How much thought do you give your bicycle seat, also known as your saddle? Little, if any? Well, you might want to start paying closer attention. A bike saddle supports more than half of a cyclist’s weight. And because everyone’s bone structure is different, this rather sensitive contact area requires a personal fit. In fact, an ill-fitting or improperly-adjusted saddle can cause numbness, incontinence, impotence and prostatitis among other side-effects.
Choosing the proper saddle is not unlike shopping for a pair of shoes—you’ll need to try it before you buy it to determine whether it’s the right fit. While there are a plethora of perches for your posterior, how are you supposed to know which one is right for you? Stella Yu, president of saddle designer and manufacturer Velo Enterprise Co., Ltd., offers up some advice.
"Every saddle is created for a specific type of cycling and cyclist with unique shapes and designs to fit every need," she explained.
For example, saddles for the recreational cyclist tend to be broader, providing greater cushioned comfort in a traditional sense, while performance and competition saddles emphasize high-tech comfort, meaning materials and saddle construction are optimized for weight, aerodynamics and comfortable support over the long haul.
“Each mountain bike saddle has its own unique features. To choose a suitable saddle, you need to consider a number of things, like what type of roads you’ll be riding, how old you are, how fast you want to ride and what special requirements you have for various disciplines like Freestyle, Dirt or Slope,” said Yu. “After evaluating these variables with a knowledgeable bike dealer, you’ll be able to choose the appropriate shape, firmness, resilience, cushioning and materials for your needs.”
Have an expert help you set up your saddle properly the first time around and let them know if you experience discomfort or early fatigue when riding. Improperly-positioned saddles can cause discomfort over the short- or long-term and sabotage performance and function. Numbness and discomfort are signs of an ill-chosen saddle, poor saddle positioning or both.
“Sitting on a saddle for longer periods of time can cause nerves to compress, especially when the ischial tuberosities isn’t properly supported. Bike shops and dealers are professionally trained to advise you in this area, so it is good to consult them early on with such problems to avoid lasting effects,” she said, noting that Velo is also more than happy to help out with some suggestions when a cyclist contacts the company.
You’ll want to select your saddle according to your riding abilities. For instance, advanced riders usually select a saddle for its support qualities to enhance performance, while beginners often prefer added comfort and additional suspension.
“More experienced mountain bikers and BMX riders should consider selecting a streamlined saddle with strategic padding and a high-quality suspension system specially designed to take heavy pounding and enable movement,” said Yu.
The important factors in choosing a saddle are what type of rider you are, and how you use your saddle: Endurance cyclists experience better support, relieving the Ischia nerve and minimizing chafing, with a minimum of padding. Less ambitious recreational riders appreciate increased padding, when riding shorter distances. Seek professional advice from bike shops with individual service and personnel trained in cycling ergonomics.
Try It Before You Buy It
So, what is the best way to test a saddle before buying? First off, you need to physically hold the saddle in your hands to get a feel for its lightness, resiliency and comfort. In addition, attaining professional advice from a reliable dealer regarding form, length and width for your body type, as well as actually testing the products, is the recommended second step, advised Yu.
“Testing the saddle under real conditions is certainly the best way to decide if the saddle is right for you or not. If you only try out the saddle in a limited testing situation, you won’t get the actual feel of the saddle in the long run,” she explained.
Replace When Necessary
Generally speaking, a good saddle should not need replacing under 5,000 riding miles (8,000 km) unless damaged by external force, noted Yu. On the other hand, if riders rely on one bike for various types of cycling, they should consider having different saddles for each riding purpose.
A good saddle is durable and, even after a long time, it will still be fully functional and offer consistent performance. However, after 5,000 riding miles (8,000 km), even a good saddle may show wear on the cover or cushioning. Of course, a saddle should always be checked after collision or other extreme external force.