21 February, 2017

How to Choose a Comfortable Bike Saddle, For Reals – The Key To Finding A Pain Free Bicycle Seat Shape

Tips for Finding The Most Comfortable Saddle For You

Disclosure: This article may link to affiliate sites/feature complimentary products for review purposes.

If you’ve been searching for a comfortable saddle, or worried about bike seat pain, this is 2nd in a 3-part series on how to truly find the right bike saddle for you. You might want to catch our first article that details some reasons you might be experiencing discomfort with the model you currently have. Done that? Still hurts? K. Cool. More tips!

Figure Out What Saddle Features You Hate

Let’s face it. We’re all different. What works for 14 random people on a cycling forum may or may not work for you. So, first, it’s important to take stock of what you don’t like. Take a ride around on your current saddle, and note the areas you’re feeling the most pain.

  1. Where is the pressure?
  2. Do you feel like you’re in serious pain, or is it just discomfort?
  3. Have you been getting saddle sores? If so, where?
  4. Are you feeling pain or badly chafing your thighs?

OK, embarrassing questions. It’s cool, though. You can keep your answers on a secret piece of paper and then burn it once you’re done. But knowing what’s hurting and what isn’t will seriously aid your search for the perfect bike seat. Assuming you’ve done all the things suggested in our first article, you can get plenty of information for your next purchase just based on what you hate about your current saddle.

What Does The Pain Mean?

First off, if you’re experiencing weird pain, you should definitely see a doctor. I’m no doctor. I don’t pretend to be a doctor. See your doctor. Disclaimers aside, here are a few keys to finding the right saddle shape for you, based on what’s hurting and what isn’t:

Front Saddle Pain:

The Brooks’ Cambium arrives all broken in with a classic shape and flat top

This is generally (not always) caused by a tilted saddle, but it can also be the length and width of the nose. If you adjust the tilt slightly down, you may notice the pain go away–though it may cause other issues. If you’re experiencing pain here, you might try a seat with a nose that hooks downward or a shorter saddle all together. If you’re finding your thighs chafing against the sides of the saddle’s nose, it’s likely too wide. Think narrower.

Mid-Saddle Pain:

The Fi’zi:k Antares with a center channel and narrow back

Pain in the soft tissue areas? Yah, that sucks. You probably need a channel or a cutout to help alleviate the pressure. If you feel mild discomfort when you’re riding, a channel will likely help that without giving up all forms of support.

If you’re past the point of discomfort, a full cut-out is probably the way to go. This sometimes has a lot to do with how aggressive your position on the bike is, which may also answer the question between needing a full cutout or just a channel–more aggressive generally means more cutout.

To complicate the issue, some riders find that pushing their saddle very slightly off-center to the right or left helps to alleviate mid-saddle pain by helping to better support soft tissue.

Rear Saddle Pain

Selle Italia Flite Saddle with a notch and a channel

If you’ve got the right shorts, remembered to stand up on your bike every few miles, and have put in plenty of rides, rear saddle pain might be caused by a few things. First off, you’ll want to make sure that the width of the seat is right for you by measuring your “sit-bones.”

These are those bony bumps that make the deepest depression in your sofa cushions, and, strangely, that’s how they’re often measured. Not on your couch, but on an industry recognized “butt-o-meter” that you sit on and it offers you your size in millimeters.

How To Find Your Sit Bone Measurement

You can actually do this yourself. I give credit to one of my riding buddies, Steve, for this idea, and it’s seriously brilliant.

Basically, you sit on a piece of thick, corrugated cardboard. Put your feet up on an ottoman or something to give yourself a good imprint. Next, get up and grab a piece of chalk and rub it across the place where you sat. You’ll just need to measure the distance between the two impressions evident in the chalk and add about 30 mm to that number. Boom, you’ve got your sit bone distance. Use this to choose a saddle width.

Choosing the right width should also help with irritation at the thighs–add a feature like flex-wings to allow for more freedom of movement. Finally, you might also look for a channel that runs all the way through the back of the saddle, or one with a notched cutout.

Get The Right Saddle for You

comfortable bike Saddle
by Gary J. Wood

OK, you’ve eliminated shapes and features that are lame. You’ve got your list of what will likely work. So what next? Buy a pretty one on sale? Maybe. But first, I definitely recommend checking with your LBS to see if they have a test saddle program.

Often, for a small deposit, they’ll let you try out a bike seat for a week or two. If you don’t like that one, swap it to test another one until you find your favorite. It’s like a checklist for how awesome you are at knowing yourself.

Barring that, check this out, I’ve got a few choices for you of saddles that are serious winners for just about every rider. Oh, and, hey, don’t forget to let us know what you hate or love about your saddle. Comment below or send us a message!

About Bek 285 Articles
SLO Cyclist's chief editor and recovering road snob, Bek makes sure everything runs smoothly around here. She's also the one who reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously--unless it involves black socks. Black socks are always serious.

2 Comments

  1. What do you think of Fizik’s saddle fit system – narrower saddles for more flexible riders who lean more forward when they ride?

    • Hey Kylee! Great question. In my experience, the fit system–bulls, snakes, chameleons–does help to guide you into a certain direction, but it’s definitely not a magic bullet. I, for instance, can’t handle the saddle F’iz:ik recommends for me without pain. It’s still a matter of getting whatever tweaked version fits you right. So, if you’re a snake and they steer you toward the Arione, you might try the Arione with a channel, etc.

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