Not all saddles are created equally, but it is also the case that no bottoms are, either. You may not think about the saddle that comes with your new bike, but you soon will if it isn’t the right one for you.
Saddles vary in size, shape, levels of padding and the style of riding they are designed for. It’s a consumer minefield that is very easy to get lost in. We should probably try to help.
One thing that tends to vary between riders and between bikes is body position. A mountain bike or a town bike will usually have you sat bolt upright or slightly forward, whereas a road bike or time trial bike will have you leaning anywhere from 45 degrees to horizontal.
As you rotate forwards the part of your body that is in contact with the saddle changes. Sat upright, much of your weight is on your sit bones (the bony parts you can feel through the meaty part of your bottom), but as you lean forwards this weight shifts towards your more delicate parts, such as your perineum and your pubic bone.
You will generally find a more upright bike will have a wider, often softer saddle, whereas a road bike will have quite a long, narrow one. A time trial bike on the other hand will have a fairly short saddle, often with a cutaway at the front.
If you are shopping for a new saddle, many manufacturers will indicate on the packaging the body position that particular saddle is designed for.
Your bike will probably come with a saddle shaped appropriately for that type of bike, but as we’ve alluded to, everyone’s rear end is slightly different.
We’re all shapes & sizes, we humans. Some of us are obviously wider than others, but due to the need to pass even smaller humans through the pelvis, women tend to have wider sit-bones than men and saddles are designed for women accordingly.
Most saddle ranges have a number of different widths for any given range, but knowing what size you need is going to take some measuring.
A few of our local bike shops have a sit-bone measuring mat for you to use –we know that Tredz has one. It’s simply a flat cushion that will leave an indentation long enough for you to measure it. Measure the gap between the two dents, add 3cm and you should have an idea of the sort of size you need.
The other option is to go along to your local bike shop, pick a saddle that you fancy, check that they will take the saddle back if it is wrong and just try it for a few weeks.
You may think that the saddle with the most padding will be the most comfortable. Aside from being heavier, this is also very often not the case. The trouble with a spongy saddle is that they allow pressure to form around the main contact areas. For short trips this isn’t too much of a problem, but over the course of a day this can become very painful indeed.
So, aside from the size and shape of the saddle, think about the sort of riding you are going to be doing. If you are planning to do a 140km sportive or a 200km+ randonnee where you are going to be wearing padded shorts anyway, a saddle with less padding should be what you need. On the other hand, if you are planning to do short trips around town in your normal clothes, go for something with more padding.
You may have noticed that some saddles come with a trench down the middle, or with the centre of the saddle missing completely such as the one pictured above. You’ll find these on both men’s and women’s saddles and they are designed to take pressure off those sensitive areas between your legs.
If you find that after riding for any length of time you experience numbness where you really don’t want it, try a saddle with a cutaway. However, they don’t work for everyone and can in some cases cause pressure where there wouldn’t normally be any.
The vast majority of saddles you see these days are plastic and rubber, with either foam or gel padding inside. Many with also have steel rails.
However, if you have money to burn on “marginal gains”, you can buy saddles with carbon or titanium rails which benefit from significantly less weight and different ride characteristics –some rail materials are more springy than others, but they are also more expensive.
Finally, there are some saddles, particularly those made by Brooks that apart from their new Cambium range, are leather. These have no padding but the leather is stretched over a metal or carbon frame like a hammock, helping to absorb some of the shocks from the road. The Brooks Cambium range is vulcanised rubber stretched over the rails instead of leather but it follows the same principle. The downside of these, particularly if you are riding in an aerodynamic position, is that by sinking into the centre of the saddle, you can increase the pressure around your pubic bone, which isn’t a great deal of fun.
A leather saddle will change shape over time to accommodate your particular features, but there is a period during the breaking-in process where it may well be really uncomfortable. These leather saddles are also not very waterproof. Brooks will happily sell you a pot of their “Proofide”, which will help to soften it and also to protect it from the elements but even treated they may not last well in umm…Wales.
A leather saddle is the only type of saddle that should ever be covered if left outside. If you have a plastic saddle, you really don’t need that carrier bag!
Getting a sore bottom is no fun, but it isn’t always the saddle’s fault. As mentioned above, many are designed for a particular body angle. However, if you have a racy saddle and you are sat too upright you will not get the benefit from the saddle’s design. The reverse is also true.
Often you can solve these comfort problems by getting a bike fit, but we’ve talked about comfort in more detail already. You can simply slide the saddle forward or backward along its rails and see if that improves things.
The saddle that is right for you…
If you are happy with the saddle that came with your bike, great! Keep it until it breaks. If you do need to change it, whilst you can narrow your search by working out the sort of saddle you need and the size of your sit bones, there is a fair amount of trial and error involved, particularly if you are an unusual shape.
Establish your budget and then look for a saddle that fits your size and riding style. Chances are you’ll find the saddle you need at a range of budgets, but the only differences will be in the materials used and therefore the weight of it.