The saddle is the part of your bike you’ll have the most intimate relationship with, so the two of you need to get along well. No matter what sort of cycling you do, soft tissue pain is not normal. If you suffer, you might need a different saddle.
There are men’s and women’s, racing, touring and recreational saddles. How do you choose? Gender, the type of cycling you do, and your riding position will determine what kind of saddle will suit best.
Let’s start with riding position. If you ride in an upright position on a mountain or hybrid bike, your saddle will be taking a fair bit of your weight. So you might need a seat with a fair bit of padding. The more you lean forward, the more your hands and feet take their share of your weight. So you’re likely to find a seat with less padding is still comfortable.
It may be stating the obvious, but everyone is different. There’s the obvious distinction between men and women. Because women generally have wider pelvic bones than men, women’s saddles have wider “cheeks”. They also tend to have a shorter nose. Regardless, some men find a “woman’s” saddle just the ticket and vice versa. That’s why it’s hard to generalise. Cut-away saddles – for men and women – have become very popular in the last few years. They suit many people; others find them painful.
The best way to choose a saddle is to try a few on your bike. See if your bike shop will let you test ride a saddle before you buy it.
If you find yourself drawn to the gel or sheep skin covers in your bike shop, there could be another reason for your continued discomfort. The softer your saddle the more you’ll sink into it, which just places more pressure on those soft tissues you’re trying to protect. It could be that your bike is just not set up for you properly.
The best saddle in the world will still feel wrong if it’s in the wrong position. It must be level, and set at the right height and the right distance behind the bottom bracket (the axle of your pedals). Tilting your saddle forward slightly if you’re experiencing discomfort only creates other problems because you’re sliding forward on your saddle.
When you settle on the right saddle, ask your bike shop to check your set up too.
See you on the road soon, God willing. Eddie Barkla
First published in the Bendigo Weekly Friday 3 November 2006