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Bicycle Saddles and Comfort
How to select a bike saddle (seat) that's not a pain in the rear.
The most important aspect of a bicycle seat in terms of comfort, is fit. You wouldn't expect shoes that didn't fit to be comfortable, no matter how padded or well-made they were. A hard saddle that puts pressure in the correct places will be much more comfortable than a mushy saddle that spreads pressure to all the wrong places.
Them bones, them bones, them sit bones: The most important aspect of saddle fit is the sit bone (ischial tuberosities - the two pressure points you feel when sit on something flat and hard) width. These should be supported by your seat. If your saddle is too narrow, then the pressure will be on the tissues between the bones causing numbness and discomfort. If the saddle is too wide, then it will likely cause chaffing of the thighs, especially at higher pedal cadences. BodyGeometry makes saddles in different widths and dealers should have a device to measure you for their saddles. But, with a little effort, and the help of a friend, you should be able to measure your sit bone width yourself. Sit on a hard flat bench and lean forward to simulate your riding position. Then point out to your friend where your sit bones touch the bench and let him/her measure the distance between these points. This distance should correspond with the distance between the centers of the pads on your bike seat.
Most bikes come off the shelf with seats designed for average-sized male riders. Yet, men and women are not created equal in respect to sit bone width (if you hadn't noticed, then you are spending way too much time on your bike). Most shops are happy to swap out bike seats when purchasing a bike. If they aren't, I'd suggest finding another dealer.
Gel Seats: These seats are more comfortable for short rides, but the extra sliding and chaffing can cause discomfort on long rides. Also, these initially feel more comfortable because they distribute pressure from your sit bones to the tissue around them. This will feel good at first, but since these tissues include the perineum area, nerves, and blood vessels which can't handle this for long, the saddle will become very uncomfortable as the ride length increases. So, if your riding consists of just a quick cruise around the neighborhood, gels and extra-padded saddles may be a good choice.
Quick tips for saddle comfort:
But the final decision should be based on what works for you and the way you ride. Work with your local bike shop and try a few rides on different saddles. Also saddles tend to be their most uncomfortable on stationary trainers since you tend to stay seated in the same position longer. This makes trainers good for saddle comfort testing.
Bicycling and Erectile Dysfunction
Alternative Bicycle Saddle Designs. I have not tried, nor do I endorse these, but just thought I'd include them for your information and/or amusement.
Measuring Sit Bones
Choosing a Saddle
Other Articles on Saddle Comfort and Fit.