I think saddles are one of the most under-rated pieces of equipment on our bikes. We customize everything. We upgrade wheels, get bigger chain rings, upgrade to an Eagle cassette, put new grips on the handlebars, yet more often than not people ride the saddle that the bike comes with. However, the saddle should be one of the most custom pieces of all. After all, our bodies are all different so we can’t possibly all be comfortable riding on the same narrow piece of plastic or carbon or whatever alloy for hours at a time.
So many people still believe that bike saddles are just inherently uncomfortable and it’s just a part of the sport. I’m here to tell you that it’s not. I don’t ride around for hours at a time uncomfortable.
If you are still riding the saddle that came stock on your bike, I don’t blame you. Not many shops will allow you to test ride a saddle. Looking online, all saddles start to kind of look the same, and the descriptions can be quite confusing. Let’s try to simplify saddle shopping once and for all. Here are my tips for finding the saddle fit best for you.
Why it Matters?
First of all, you might be wondering why it matters at all to start with. When riding your bike you have 5 contact points, 2 hands, 2 feet, and your bum on the seat. The saddle is what takes up the most weight and it’s where you are placing the most pressure when you ride. A saddle that is the wrong size or shape can result in saddle sores, injuries (back pain), or simply a less efficient ride. If you want to improve in any of those areas, keep reading.
The Width of the saddle is probably the most important measurement. The width of any saddle should be clearly stated on the specs. The whole point in a saddle is to support you while you ride. If your saddle is too narrow, you are not receiving the support that you need and risking injury and if it’s too wide then you risk chaffing and inefficiency in your pedal stroke.
The width of your saddle is contingent on the distance between your ischial tuberosities (or sit bones). You can easily measure this at home. On a firm surface, place a piece of corrugated cardboard that is wider than your hips. Sit down on the cardboard and lean forward into your riding position. When you stand back up you should see two small indentions in the cardboard from your sit bones. Measure the distance between those indentions and you have your sit bone width. If this at-home method doesn’t work for you, simply go to your local bike shop. They have more sensitive pads that can help to measure your sit bone width.
Once you have the width of your sit bones, look for a saddle that is 10-30 mm wider than your sit bone measurement. If you are a time trialist or triathlete and plan to spend a lot of time toward the front of your saddle then aim for the lower end of the spectrum, if you assume a more upright position when you ride then aim for the higher end.
The length of the saddle is how long the saddle is from the tip to the rear. The biggest factor in length is your ability to move around on the saddle.
On a shorter saddle, there is really only one correct or comfortable place to land your body so you are committed to that position. If you are a time trialist, triathlete, or expert cyclist then this might be the right saddle for you because you should be maintaining a relatively constant position due to bike fit and power efficiency. (Short saddles might be around 240 mm).
On a longer saddle, you have more ability to move around. You can inch forward onto the nose of the saddle to climb, but you can also sit upright toward the rear of the saddle. This saddle might be the most forgiving option. (Long saddles might be about 300 mm)
Most people will find themselves somewhere in between on a saddle somewhere around 270 mm.
I think cut outs have gotten more popular over the years and the research is backing the trend. When we ride, even though we don’t realize it, our soft tissue that sits on the saddle can become inflamed and painful. The cut outs on saddles allow a little extra space for the soft tissue to expand into and maybe become less irritated in general.
Cut out shape and size is a completely personalized option. Women tend to prefer larger cut outs, but it’s completely up to you. Grooves instead of complete cut outs also offer an option by allowing more space, without eliminating support in those areas. The most important thing here is to realize that there are so many options and you shouldn’t stop until you find one that is comfortable for you.
When looking at your saddle from behind you will notice that the wings, or wider areas of the saddle, are either flat or the curve down slightly. That design is intentional and you can pick what you prefer. Just like most things with saddle design, it is personal preference, but your flexibility might place a role in your decision.
A curved saddle may 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 into uncomfortable positions.
A flat saddle on the other hand, is an excellent option for a more flexible rider. The flatter design allows for a lot of freedom of movement on the saddle allowing the rider to utilize their flexibility to find the most powerful position.
Knowledge is power. Now you know some of the terminology and things to look for in a saddle. You can talk the talk and know what questions to ask the next time you walk into a bike shop or chat into an expert online. Remember, comfort is key. Your perfect saddle is out there just waiting for you to take a seat.