Sores, lesions, cuts, pinching, boils. No, I’m not talking about a pair of ill-fitting heels that you wore to dance the night away. I’m talking about your saddle. These five ailments yield a visceral shudder, they’re not foreign to women who’ve spent any considerable time in the saddle. And while it may seem like no one ever complains about saddle pain, if you spend a few minutes with a group of brutally candid women, you’ll hear all of the nitty-gritty-details.
Sure, with years and years of riding under your belt, you might declare that you have a bum of steel, But I ask, is that what you really want? Have you been reduced to permanent callouses and numbed nerve endings? If you have, then maybe it’s time to find the ever elusive “perfect saddle.”
There are a few key rules to look for when fitting a saddle. And while they’re are not set in stone, if you understand the logic behind them, your chances of finding the right saddle increase exponentially. I’ve broken fit down into a few categories: Width, shape, firmness, and relief.
Your bike saddle is meant to support you. More specifically, it’s meant to support your ischial tuberosity, or as they’re more commonly known, the sit bones. Most of the tissue surrounding your sit bones is muscle and fat, whereas the area between the sit bones is comprised of nerves and blood vessels. By placing your body weight on the sit bones, you position your pressure away from the nerves and blood vessels, greatly reducing discomfort. Saddles feature a wider portion, the paddle, which is designed to support your skeleton. But how do you know what width is optimal? Don’t let outward appearances be deceiving—body type doesn’t indicate the width of your sit bones. There are a few ways to determine sit bone width in the privacy of your home. First, get a piece of corrugated cardboard, florist foam, or a very close friend with a tape measure.
By sitting on the material over a firm surface, you’ll notice two small indentations where your sit bones come in contact with the surface. Measure the distance, center-to-center, in millimeters. Next, you’ll want to find a saddle with a width that complements your measurements. It’s important to note, though, that you should be looking at the width between the highest points of the paddle. Generally, you want about a centimeter of saddle on either side of your sit bones. And yes, saddles do come in varying widths. The Selle Italia SLR Lady Flow measures 131mm, for example, while the Fi’zi:k Arione Donna measures 147mm.
Look at the side-to-side curvature from the back of the saddle. If the saddle features an exaggerated curve, even with the correct width, you may feel excess pressure on the soft tissue between the sit bones. Too much pressure, and it’ll effectively negate proper width. If any amount of pressure on your soft tissue bothers you, look for a concaved saddle. Or, like the Selle Italia SLR Lady Flow, look for one that has a notch between the paddles.
A very common misconception among riders is that a highly padded saddle is more comfortable. If you’ve spent any time in a spin class, you’ll hear the exclamation, “I need more padding!” uttered quite frequently. However, nothing is further from the truth. In fact, more padding equates to more chafing, which results in more saddle sores. Why? Because even though padding is soft and cushy, it’s certainly not supportive. As a result, you slip and slide around. Think of it like wearing a pair of ill-fitting socks in hiking boots, of course you’re going to get blisters. This is why you need to choose a firm saddle.
This doesn’t mean that you need to buy the bare carbon model, but steer clear of soft gel covers. If you do want a little padding, though, look for inserts that are firm and supportive, like on the Selle Italia Diva Gel Flow. Remember, though, if you sink into the gel too much, soft tissue chafing will occur. Remember that the saddle is there to support you.
A saddle supports your sit bones, while relieving the pressure between them. But if you’ve spent any time contorting around the bars, you know that pressure from the nose of the saddle is every bit as excruciating. Luckily, there are several solutions. Look for a saddle, like the Fi’zi:k Arione Donna, that features a deep channel-cut along the length of the saddle. There are also designs, like the Selle Italia Flow saddles, that feature cutouts of differing widths and lengths. When you roll your hips forward, your soft tissue will settle into the cutout or channel, which will ultimately reduce pressure. However, this is a very personal choice, as some women feel added pressure from a cutout verses a channel.
Ultimately, if you pass on preconceptions that a highly padded, super wide saddle represents the embodiment of comfort, and look at your individual anatomy as the only markers for personal comfort, you’ll find the perfect saddle.