Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Choose The Right Saddle (Update)

The importance of the saddle on any bicycle should never be underestimated. Get the wrong saddle, or even one that isn’t quite right for you and you’ll never feel comfortable and in the worst case scenario you simply won’t want to ride.

Choosing a saddle that’s just the right size isn’t straightforward. It can be a time-consuming and expensive process, but getting it right matters. The key thing to look for is comfort - the more comfortable you are, the longer (and faster) you'll be able to ride. Width is a key aspect; if a saddle is too narrow or too wide, it won’t be comfortable or conducive to optimum performance. The right width for you depends principally on two factors: your position on the bike, and your sit-bone dimensions.

Lotte Kraus is a physiotherapist and bike-fitter at gebioMized explains: “Typical issues caused by a too narrow saddle include a sore or painful lower back after long and/or hard rides or climbs. This is due to lack of stability on the saddle causing the hips to rock and the lower segments of the spine to rotate.”

Are there any obvious symptoms that indicate that a saddle is too wide? “A too wide or wrong-shaped saddle may cause friction in the pubic region and inner thigh. Many riders instinctively avoid that by positioning themselves too far forward, which can cause soreness, because the tip of the saddle is small and causes pressure-spots,” says Kraus. If you find yourself moving to the front tip of your saddle, width might be the issue.

There is no reliably accurate way to measure saddle-width requirement yourself, as the optimum width depends on your position on the bike. A lower handlebar means you place less weight on your sit bones and more on the pubic region, requiring a different saddle.

What to look for in a bike saddle

Ok, saddle width maybe its the most important things to consider but saddle comfort it's not just about width. Here's a few things can boost your comfort.

The saddle cover can be made from synthetic leather or real leather, and there’s many other materials manufacturers might use. The key thing is to make sure any seams, sticky bits or reinforcing panels don't chafe. Some add perforations and Kevlar edges to prevent wear and tear taking its toll. Time trial saddles often have a grippy material along the nose to stop the cyclist slipping back and forth.

Leather saddles have a single piece of leather that is tensioned on a metal frame, so it’s essentially suspended like a hammock, and provides plenty of give that can prove very comfortable on longer rides. They need more looking after than regular saddles, and sometimes need breaking in. The leather needs proofing, and you need to be careful in wet weather, as they don’t much like the rain.

The base of the saddle controls the basic shape and how springy it is. Several manufacturers produce different width or shaped shells for different physiques. The majority of saddles have a Nylon shell, but often there'll be some carbon reinforcement.

Grooves or cutouts

Saddles are available in a range of cut-outs  and relief channels that come in different sizes. The best way to see if you’ll benefit is to try one. Cut-outs and channels can relieve stress on soft tissues in your delicate areas. Some bike saddles feature relief channels. This is an alternative to a full cut-out and is very popular with some people. Is it bad to have a cut-out if you don’t need one? Many people who don’t need a cut-out comfortably ride saddles with cut-outs with no problems. However, some people find that cut-outs can increase pressure at the edges, or pinch delicate skin.

Traditionally, bicycle saddles have always been relatively triangular shaped, but recent years have seen an introduction of variations upon the theme, most notably T-shaped and pear-shaped saddles, but the basic concept remains the same and that is the broadest section of the saddle should support the rider’s ischial tuberosities, more commonly known as the sit bones. Generally speaking, the more stretched out your riding position and the faster you ride, the narrower the saddle you need. And the more upright your position and the slower you ride, the wider the saddle needs to be. Manufacturers are getting better at helping you to choose the right saddle. Most have their own system of narrowing the choice, either by deciding what type of cyclist you are (usually by your range of flexibility and your position on the bike) or using a fit system that measures the distance between your sit bones, to pair you with the saddle that best matches your anatomy.

A good saddle should support the sit bones, not the entire bum. It’s where your sit bones contact the saddle that is key, a saddle needs to provide adequate support in these two areas. That’s why many saddles are offered in different widths, reflecting the difference in people's anatomy. The nose of the saddle supports some of the cyclist’s weight too.

One thing to remember here is that just because you have a bigger bottom it doesn't necessarily follow that you have wider sit bones. Saddle shapes largely fall into several camps. Some are flat, some are rounded, some have scooped backs, some are narrow, others much wider. You can narrow down the choice by deciding what style of riding you do.

Generally, thinner saddles with minimal padding are more suited to racers with deep, stretched riding positions, down in the drops and crouched low over the handlebars. Such a position means you’re not sitting with all your weight on the saddle; you actually put very little load on the saddle when riding in such a position.

For touring cyclists saddles with a wider shape are favoured, as you don't adopt such an aggressive position when putting the miles in on tour as you do when racing. For long days in the saddle, and day after day, you need the highest level of comfort possible, and leather saddles are regularly the first choice. They're very durable too, and usually last years longer than saddles made from synthetic foam padding. For more leisurely riding where an upright position is adopted, more of your weight will be concentrated through the saddle. A wider saddle with more support and extra padding will be the preferred choice here.


Most saddles use some form of foam padding (Polyurethane foam is the most common padding material), but the amount of padding used and the density can vary a lot. A common misconception is that more padding equals a comfier saddle. If this were the case the people who spend the most time on bikes, Tour de France riders, would be using very padded saddles

The reality is that padding deforms and creates more contact, so on longer rides it can be less comfortable. Thick, soft padding may initially seem like a good idea to alleviate saddle discomfort, but often a squishy saddle will just compress down under the sit bones and push up in the middle, creating pressure spots in other areas. The crucial thing to remember is that while a soft, deep saddle might feel comfortable at first for a beginner, more contact and movement is likely to increase heat and discomfort the longer you're in the saddle.

Saddle padding doesn't last forever, particularly on performance saddles. After a while the padding isn't really doing any padding anymore because it has become permanently squashed by the millions of times your bottom has compressed it. The more performance-oriented a saddle and the less actual padding it has, the more time limited its lifespan. Many top end performance saddles have an expected lifespan of a couple of seasons if used the way they are intended.

The rails are the bars that the seatpost clamps onto under the saddle. Rails are one of the main areas that affect saddle price. Entry-level saddles have steel rails, these then move up to manganese, titanium and then carbon. As you move through the materials, they get lighter and more expensive. Carbon rails are the most expensive and lightest. Carbon and titanium are also slightly more forgiving than steel too, allowing for more comfort.

Last Thing Before You Pay

You must also consider potential compatibility issues. Many saddles are available with carbon fiber rails; due to the oval shape of the rails these saddles are not compatible with most seat posts that employ single bolt side clamp mechanisms. One other potential compatibility consideration is saddle profile. Some saddles have a very low profile, meaning the distance from the rail to the bottom of the shell is quite minimal, in some cases, 2cm or less. A low profile saddle may interfere with angle adjustment depending on the type of seat post you have. Some seat posts have more material protruding above the clamp mechanism than others that can come into contact with the bottom of the saddle. The greater the degree of negative fore to aft adjustment, the more likely you will run into problems.

Do: Monitor your stability. If your hips rock from side to side, your saddle may be too high or too narrow

Do: have a bike-fit, which helps determine whether you’re using the correct saddle for your overall position and pelvic width. 

Do: buy a gender-specific saddle. Women generally have wider sit bones

Don’t: tolerate discomfort. There is no need; the right saddle is available, it’s just a matter of finding it.

Don’t: pick a saddle based on aesthetics. The one that looks the fastest is unlikely to be the one that makes you go your fastest.

Don’t: underestimate the importance of comfort. It impacts on power output, as discomfort makes you move around in the saddle trying to get comfortable rather than focusing on pedalling efficiently.

Cycling Weekly May 2016 "How do i choose the right saddle?"

Ride On!

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