Selecting The Right Bicycle Saddle

author : sportfactory
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By Coach Matt Russ

Thesportfactory.com


Bicycle saddles come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and designs. Finding the right one is often a confusing process of trial and error for cyclists. However, a little education goes a long way, and will perhaps save you some pain and discomfort as well.


The Right Tool for the Job
Step one is to select the appropriate saddle design for the type of cycling you will be doing. Mountain bikers, recreational cyclists, roadies, and triathletes all ride in different positions and distribute their weight differently on the saddle. For instance, a recreational cyclist on a hybrid assumes an upright posture that will orient their weight predominantly on top of the saddle, whereas a competitive road cyclist will put more weight on their hands and feet and pedal faster, requiring a narrower saddle. A triathlete in an aggressive position will have a low, almost level torso and their pelvis will be rotated forward onto the saddle, putting more weight on the nose of the saddle. A mountain biker changes position frequently and must have a saddle that allows them to slide forward and back, even off the rear of the bike.

 

Saddles are designed with a specific type of cyclist in mind, and it is important to not attempt to jam a square peg in a round hole. Don't assume the saddle that came with your bike is the correct one for you; this is an area most bike brands tend to skimp on.


Where's the Weight?
For the most part, you want your weight predominantly on your ischial tuberosities or “sit bones.” If you were to sit on a hard surface, such as a concrete stadium seat, you would feel your weight on these two bony protrusions. When a cyclist complains of slight saddle soreness in this region, I recommend better shorts, a topical lubricant, and simply a longer period of acclimation. Pressure, numbness, or soreness forward of the sit bones, however, are things to avoid. A good place to start the saddle selection process is by choosing the correct saddle width. Women and large men generally have wider pelvises and will need a wider saddle. Specialized devised a simple device that measures sit bone width (BG system) to make the process a bit easier.


Shape and Design
A common misconception is that a thick, cushy saddle will be more comfortable than a thin one. If you sink into a saddle, your weight is more evenly distributed; however, it may put more pressure on the perenium, nerves, and arteries. Remember, the goal is to put as much weight as possible on those sit bones. In my experience, once acclimated, some of the most comfortable saddles have very little padding. Some saddles have a cutout or center channel that is designed to increase arterial blood flow or remove nerve pressure. This design does transfer weight to other areas of the saddle, but may be just the thing needed to resolve numbness issues. Note that there are “women-specific” saddles engineered with the female anatomy in mind.

 

   Valdora Tri-Gel                  Profile Design Tri-Stryke         Blackwell Research 
                                                                                     
Adamo Typhoon

Perhaps the most confusing part of the selection process is the saddle shape. Some saddles have a rear portion that is sloped upwards and some are flat. Some have a thick padded nose that sits above the level of the rear, and others have a nose that is significantly turned down. Others have a raised center channel versus one that is cut out. When looking down at different saddles you will observe a wide variety of shapes and lengths. You will find almost as many designs within a single brand as amongst different brands. The fact is that there is no “best” saddle. One cyclist will swear by their saddle’s comfort and the next will hate it. The best saddle is the one that fits you best, and unfortunately the only way to determine that is by trying different designs out.

 

User Reviews:

--> Blackwell Research ISM Adamo Racing Saddle

--> Blackwell Research ISM Adamo Road Saddle

--> Fizik Arione Saddle

--> Forté T1 Tri Saddle


Position
You can have the right saddle in the wrong position. The tilt of the saddle is very important. If you find yourself sliding forward towards the bars or pushing yourself backward onto the saddle, it is probably tilted down too much. For a recreational cyclist, a saddle that is nearly level may be appropriate, whereas a triathlete or time trialist may require a downward tilt of several degrees to accommodate their lower torso angle. Tilt is an adjustment you can play with, but first mark the position of your cradle with a score mark or paint pen. Place a level on top of the saddle and observe your position before adjusting. The best seat posts are infinitely, not incrementally, adjustable.


A common mistake is attempting to adjust the fore/aft position for comfort or reach. The fore/aft position of the saddle is an adjustment exclusive to your relationship with the bottom bracket—your power center. Cockpit or reach adjustments should be made by changing your stem length or altering your aerobars.


Triathletes and Trainers
Triathletes are a perfect storm for saddle discomfort. They generally ride with a low torso angle for long periods of time with little change in position. Beginner triathletes in particular are often frustrated by their lack of comfort and end up sitting up. The aero position is tricky to get right and I recommend a professional fit as a good starting point. I also recommend a progressive fit process that allows the triathlete to gradually acclimate to a more aggressive and aerodynamic position. Getting dialed in with your saddle will take some time and patience. A good place to start is by spending a short period of time in the aerobars and gradually increasing the intervals.


Cyclists often ponder why a saddle that feels perfectly comfortable on the road is fairly uncomfortable on the trainer. When you are on the road your body is constantly shifting weight/position slightly, whereas on the trainer your position is more fixed and immobile, thereby exacerbating pressure points. An easy way to resolve this is simply to get out of the saddle every few minutes to relieve the concentrated pressure. You may find the aero position is harder to stay in on the trainer and that you will need to sit up more frequently. If you are simulating a climbing position, do not elevate your wheel or stay in the saddle for extended periods of time.


Once you find the right saddle, don't be afraid to purchase a few more if you see them on sale. This is a relatively inexpensive way to ensure a good relationship with your bicycle into the future. It is possible the manufacturer will change or drop the design from their line and you don't want to be reminiscing about the most comfortable saddle that ever was.

 



Matt Russ has coached and trained elite athletes from around the country and internationally for over ten years. He currently holds an expert license from USA Triathlon, an Elite license from USA Cycling, and is a licensed USA Track and Field Coach. Matt is head coach and owner of The Sport Factory, and works with athletes of all levels full time. He is a freelance author and his articles are regularly featured in a variety of magazines and websites. Visit http://www.thesportfactory.com/ for more information or email him at coachmatt@thesportfactory.com

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date: February 17, 2009

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sportfactory

Matt Russ has coached and trained elite athletes from around the country and internationally for over ten years. He currently holds expert licenses from USA Triathlon, USA Cycling, and is a licensed USA Track and Field Coach. Matt is head coach and owner of The Sport Factory, and works with athletes of all levels full time. He is a free lance author and his articles are regularly featured in a variety of magazines and websites.

Author

avatarsportfactory

Matt Russ has coached and trained elite athletes from around the country and internationally for over ten years. He currently holds expert licenses from USA Triathlon, USA Cycling, and is a licensed USA Track and Field Coach. Matt is head coach and owner of The Sport Factory, and works with athletes of all levels full time. He is a free lance author and his articles are regularly featured in a variety of magazines and websites.

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