do when trying out a new saddle is to ride one. Inquire with your local bike shop about taking a saddle for a test ride, since there’s no better way to tell if your body truly likes a saddle without testing it doing what you want to do. Make sure it fits, that it doesn’t put too much pressure on your soft tissues and that it doesn’t force you into an uncomfortable riding position. Don’t focus on softness or looks. Each can be deceiving! And remember, there’s no such thing as a comfortable saddle; you’re just looking for one you don’t notice at all.