This past Sunday some friends and I set out for a beautiful sixty-mile summer endurance ride. The racing season is starting to wind down and it was great to get out and just do a long ride. We were having a great time…. well most of us were. One friend of mine has been having issues with finding a comfortable saddle and in testing out this latest one she definitely had not found the comfiest seat for a long ride. About forty miles in she seemed to be in great discomfort and felt like the saddle might actually be physically cutting into her skin. Being the strong and positive person that she is, she soldiered on with a “grin and bear it” attitude, but we all knew that nothing is worse than being uncomfortable on the bike.
Whether it’s an issue with your shoes, chamois, saddle, etc., discomfort on the bike can turn what should be a fun day out in the sun, into a miserable count down to the finish. I know several people who have gone through saddle after saddle with no luck in finding “the one.” Finding the correct bike saddle for your body and fit can be one of the toughest things for a cyclist. There is no quick and easy answer as to what saddle is best, so what measures can you take to find the one that works best for you?
First of all, make sure that you get your sit bones measured when you are fit on your bike. If the person fitting you is thorough this should definitely be something they check, this way at least you know that you are trying saddles that are the correct width for your specific anatomy. If the saddle is too wide, it will probably cause chafing and if it is too narrow it will feel equally as uncomfortable in other ways. You almost have to be like Goldilocks; this saddle is too wide, this one is too narrow and this one is just right. My general rule of thumb is that if you feel any little bit of discomfort with the saddle when testing it out in a fit, that problem will, most likely grow exponentially the longer you spend on the thing, so proceed with caution.
Just having the correct width saddle might not mean it is the one that will be most comfortable for you, but it’s a good first step. A large majority of cyclists find a saddle with a cutout in the front to be more comfortable as this helps to shift the pressure slightly back toward your sitting bones. So if your saddle is not working for you and doesn’t have a cutout, this might be an option you want to explore. Your fit may also dictate which saddles may work for you and which ones will not. If you have a more aggressive fit where you weight is shifted more forward on the bike, you may need to worry less about padding in the rear of the saddle than someone who is sitting more upright with their weight shifted more toward the rear of the saddle.
Also more padding does not always mean more comfort in a saddle, sometimes more padding can mean more pressure in areas where you do not want it. If you have a good pair of shorts with a comfortable chamois then that should help to give you the extra padding you need without having to add it to your saddle.
Ask your local bike shop or shops if they have test saddles that you can try and what their return policy is for a saddle. If you are having issues and don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars buying saddles, most shops do have at least a few loaner saddles you can try before investing the money in actually buying it.
If you have gone through many saddles and still can’t seem to find one that works for you then you may want to have someone else check your fit. Sometimes the issue isn’t actually with the saddle, but with the fit on your bike. I have been riding the same saddle on my time trial bike for several years now with no issues. Recently I had my fit adjusted on the bike to make it a bit more “aggressive.” At my next TT, I noticed my chamois was digging into me in a very uncomfortable way. I assumed that it must be that the chamois in my skinsuit was wearing out until I did a training ride on the bike in a different pair of shorts and discovered a similar problem. All of a sudden a lightbulb went on in my head and I realized that the problem had really just started since I had changed the fit on my bike. It doesn’t necessarily mean the fit was done incorrectly, but maybe a saddle change is warranted now to match the more aggressive fit.
Finding the correct saddle is a very individual thing. The saddles that work for men may be different than the saddles that work well for women. The saddle that works great for me may not work for my friend who is having saddle issues. So make sure to get your fit done by someone you trust and ask the bike shop if you can test the saddle for a few rides and possibly exchange it if it doesn’t work. You could even try buying some used saddles on eBay if you want to save yourself some money or you can always resell you reject saddles on there. You want to enjoy riding your bike and being comfortable on the seat that you will be spending thousands upon thousands of miles on is essential to enjoying the ride.