Bicycle Saddles (Seats)

Bicycle Saddles (Seats)
None of us will ride our bikes if it’s a painful experience, and one of the most common complaints, especially from new riders, is a sore bum. Often posterior discomfort is alleviated by more time in the saddle (our butts just get used to it), but sometimes a different seat is in order. The question is: how do you choose the right saddle for you?

The short, and long, answer is that you’ll have to keep trying saddles until you find the one that’s comfortable for you. This answer is the long one because you may have to try a variety of saddles before you find the right one, and a short spin around the store parking lot is not enough to let you know. Check with your local bike shop; they may have a program that will allow you to try a saddle for a short while and return it if it doesn’t work for you.

There must be some way to figure out where to start, though, right? Certainly: there are saddle features that can help you narrow down your options. Seats designed specifically for men or women exist, with the primary difference being width. Women’s ischial tuberosities (sit bones) are set further apart than men’s, and so women’s saddles tend to be a bit wider than men’s so as to properly support our bums.

Even within gender specific saddles there exists a wide range of widths. High performance riders, especially racers, tend to prefer narrower saddles that provide fewer encumbrances to pumping legs, but one that’s too narrow can make you feel like you’re straddling a pole. Those searching for comfort during local rides or tours may tend toward a wider saddle thinking that it will provide more support and comfort, but a seat that is too wide can cause chafing and rubbing.

Saddle padding can vary widely, too. One extreme would include completely unpadded plastic or leather saddles, while the other would encompass those with thick, heavy gel-filled pads. While the latter might seem like it would be more comfortable, the additional bulk between your legs could cause extra chafing, and the additional padding could shift in a manner which would apply pressure where you don’t want it. For most, a moderate level of padding will work best.

Many modern saddles have cut-out or recessed sections to relieve pressure on sensitive groin parts. The location of the cut-outs may vary between men’s and women’s saddles, so consider that as you survey your options.

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for choosing the right saddle. Width, padding, cut-outs and construction all play a factor in conjunction with your own body size and shape. The type of riding you’re doing makes a difference, too. Road racers will have different seat requirements than a single track mountain biker or a long distance touring cyclist.

As you start analyzing your seat comfort, take into consideration how much time you’ve put in the saddle. If it’s early in the cycling season and you’ve only ridden a few times, you may just need to develop butt toughness. If you’ve put in a couple of weeks of regular riding, however, your seat may be the problem. If time isn’t the culprit, ride on the seat you have doing the kind of riding you’ll be doing while carefully paying attention to where and how it’s uncomfortable. Try to discern whether a different width might help or if it’s really a matter of more padding. Do you have pressure on your genitals that cut-outs might relieve?

Once you’ve collected some data on your current saddle, take it with you to a bike shop and talk with a professional. Show them which saddle you have now, explain your situation and ask for their recommendations. Also be sure to ask about their “try and return” policy so you don’t continue to be stuck with a saddle (or saddles) that don’t work for you. Be patient and keep trying different models until you find the one that works for you. It will be well worth the effort.

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