Finding the Perfect Bike Saddle by Kellie Morris

 

Antique touring saddle image by 123rf.com

Very early Tuesday morning I rolled out of bed at the unnatural hour of 4:30 am to attend a Spinning class with my husband. I could kick myself for getting in bed late Monday night knowing I was getting up so early!  But I was able to shake off the drowsiness about 20 minutes into the class when my groin developed that familiar tingling numbness that quickly progresses to pain.  Crap!   Had it really been that long since I had been on a normal bike saddle? I now ride a recumbent trike.  I used to ride a road bike and had found a great saddle and after many hours in the saddle had gotten to the point where I experienced no discomfort.  As I was spinning I wondered if there was a study about women and bike saddles.  Thanks to the power of the Internet I was able to find a recent study published in the Journal of Sexual Health shared in this piece in The New York Times last year: Can Cycling Affect Women’s Sexual Health?

I remember my journey to find the perfect bike saddle when I rode a road bike. The saddle that came with my 2002 LeMond Buenos Aires steel road bike was a joke.  Mostly leather stretched over metal.  A trip to my local bike shop left my head spinning: how do you choose a bike saddle? If you Google “Choosing a Bike Saddle”, you come up with millions of hits.  That’s a lot of information to wade through. So, let’s distill the information.

The bottom line is FIT. The saddle must fit you. But what are you fitting? You’re fitting the width of your pelvis also known as your “sit bones.” If the saddle doesn’t support your sit bones you end up sitting on soft tissue that’s not made to support your body weight.  When you sit on those soft tissues they get numb then wake up with pain.  Bicyclelab.com has an informative YouTube Video on the female anatomy: Seat Comfort for Cyclists.

There are other parameters besides fit, to consider such as:

  • Did you get a proper overall bike fit?
  • What is your riding style? Road bike, hybrid, cruiser, etc?
  • What is your budget?
  • Is your saddle at the proper height and position?
  • Do you stand up on your pedals regularly, when riding, to relieve pressure?
  • Consider adjusting the saddle nose slightly down.
  • Ask your local bike shop if you can return a saddle for a store credit if it doesn’t work out for you.

I found a Specialized saddle that was an excellent fit for my road bike at a high end bike shop chain in Orange County: Rock n' Road Cyclery.  It was an excellent fit because the shop measured my sit bones. First, I sat on a gel pad that took an impression of my sit bones; secondly, the technician measured the impression.  The shop recommended a saddle for me based on the measured width of my sit bones.  

Initially I was skeptical because the saddle looked like all the other instruments of torture that filled all the bike shops I had visited.  But once it was installed, I was delighted with its performance.

But I tried many saddles from many different bike shops before I happened upon this Specialized saddle.  I tried a woman-specific saddle; no good for me. Then I tried a cushy gel saddle; awful. Then I tried another saddle; still no luck.  Before I found my Specialized, I thought I would never find a comfortable saddle.

I was very happy with my Specialized saddle, but I know it may not work for everyone. But as an analyst at heart, I appreciate Specialized taking the guesswork out of picking a saddle. I think it’s important to be knowledgeable when you shop for a saddle.  

I can tell you what is the prefect saddle for me, but that will not necessarily apply to you. Everybody is different.  So get out there and search for your prefect saddle.