Having your bum go numb on your bike is frustrating. Your legs are willing to go, but you just can’t, er, stand to sit any longer. I’m hoping to complete a triathlon next summer, so I’m spending a lot of time on my bike now in order to become comfortable with cycling. While my mind and legs are getting used to being on two wheels, my behind is not.
I know someone who is training for an Ironman. She went on a 4-hour ride the other day. Four hours in a bike seat?! But, according to Selene Yeager in her book Every Woman’s Guide to Cycling, a good bicycle seat can be as comfy as an easy chair.
Finding the right bicycle saddle is about trial and error. Some bike shops even let you take a bike seat home to try for a certain period of time.
Here are a few things about bike seats and what you should know to choose the best one for you:
Bike Seat Shapes & Cutouts
There are many shapes of bike saddles. An article in Bicycling magazine describes the general differences between bike seat shapes for men and women: “The ischial tuberosities, or sit bones, of females are generally more widely spaced than those of males – hence women-specific saddles are wider.” The article, “How to Choose A Saddle,” says this about choosing one “…a sweat that’s too wide will chafe and rub, while one that’s too narrow will make you feel like you’re straddling a banister.”
Some bike saddles have cutouts to help relieve pressure on the perineum, which helps, but the goal for cyclists is to try to sit back and put most of their weight on their sit bones, says Matt Russ, an elite coach, in the article “Selecting the Right Bicycle Saddle,” on BeginnerTriathlete.com. “In my experience, once acclimated, some of the most comfortable saddles have very little padding,” he says. “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.”
Surprisingly, or not, saddle position can make or break your ride. Coach Russ says if you’re sliding forward, the seat may be titled 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.” Place a level on the seat before you adjust it.
Choosing a New Bicycle Saddle
REI, the outdoor retail store specializing in hiking, cycling and running, has a few tips helpful tips in the article “How to Choose a Bike Saddle.” Here are their tips and a short interpretation of each:
- “Don’t get the saddle your friend recommends.” Everyone is shaped differently.
- “Consider the way you ride.” Soft doesn’t mean more comfortable; it depends on the type of riding you’ll be doing. But fit is important. Aggressive riders need aggressive saddles. A groove or cutout will help take pressure off the perineum, the area between the sit bones that can be damaged if you spend too much time on the wrong seat.
- “Don’t ‘kick the tires.’” The best way to test a saddle, is to put it on a bicycle and ride around on it. Most stores will let you test bike seats this way. When testing it, try different positions, go over bumps – really test it out.
- “Check out the rails.” The rails attach the seat to the seat post and they can make a difference in the comfort of your saddle. Most rails are made of chromoly, but more high-performance titanium rails provide a smoother ride overall.
- “Look at the saddle’s construction.” REI says good saddles will feature cover material made of premium or synthetic leather. They will have impact guards on the rear and scuff guards on the side of the seat. The rails will be made of titanium or manganese, and the seat will weigh approximately 400 grams or less.