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Bicycle Saddles and Comfort

How to select a bike saddle (seat) that's not a pain in the rear.

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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.

See BodyGeometryThem 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.

The perineum is the area between the sit bones, through which traverse the nerves and arteries responsible for regulating everything from waste to sexual function. See Bicycling and Erectile Dysfunction
 
Cutaway Saddles: Some saddles have portions cut out of them to relieve pressure from your soft tissue areas.  This becomes more important with softer, more padded saddles since you will sink into them more.  Some find this helps, others don't.  Have you noticed the recurring theme here: A good saddle takes pressure off your soft tissue by supporting your weight on your sit bones.
Click for larger imageNoseless saddles: Another popular variation is the noseless saddle.  These remove pressure from the perineum area.  However, the nose is important for steering and controlling the bike, especially in mountain biking.  But, I should note that I have a friend who uses a noseless saddle to mountain bike, and although he's not a hard-core biker, he does just fine.  These can be a good choice for indoor trainers (see Indoor Trainers - Beyond the Boredom) and situations where bike control is not as important, such as cruising around on neighborhood bike paths.  Here's another interesting variation of the noseless saddle.  See also Alternative Bicycle Saddle Designs.

Quick tips for saddle comfort:

  • If the saddle is too high, this will cause you to shift your weight from side to side.  This can result in irritation to the perineal area.
  • Tilting the saddle slightly downward in the front will help alleviate pressure on the soft tissues.  However, if the saddle is tilted too far down, you will place too much weight on your wrists and hands.  The may result is numb hands and pain in the lower back.
  • Stand in the saddle occasionally and adjust your riding position from time to time.  This tends to happen automatically with mountain biking, but you may have to make a conscious effort to do this when road riding.
  • Another tip that some men find helpful is to point the saddle slightly to the left or right, instead of aligning it directly parallel with the top tube.

 

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.

 


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