Photo by David Niddrie
You know that old expression: “no pain, no gain.” Well, forget about it.
When it comes to choosing a good bike seat, you have everything to gain by putting a little effort into finding a saddle that will fit your tush like a glove. Perhaps you just bought a new bike or have been building up a hand-me-down. In addition to outfitting your ride with new handlebars, grips and pedals, you’ll want to invest at least as much attention into your saddle. And that doesn’t mean you need to empty your wallet to get the best seat for your body type – you simply need to know what to look for and what to ask when shopping around.
Many bikes come with stock accessories not designed for the people who will be using them. Replacing your saddle could change the way you ride for the better.
Locate the Pain
If your saddle is uncomfortable, try to determine exactly where the pain is, and try to be as specific about describing that pain as you can. Between the three points of contact where your body rests on your bike – feet, hands and butt – at least 55 percent of your weight will rest on your seat. The area that you sit on is called the perineal region, and it includes a network of blood vessels and nerves that lie between your sit bones.
If you are feeling pain or numbness between these bones, your saddle could be too narrow. If chafing along your inner thighs is the issue, or if your sit bones are sore, perhaps your saddle is too wide or too flat. Women tend to have a wider space between their sit bones than men do, so bike saddles for women tend to be broader (see “What to Know Before You Buy”). The key is to have as much surface area contact on your seat as possible so that your weight is evenly distributed
Choose a Saddle
When I bought my last bike seat, I had Goldilocks in mind. I wanted something not too hard and not too soft. I wanted to find a saddle that was “just right.” In addition to testing out different saddles, it is worthwhile to consider the geometry of bike saddle design. Joshua Cohen, in his book The Illustrated Guide to Bicycle Seats (see review on p.77), recommends avoiding saddles that curve steeply upwards in the middle to avoid excessive upwards pressure. A slight curvature will allow you to slide from side to side comfortably.
Viewed from the side, the saddle should have a slight flare in the rear to hold you in place. A slight dip in the middle will support you comfortably and allow for front-to-back movement. If you are riding a city bike and sitting in a more upright position, the rear of the seat will be much wider than the nose. A road bike with drop bars will have you leaning forward and so a narrower seat might be your preference.