Back in the Saddle Again? Get the Right Seat.
We have all been there at least once on our cycling career. You have just picked up your new bike and you’re taking it out for your first long ride only to discover that the saddle that felt comfy at the bike shop now feels like a wooden two-by-four! Or, how about this common scenario? You’re 30 miles into a 60 mile ride, and the once comfy and perfectly broken in saddle you have grown so accustomed to has suddenly turned into sand-paper covered concrete!
No-one should suffer through saddle pain, chaffing, numbness, or extreme soft-tissue tenderness where the sun don’t shine. I have seen this same situation over and over again in the years I have been working with athletes when bike fitting. It’s an unfortunate issue that has created a reputation that has spread well beyond the inner circle of cyclists. From the age of your saddle, a sudden increase in time on the bike, to a minor or major change in your bike fit; a complete lack of comfort on your saddle is usually a result of several factors. So what can you do to avoid the deal breaking agony and tushie torture of riding on a saddle that isn’t working for you ?
The first step in the process starts with your bike fit. A professional bike fitting is the most critical thing you can do with a new bike, a newly acquired used bike, or when changing directions with your cycling. By making sure that saddle height and position are correct you will give yourself a proper basis for determining if the saddle you have is right for you. Getting fit on your bike will also allow you to get an un-biased second opinion on how you are sitting on the saddle. Examining in detail the way you are positioned on the saddle will help you be sure you are using it correctly.
Secondly, if your fit is improper you may be creating an imbalance in your weight distribution, which will cause either too much or too little of your weight to rest on the saddle. I have seen some saddles work well before a fitting and be terribly uncomfortable after, and also had just the opposite happen. In the end however, it is best to start with a properly adjusted saddle position to have a proper basis of decision on the saddle. Your job on your bike is to pedal it in the most efficient, powerful, and comfortable position and a fit should be the first step in determining how well your saddle really works.
Do your homework! Through the power of the internet, it is pretty easy to get an idea of what type of saddle will most likely be a good fit for you. Top saddle manufacturers spend a ton of time and money researching the design of their products and will have saddles that are designed specifically for your riding style. Each genre of cycling will have a unique impact on your fit and will generally have a certain type of saddle that will work best. For example, a beach cruiser with a very upright position will distribute most of your weight on your hips and will therefore need a big cushy couch of a saddle. On the opposite end of the spectrum, and triathlon bike is designed with a forwardly aggressive position and has a totally different distribution of your weight and pelvic/hip angle. A saddle’s design will have a shape, foam structure, rail length and design, and even a cover that is specific to the application. From mountain biking to beach cruising, starting with a saddle that is specific to your application will help you narrow the myriad of options available. Check out the design specifics outlined for the line of Cobb Cycling Saddles, now available through Cannon Cyclery, and notice how each model has a specific list of application recommendations.
Talk to your riding buddies about what they are using, but don’t go out and get what they are riding just because they recommend it! Every human is entirely unique and even though we all generally have the same parts under the hood, they are not all shaped the same. There are a number of factors that attribute to your unique riding style and it is highly unlikely that you will be similar enough to your riding partners to ride the exact same saddle. What works for your riding buddy will most likely not work for you. Each person will have a slightly different pelvic shape and generally require a slightly different design. What is critical about a saddle shape and design is that it supports your sit bones or ischial tuberosities properly and keeps the pressure away from your soft tissue.
Don’t judge a saddle by its price tag! Just because you have a high-end bike with a big dollar saddle does not mean that it will be the right choice for you. Sure, it is important to make sure it’s a high quality and well designed seat, but it does not have to be the most expensive or lightest saddle to be a good fit for you. Keep in mind that the support it provides your sit bones and lack of soft tissue pressure is what is most important. For many cyclists, the saddle is merited based on its weight, cost, and trendy-ness and often is totally the wrong choice for the rider and application. It is perfectly OK to use a pricey saddle, just make sure it’s the right one for you! Don’t get caught in the super light and expensive saddle trap, cost does not always equate to comfort.
The six ride rule. Generally speaking, if you have covered all your bases and decided that you have discovered the perfect saddle you still need to pass the six ride test. I recommend that you give your new saddle six solid rides to determine its bum-wonderful worthiness. If you reach the end of the six rides and still find it offensive, you may want to think about another option. A saddle will not generally get any more comfortable if you spend an excessive amount of time on it and you may be doing more harm than good by trying to force the fit. It is far better to invest the time to getting it right the first try than to do permanent damage and possibly impact other areas of your life. There are a number of medical issues that can put an early end to your riding season and the reward of making the right saddle choice can have long term benefits to your cycling career.
Watch out for trendy saddles. Don’t entertain the thought of using a completely unique oddly-shaped, nose-less, or lawn chair saddle unless you have exhausted several more traditional saddle options. Properly designed and good quality traditional style saddles have a history of success with the vast majority of cyclists and should be considered first when looking for a new seat. However, because of a laundry list of reasons, from poor fit to wrong saddle choice the more traditional saddles have gotten a bad rap. And, because of the medical impact that a poorly designed saddle can have on both men and women in the perineum area, there are several unique pressure relief designs available today. From “Doctor” designed nose-less saddles to Joe Schmo’s garage-built pivoting two-piece ergo saddle, there are dozens of crazy designs out there. Be careful experimenting with some of these unique saddle designs and make sure that the introduction of the experimental saddle does not drastically change your bike fit. Because of the non-traditional nature of many of these designs, they are often are very tall and can greatly affect your seat height and position, thereby changing your bike fit. I am not saying that one of these experimental saddles won’t be the answer to your prayers just that care should be taken when giving one a try.