Just like the proper bike fit, having the right saddle is important so you can maintain proper form, ride comfortably as long as you want to, and help you avoid injury. So what are the factors you need to consider when shopping for the best saddle?
No two riders are built the same. Even if you’re the same height as someone else, you may have different torso and leg lengths, wider or narrower hips, and more. That’s why there’s a wide variety of saddle shapes: wide, narrow, long, short, with or without anatomical cutouts.
The most important measurement you need to make is the distance between your sit bones. The further they are apart, the wider your saddle should be (which is why women generally sit better on wider saddles compared to men). The saddle should be wide enough to support your sit bones, but not too wide to cause chafing.
Cutouts in the saddle or even short- or split-nosed saddles help with pressure and friction issues in the external genitalia for both men and women.
Test how flexible you are by sitting on the ground and seeing how far you can reach with your hands. If you can reach your toes, then your hamstrings are flexible. Do you struggle to reach your toes? Then you’re less flexible.
Being less flexible means riding more upright because you lack the flexibility to rotate forward from your pelvis. You’ll need a saddle that has good cushioning and that will support your sit bones.
If you’re flexible in your hamstrings, you’ll be able to take a more aggressive position. You might require less cushioning in the back of the saddle, and more space in the front of the saddle.
Core strength also affects how well you sit atop your saddle; the more stable your core is, the less you move around while pedaling, and the less likely it is you will develop saddle sores or compensatory movement that can result in injury (e.g. bending from the spine instead of the pelvis, sitting more to one side of the bike, etc.).
Your saddle should fit the type of riding that you do on your bike.
If you’re a recreational rider doing short rides on a cruiser, urban, or commuter bike, chances are you sit upright most of the time; a bike saddle that’s wide with plush padding or springs will do wonders for you.
Road saddles are long and narrow to allow better knee extension when pedaling, with minimal padding for better power transfer. For long-distance road touring, you can get a saddle with more cushioning.
For mountain biking, because of the varied positions you can take while on the trail (standing, hanging back off the saddle, a tucked position) you need more padding for the sit bones, a streamlined shape to allow you to change positions quickly, and a durable cover for all kinds of conditions.
Performance saddles for racing usually have minimal padding and narrower noses. Cushioning saddles feature plush cushioning to absorb bumpy rides. While which one you pick is up to personal preference, excessively soft cushioning can result in more discomfort because you tend to slide around on it.
Cutouts, indents, and short saddle noses help provide comfort for the area between the sit bones, relieving the pressure as you sit. However, depending on how you sit and how you’re built, each type might work better or worse for you.
This is why it’s vital to test a variety of saddles before committing to one. The better brands will have a rental or loan program which will allow you to test ride different saddles before you make your purchase. Also note that the saddle you use may affect your bike position, so it’s better to buy your saddle in conjunction with getting a proper bike fit so you can efficiently sit and pedal without pain and risk of injury.
Finding the right saddle for you goes a long way toward helping you enjoy the experience of cycling, allowing you to build fitness and become a better athlete.
(Featured photo by Alejandro Lopez on Unsplash.)
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