We customize everything about our bikes, but saddles are often overlooked. We upgrade wheels, swap out components, cut down our bars, switch tires, yet, more often than not, people ride the saddle that their bike came with. Arguably, saddles are one of the most custom pieces of all on our bikes. Each and every one of our bodies is different, so the saddle we ride should reflect and accommodate those differences as well.
It’s a misnomer that saddles are inherently uncomfortable. It’s not just ‘part of the sport.’ How can you possibly ride for hours at a time if your bum is begging you to stop? If you’re still riding the saddle that came with your bike, I don’t blame you, but let’s investigate a little bit more. Saddles can be tough to test out and descriptions online can be confusing to read through.
Here are my best tips for finding the perfect saddle:
Why it matters?
When you ride your bike, you have only five contact points. You have your two hands on the bars, two feet on the pedals, and your bum on the seat. The saddle is what takes up most of the pressure when you ride. If the saddle is the wrong size or shape you can end up with saddle sores, numbness in your legs or groin, back pain, or simply a less efficient ride. Some of these issues can be a huge pain to deal with, but switching out your saddle can be the easiest fix of all.
The width of the saddle is probably the measurement that matters the most. In fact, most women are riding on a saddle that is too narrow. The whole point in the saddle is to support you while you ride and if you are not receiving the support that you need then you are risking injury.
The width of the saddle should be clearly stated on the specs. In order to know what width is best for you, you’ll need to measure the distance between your ischial tuberosities or sit bones. You can go into a bike shop and request that they help you measure or you can easily measure them at home.
If you go into a bike shop, they will likely have a pad that you can sit on and your sit bones will make small indentions in it. Then, when you stand up you can measure the distance in between them. If you go the do-it-yourself route then you will need a piece of corrugated cardboard. On a firm surface, sit on the cardboard and lean forward into your riding position. Stand back up and measure the distance between the two clear indentions that you made on the cardboard when sitting. Measure the distance between those indentions and you’ll have your sit bone width.
When you look at the specs of the saddle and see the saddle width, aim to find a saddle that is 10-30 mm wider than your sit bone measurement. If you are a rider that spends a lot of time on the front of your saddle then aim for the lower end of that range. If you sit in a more upright position, and towards the rear of your saddle, then aim for the higher end.
The length of the saddle is measured from the tip to the rear and it influences how much you can move around on the saddle.
A shorter saddle will only have one correct or comfortable position. On a short saddle, you are fairly committed to one position and is likely best for a time trialist, triathlete, or expert cyclist that knows exactly what position they like to be in most of the time. A short saddle is around 240mm.
A longer saddle will be a little more forgiving and allow you to move around as the terrain changes. A long saddle will be somewhere around 300mm.
Most people find their comfort somewhere in the middle around 270mm.
The hole in the middle of the saddle isn’t just for looks. It’s important to experiment with different cutouts to know what works best for you. When we ride, even if we don’t realize it, our soft tissue that sits on the saddle can become inflamed and painful. The cut-out allows for a little extra space for the soft tissue to expand into.
Women tend to prefer larger cutouts, but there is no right or wrong answer. The important thing is to understand that there are options and you shouldn’t stop looking until you find an option that is comfortable for you.
Shape can be one of the most confusing things to consider with a saddle, because it’s not often explained. When you hold a saddle up and look at the wings, or wider areas of the saddle, you will notice that it is either flat or curved down slightly. It’s such a small detail that many people won’t even notice.
A curved saddle will provide the most lateral support and will actually hold you in place better on the bike. If you are not very flexible then you might want that support so that you aren’t sliding around.
A flat saddle is great for a flexible rider. The flatter design allows for a lot of freedom of movement and allows a flexible rider to use that flexibility to find their most powerful position.
Now that you know the basics you know the things to look for in your next saddle. Most importantly, you know that if you are uncomfortable it’s time to look for a change. Try adjusting one thing at a time so that when you find the right fit, you know what you need in the future. Your perfect saddle is out there, and it’s just waiting for you to take a seat.