Now, I’ve worked in a bike shop for 13 years. I’ve seen and heard it all: I’ve heard about the pinching, I’ve seen the dances we do when trying to explain what hurts, I’ve heard about the sweat, the chamois butter seeping from your shorts, the sores, the pain, numbness, blisters, bruises, infections, not being able to properly sit for days after one glorious ride in the beautiful countryside. It is always an adventure when it’s time for a new saddle, both for you and for me. Let’s talk about what we expect when we search for that recliner seat on our racing steeds.
When you look at a wall of saddles you see all sorts of shapes and sizes, attractive gel pads and cut-outs, but none of that tells you whether that saddle is the right one for you. These variations are designed to address a certain issue or reach a specific goal. Some saddles are designed for specific riding positions, for example: an upright, leisurely position found on cruisers or an aerodynamic forward position found on time trial bikes. Knowing in which position you ride is a great start. It is very difficult to find a saddle that will be a “cure all,” but there is still hope! Several saddles are designed to work well in many riding positions and styles. The Brooks C17 Cambium and Serfas’ Tegu saddles (especially the women’s design!) are both in this category and are my personal favorites.
Next, you need to know what size saddle to ride. Each of us is built differently, so it’s a good thing we have a buttometer in the store! When used properly, this tool will tell us how narrow a saddle you need to fit your body. If it is too narrow, it can feel like the saddle is squeezing your sits bones, and cheeks, apart. A saddle too wide will cut off the blood flow to your legs and inhibit a full pedal stroke at the Gluteus Maximus muscle, which is a common trigger for numbness, soreness and other pain. So we have our shape and size “picked out.”
Now we look for how much padding we want. The longer you sit on a saddle, the harder you want that saddle to be. My Honey can attest to this one. He completed his first century ride on a “Super Soft” saddle with inches of fluffy padding. Afterward, he couldn’t feel three of his toes for over a week. What happens when you have all that padding is it actually spreads the contact zone area. The area applying pressure to your tush increases and you end up with more soreness, not less. That much padding also moves around as you ride, causing changes in your riding position and chaffing. It pushes all your soft tissue around and starts cutting off circulation and pinches nerves. A saddle with less padding offers far more support for your sits bones, allowing free blood flow and full movement. There is nothing getting in the way of your nerves or your muscles.
Some saddles offer what we call “cut-outs.” These relieve pressure around soft tissue altogether. This is awesome if you have a body that fits that type of saddle! There are different sizes and shapes of the cut-outs as well, so it adds a layer to the fitting of a saddle. It also adds more edges to a saddle and can cause loss of blood flow in those areas as well. This is a great example of a saddle that is designed for comfort, but may not be a cure-all.
All of that said, I can educate you and guide you to a saddle, but it is ultimately up to you to choose. You might have a body that doesn’t follow these guidelines, and that’s okay. You may need to try a couple more saddles to pinpoint the best fit. Your feedback after trying each saddle is very valuable to us. When you are riding, it is good to pay attention to what bothers you and in what position and under what circumstances. The more descriptive you can be, the better. We can use that kind of feedback to find a better suited saddle for your own fancy bottom. Again, I have heard it all. Please don’t hesitate to stop in the store to talk to me, or anyone else here, for advice. It’s good to be good to your body. Happy butts make happy riding!