The beauty of the age of consumerism is that there are so many options and styles and materials for saddles these days that finding the most comfortable saddle in the world ever isn’t as hard as it used to be.
Finding the most comfortable saddle today is about knowing your anatomy, your limitations, and ultimately making a choice.
Let’s talk about the construction of a saddle. First you have the shell. This is the hard platform that gives the seat structure and stability. There are many different styles and designs along with many different materials that are used. Most often molded plastic is used but even carbon fiber seats are being made and praised for their rigid yet light weight construction.
Leather saddles do not have a shell bust instead rely on thick leather stretched between the front and rear parts of the rails.
Padding is stretched over and conforms to the shape of the shell. Here companies may use plastic foam, plastic gel, silicon, or any other number of synthetics that are soft enough to absorb impact yet strong enough to keep their shape, at least for a year.
Next comes the cover; this piece stretches over the padding and pulls the whole saddle together. It is made from materials that aren’t going to break down from friction adjustments. It is often spandex, fake leather, or other forms of plastic. Some higher end saddles may reinforce the stitching with Aramid (Kevlar) to improve the life of the saddle and protect it from the friction of the rider better.
Lastly comes the rails. Rails are what connect the saddle to the bike. Rails can be made of carbon fiber, steel, aluminum, manganese, and a few other materials. They are fastened to the seatpost and can be adjusted for or aft to find a seamless fit between the rider and the bike.
Anatomy and Points of Contact
The bike saddle bears the most of the rider’s weight among the three points of contact: being the handlebars, the pedals and the seat. At any time 40% to 80% of the rider’s body weight could be supported by the seat. We are now going to talk about some material that may be considered taboo or unimportant in some circles. It has to do with anatomy whether you are 300 lbs or whether you are 90 lbs you need to be comfortable making saddle decisions that will keep you in good health.
Much research has been done concerning cycling and reproductive health. With most of your weight coming down on the crotch region for men and women there is a concern that continual pressure on soft tissue areas can damage nerve endings and blood vessels thus affecting your sexual performance.
For men, this area is the called the perineum and for women, it is called many things but the industry term I have heard used most is “soft tissue.” Finding a saddle that best fits you and is comfortable is going to keep you on the bike and smiling longer.
If you find that you are experiencing numbness or tingling at the end of ride this is not a good sign. Numbness is a sign of nerve endings losing feeling from too much pressure and tingling is the sensation for when blood is rushing back into an area of the body. Your weight is meant to be carried on your “sit bones” and there the ride is much more comfortable. The more comfortable you are, the more miles you can put on the bike and the more smiles you have while doing it.
There are many different designs for all styles of riding. If your reproductive health is of any concern to you, try a no nose saddle. This design works well for commuting short distances and some mountain biking. It basically shifts the rider’s weight back over the pelvic bones and uses two pads over the butt to support the weight. Personally I do not enjoy this style of saddle, it creates too much friction on the down pedal stroke and I felt that I was unable to maximize my efficiency when riding.
With enough research you will be able to find a saddle that fits your needs in this department. Alternatively most road specific saddles are now made with a Perineal groove or recess. A groove or long narrow hole has been cut into the shell and padding of the saddle without removing the entire nose. These seats offer a sleek road design with minimal friction for efficient pedaling and offer plenty of relief on the soft tissue.
If road riding efficiency isn’t your game then perhaps try a much wider seat. Here the weight will be transferred back over your pelvis but it won’t be very efficient for riding fast. Most wide saddles accompany bikes that are made for cruising.
WTB makes particularly comfortable and well priced saddles in my opinion.
Something else to consider is the position of your current saddle and the way your bike fits you. You could go out and pay for $600 professional fitting or you could follow these simple tips.
Everyone’s anatomy is different so what may work for your hot shot full aero buddy may not work for you. Having a bike that is your size and fitted to you is just as important as the material and type of seat you have. A bike that has a top tube that is too long may have you leaning too far forward to reach the bars and sitting directly on top of all that soft tissue I mentioned earlier.
A bike that has too short of a tube will push you into an upright position that you may not have intended to be in.
So after doing some test rides and finding the right size bike you can certainly ask the salesman to help fit you or if you bought it used or are bringing out the old garage mascot here are some helpful tips. Whenever I size people for bikes I stand them next to the saddle and position the top of the saddle just above their hip bone by like a few millimeters. This is just a baseline of course it will require some fine tuning.
Next I have them hop on and ride around all the while I am looking for over extension in either leg. I do this by making sure they are making contact on the pedals with the ball of their foot and then looking at the angle of the bend in the knee every revolution they make. If the leg is fully straight then the saddle position is too high. I am looking for the sweet spot that as the knee bends it doesn’t cross vertically over the top of the foot.
Obviously there are much more complex ways to measure this and this is why professional fittings can be hundreds of dollars. From here we can adjust the seat in the fore or aft position on the rails. This is a minor adjustment where we are really just trying to find those “sit bones”. Too far back and the rider is crushing that soft tissue and too far forward the rider will clipping the side of the seat with every revolution.
Once we find that adjustment we can mess around with the tilt of the saddle however common practice says that we don’t alter it much more than 3 degrees in either direction. I prefer to keep mine level. Too tilted down and the rider slides off, too tilted up and the rider is pulling the soft tissue directly into the saddle every revolution.
So in closing, it is always more than just the saddle however there are plenty of designs to pick your fancy. Listen to your rider friends and try some things out for yourself. Replace that old saddle every 2 years or so depending on how much you ride. Make sure you are fitted properly on your bike and sitting on those “sit bones” before you start complaining that it is all the saddle’s fault.
Look into a no nose saddle or a saddle with a Perineum groove to give some relief to all that soft tissue in between your legs. I personally have a road saddle with the cutout. I have never had any problems with numbness or tingling and that I think is mostly due to the proper saddle position and where I carry my weight.