A comfortable bike saddle will enable you to enjoy cycling, while an uncomfortable one could cause you to give up cycling in painful despair. In this post, Sophie Elise walks you through the process of how to make sure you get the right saddle for your own specific cycling needs. Over to Sophie!
Questions to Avoid Saddle Soreness
I have been riding bikes since I was a kid and today I work in a bicycle shop, both as a mechanic and in sales. Whenever someone is interested in getting a new bike saddle, I ask how long they have been cycling. If you are new to bike riding, there is going to be some inherent soreness that comes with your body adjusting to a new physical activity; having “saddle soreness” will be part of the bike equation. There is a difference, however, between soreness and pain.
This article is to be used as a starting point. If you have further questions after reading this article or find that you need to fine tune these tips, you will know what questions to ask your local bike mechanic. He or she can help you prevent saddle pain.
Components of a Bike Saddle: Shell, Cover, Rails, and Suspension
Saddles have a number of components, including the shell, cover, rails, and suspension. The saddle shell creates the shape. It is usually made of aluminum; however, shells can also be made from carbon fiber, plastic, nylon, or even leather.
The cover goes on top of the shell. Covers are the padding on the saddle and can be made of foam, gel, fabric, artificial leather, real leather, or a type of vinyl. The rails of the saddle are the two bars which connect the saddle to the seat post. They may be made of steel, titanium, aluminum, or carbon fiber. Lastly, the suspension of a saddle may have springs to absorb the vibrations from the road.
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How to Adjust a Bike Saddle
It is crucial to get the position of your seat post and saddle correct. The seat post is the long stem that connects your saddle and the triangular frame of your bicycle. It can be adjusted (made longer or shorter) with the seat clamp.
Some seat clamps can be tightened or loosened with an Allen key (also called a hex key). Others have a quick release lever. Generally, you want the seat post to be at a height where you can sit on the bike and only have your toes reach the floor. When your feet are on the pedals, there should just be the slightest of bends in your knees when the pedals are at the lowest point.
The saddle can also be adjusted. You can choose to have it forward and towards the handlebars or back towards the rear wheel. This adjustment will help you to optimize your reach of the handlebars.
Achieving Optimal Handlebar Reach
You should be able to reach your handlebar grips comfortably, without any straining, as this may cause back pain. To start, adjust your saddle so its rails are connected at the center.
Note that if you cannot achieve optimal reach by adjusting the saddle (as this adjustment typically can only make a couple of inches difference), you may have to get a bike shop to fit a different stem for your handlebars. This can bring the grips substantially closer.
Keep Your Saddle Parallel, or Close to Parallel
The saddle should be parallel to the ground, usually. If it is angled upwards towards the front, it may cause groin discomfort. On the other hand, if you find you are not comfortable, try angling it downwards in front just a tiny bit at a time, about 1 degree. This helps some people to experience less saddle soreness.
Types of Bike Saddles
Next, decide what type of cycling you want to do. Most bike frames and all bike saddles are created for specific types of riding. This can range from racing in the Tour de France to leisurely rides along the coast. Depending on what you would like to do, there is a saddle that is designed for that purpose. A quick look at how much material each saddle has can tell you whether that saddle is right for you.
Riding Position and Bike Saddle Type
Generally, the more you will be riding in an upright position, the more material you need on your saddle. These types of comfort saddles are meant for “cruiser” bikes. They have a wide backside and deep cushioning throughout. This allows a rider a comfortable seat for upright leisure riding.
Bike Saddles for Racing Bikes
On the other hand, racing saddles have very little padding and are narrow towards the front. The reason for this is so that the cyclist can move his/her legs very rapidly without hitting the saddle with their legs.
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Also, it makes it easier for the cyclist to stand upright on the pedals, and generally to adopt the many different positions that are possible on a racing bike. The design of the seat is such that the pelvic bones are supported by the saddle, while not necessarily engulfed. With this kind of saddle, you will need to invest in some padded shorts.
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Saddles for Mountain Bikes
Saddles for mountain bikes are somewhere between both worlds. There is enough of a cushion on the back of the saddle to absorb the bumps felt on trails, while there is a fairly narrow “nose” so that the cyclist can transfer energy efficiently from their legs to the pedals efficiently.
If you are planning to go on long bike rides, or to bike commute, I recommend looking at a touring saddle. Most touring saddles have a space in the center. This relieves pressure on the perineum. Each person’s anatomy is different, so try out different saddles. Bontrager and many other manufacturers offer a 30 day comfort guarantee, so if you do not like the saddle you choose, most bike shops will allow you to return the product.
WSD stands for Women’s Specific Design. As women, we have wider hips and may be more comfortable cycling on a WSD saddle that is especially designed to accommodate this anatomical factor. There are many best women’s bike saddle reviews online. Bear in mind however that some women cyclists find that wider saddles cause chafing on their inner thighs.
Leather Bike Saddles
Another important player in the game is the leather saddle. Many cyclists (regardless of riding style) have come to love a leather saddle. Unlike other options, the leather saddle will mold itself to match your body’s dimensions and weight. That said, leather saddles are comparable in price to well-designed road saddles. That is, they are not cheap.
Particularly well loved among these premium leather saddles are the Brooks saddles, which are hand made in England, and aim to provide a lifetime of cycling comfort by molding to your body.
Selle Anatomica Saddles
For a made-in-the-USA option, the famous Selle Anatomica saddles combine quality leather materials with anatomical science, to bring you a saddle with a slot that is designed to eliminate perineal pressure, sit bone pain, and saddle sores. The slot design also gives the saddle great flexibility, with the result that the “break-in” period, during which the saddle adapts to your body, is much faster than with traditional leather saddles. These saddles also have extra long rails, increasing the extent to which you can adjust the saddle forward or backwards.
Leather saddles are not waterproof, so use a leather protector if you decide to go this route. Many of these saddles can be purchased with a leather protector that is specifically designed for them.
Another Option for Women Cyclists
The author of Bike Fit, Phil Burt, recommends that women cyclists try forked saddles made by Adamo. He notes that many Olympic women cyclists swear by their ISM Adamo saddles. He believes that this saddle helps “not solely because of the cutaway but because the two arms of the saddle front flex and rotate with the rider as they pedal.”
This saddle was originally aimed at men, but has been more warmly embraced by women. It was designed for time trialists and triathletes, has a curved nose for a comfortable forward leaning position, and combines foam and gel padding.
More Bike Saddle Comfort Tips
When looking for a saddle, be sure to first have a bike that you enjoy. Saddles can be replaced more easily than a bike. Also, if saddle comfort is important to you, here are a few more tips:
- Do not be timid with money. Most great saddles will be in the $70+ range, but if you ride frequently, this will be a wise investment.
- Only BMX riders should use a saddle without padding. This is because BMX riders rarely sit down and do not need the padding.
- Gel-covered saddles are a great alternative to leather and offer great value for the price.
- Any good bike shop will have a sit-bone sizing tool. Using this will help you hone in on which exact saddle is right for you.
I hope these tips have equipped you to find a comfortable bike saddle. Go get yourself a comfortable saddle, and get out there and have fun on your bike!
Thanks to Our Guest Blogger, Sophie Elise
Sophie Elise is a cyclist, author and blogger. She is passionate about writing on different types of women’s bikes, accessories, health, fitness and more and regularly writes on Best Bikes for Women.
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