Did you try your bike saddle before you bought?
When you bought your last road bike what was it that occupied the majority of your attention?
Was it the price, or was it the brand? Perhaps you spent a lot of time focusing on which groupset to buy. Maybe you thought that expensive wheels might improve your performance. Perhaps you were looking for lightness.
But chances are that you gave little if any attention to the saddle. And yet your bike seat, or saddle, is probably one of the most important pieces of equipment on your road bike.
Whilst we might all like to have a fast bike, a light bike or a great looking bike, a comfortable bike is the most important consideration at the end of the day. And the saddle that you choose greatly determines your level of comfort.
Of course the saddle isn’t the only factor bearing on your riding comfort. Bike size, set up and much more all contribute. But your saddle is certainly very important, and frequently overlooked. Most people just take what came with the bike.
And yet choosing a saddle for your road bike can be as important as choosing your wheels or your group set or your brand.
Riding a bike with an uncomfortable saddle can make for cycling hell. Chafing, saddle sores, tingling and numbness and more can all result from using the wrong saddle. And some suggest that your saddle can even contribute to more serious problems such as infertility or impotence, though no one really knows.
It’s not easy choosing a saddle. There’s so many available. Your options are huge. Gel bike saddles, cutaway saddles, cushioned saddles, wide, narrow, racing, mountain or even alternative saddles, you have endless choices.
So let’s look at some general principles.
How to choose the best road bike saddle for you.
The basic principle is that your saddle should provide comfortable support for your “sit bones”. What are sit bones? Those are the 2 bones which leave an indentation in the sand when you sit on the beach. They are the 2 bones which rest on the saddle, hopefully in the right place.
It’s important that your saddle fully supports your sit bones. If not it can become extremely uncomfortable.
Some manufacturers even offer smart little devices that are often found in good bike shops which allow you to measure the distance between your sit bones, which then gives you important information before you choose your saddle. Specialized offer such a device for example.
Crucially, the width of the pelvis differs between men and women, and for this reason the distance between the sit bones also differs between men and women. So there are men’s bike saddles and women’s bike saddles. The best bike saddle for men may be the worst for women.
It is also important that the soft tissues between the legs are not unduly compressed, as this can lead to numbness and tingling and chafing. Some bike seats incorporate a channel down the middle (called a cutaway) to try and alleviate this problem, but this is not necessarily a complete solution for everybody.
So how do you choose your bike saddle?
Whilst a good bike shop can give you some excellent advice about choosing your saddle, there is only one way to guarantee that you get the best road bike saddle for you.
And that’s to try different seats until you find the one that suits you. The saddle that is comfortable whether you’re riding 10 or 100 miles. The saddle that feels good as soon as you climb onto it, and when you climb off it.
This is one of the benefits of buying your bike from a reputable bike shop. A good shop should be able to do some simple measurements to determine a range of saddles that should suit you, and then offer you the opportunity to try them out until you’ve determined the best bike saddle for you.
There is any amount of advice about how to choose, but choosing without trying first is like trying to throw darts with your eyes closed. You just don’t know what you will get, despite the best advice.
How to make your bike saddle more comfortable.
Whilst choosing your saddle is important, it’s not all you can do. Make sure you buy quality cycling knicks with high quality padding and without unnecessary seams between the legs. Don’t wear underwear as this increases the number of seams available to cause chafing.
And move around while you’re riding. Move forward or backwards a little from time to time, sit up, stand up, lift your weight over bumpy roads and so on. All can help relieve the pressure on parts of your anatomy that weren’t quite designed for pressure.
And remember, when you buy your next bike, concentrate your attention on the saddle you’ll be riding on as well as the other bits. It’s equally important.
Today’s quick tip: The most expensive saddle may not be the best. I ride on a $20 saddle because it’s comfortable for me. But it might not be for you.