1. Why it’s not always about the saddle
The first thing you should figure out before choosing a saddle is:
Is my saddle position correct?
If your saddle is too high – every saddle you try will feel uncomfortable.
Let’s imagine what happens when a saddle is too high. In order to turn the pedals your legs need to maintain force against the pedals all the way to the bottom of the stroke.
There is a solid piece of plastic in-between your legs.
If the extension of your leg is too great, your legs will not be able to maintain the force against the pedals at the bottom of the stroke. This means your legs will not be supporting your body weight. Instead, most of your body weight will be squishing your private parts / soft tissue into the saddle. Yes, ouch!
If saddle discomfort is your problem currently, there’s a high probability that the saddle is not the only issue. You must ensure your bike fit is spot on.
We see so many riders come into the studio wanting to change their saddle because of discomfort, only for us to change their bike position and suddenly their saddle discomfort disappears. So, get your saddle position right first!
Saying that, there will be saddles that feel better than others for many reasons.
Let’s dive in…
2. Before you leap…
Before you start swapping out saddles, understand that each time we make a change, we want to be limiting the number of variables that are changing – making sure the saddle height and setback remain the same as you are changing between saddles is critical.
Most saddles will have different heights (due to padding or the rails) which will change the overall saddle height. Some saddles are shorter which will affect the setback.
Sit bones are something some brands talk about with the saddles they are selling to make it seem more researched or scientific. The truth is we aren’t actually sitting on our sit bones when we interact with road bikes.
We actually sit slightly more forward on to our pelvic rami since we are leaning forward in a cycling position. The shape of our pelvis narrows as we rotate forwards on our pelvis. This means we simply base our saddle selection on our sit bone measurement, you’ll likely end up with a saddle that is unnecessarily wide.
It would make sense if you ride an upright Dutch bike – but if you’re reading this, you’re probably riding something more sporty!
Finally, there are definitely some saddle models that fit more people than others. But the beauty of humans is that we are all very different. Even individuals that are fairly similar in many ways often end up with entirely different saddles, or you may end up on different saddles for different types of riding. For example I ride a different saddle on my road bike and my mountain bike.
3. What’s the goal?
The ultimate job of a saddle is to provide you with a comfortable, supportive and stable platform from which you can generate effective force against the pedals.
If you feel like you are moving around on the saddle during your rides a lot then something is not right. Sometimes I like to try saddles with a slight curve at the back for such individuals. This helps to encourage the rider to sit in one place without being able to slip forwards or backwards. Saddles like the SMP Dynamic, Pro Turnix and the Ergon Women’s SR pro saddle are very good for this.
To achieve our saddle goals, we sometimes need to bring out some specialist tools such as the Essax shark saddle. Yes, it is as scary as it sounds. It has a very sharp fin in the middle – so if you are leaning over to one side you will certainly know about it!
This helps people who have no idea they are sitting wonky. Improving sitting symmetry improves pelvic stability and therefore reduces the chance of excessive saddle rubbing due to rocking or overuse injuries due to over reliance on one side. The fin literally locks a pelvis into place and creates the proprioceptive awareness for a symmetrical sitting position.
Once a rider has been straightened out, the Shark’s job is done and can be swapped out for a standard saddle!
4. Let the bum do the talking!
Let’s be honest. Some saddles are more attractive than others. But choosing a saddle for its looks is by far the worst thing you can do!
Saddles are just like any other product, they are heavily marketed and the selection tools provided by saddle companies are simply there to make the selection process as easy as possible under the guise of ‘science’.
There’s a reason why there are so many different saddles out in the world – there are a lot of different bums out in the world!
So as an individual, you need to be smart and informed about why you are choosing a particular saddle.
There’s no such thing as a women’s specific saddle (yup, it’s just marketing to make it easier to sell!) As a woman you will want to try both female and male specific saddles. In my experience I regularly have women with men’s saddles and men with women saddles. Most importantly; let your bum decide.
To let your bum decide, trying as many different saddles as you can during a bike fit or a saddle fitting is the most objective way to figure out what will suit you and your riding best.
If you’ve only ever sat on one saddle, that is all your body knows. This is the best it knows. And it will just accept this… until you sit on something else.
Don’t assume you need a cut-out because it’s the one your friend has or choose a Fizik because you saw a pro rider using one. Without comparison your choice and ultimately your results will be limited.
5. Where should I feel a saddle?
Bone. We are evolved to bear weight through bone and not soft tissue.
If you are aware of uncomfortable pressure from the nose of the saddle then something isn’t quite right. It could be a fit related issue but it could also be the result of a saddle that isn’t optimum for you.
Being aware of the back of the saddle is a good thing – they are designed for you to interact with them at the back, not the front.
What about the pros like, Geraint Thomas you say? They all seem to sit on the nose of their saddles…
…Well, just because you’re a pro, doesn’t mean you’re doing it right! (we’ll unpack this wormhole in another article!).
If you are aware of discomfort that reappears every time you spend time on your saddle, do something about it!
Prolonged numbness in the genital area can lead to all sorts of problems in your future life. Female or male we want to protect this area at all costs. It should not be painful to ride a bike.
There are too many myths perpetuating the idea that saddles should be uncomfortable, or they just need breaking in and this simply isn’t true. Do not suffer unnecessarily. Modern saddle technology and the massive choice out there on the market means there is a comfortable saddle for you out there!
Ultimately we are looking for something that alleviates unwanted pressures, keeps your pelvis steady and is something you don’t generally notice whilst on a ride.