The School of Saddles
Ride Pain-Free With the Best Saddle for You
The saddle is arguably the most crucial point of contact on a bike, but its importance is often relegated to the back of the pack as we lend our focus and critical decisions to new carbon frames or watt-saving wheelsets. Too often, poor saddle choices lead to discomfort, pain, and one too many saddle purchases in an attempt to find the right one. We’re here to demystify what you need to know to find the right saddle for your anatomy and riding style.
Saddle Design 101
Saddles are designed to support your sit bones—your ischial tuberosities—and, hopefully, relieve pressure on your groin’s soft tissue areas. Unsupported sit bones can lead to reduced blood flow to your soft tissues, possibly resulting in “saddle pain,” numbness, or injury.
The upshot? You can choose a saddle based on your anatomy, that puts your body weight on your bones rather than your softer parts. Thankfully, you can measure the width easily at home.
How to Measure Your Sit Bone Width for a Saddle at Home
Find a flat, hard surface that won’t cave in when you sit down, like a bench or chair. Set down a piece of corrugated cardboard that is wider than your waist. Sit on the cardboard with a slight lean forward—to mimic your cycling position—while the cardboard depresses under your weight. Press down with your toes to lift your heels off the ground to about a 45-degree angle.
Once you think that piece of cardboard is good and compressed, stand up. You should see two indentations in the cardboard. If those indentation centers are easy to eyeball, measure the distance between them. That’s your sit bone width!
If the indentations aren’t easy to see, grab something small and round like two frozen peas, and they’ll roll right into the divots.
Width & Saddle Selection
Once you have your sit bone width measured, we recommend adding 10-30 millimeters to arrive at your ideal saddle width. So, if you measure 100 millimeters, your saddle should be 110-130 millimeters wide.
If your width plus 10-30 millimeters places you at the exact same width of a saddle, size up to the next widest saddle to make sure you’re getting the support you need.
Gender does play a role in the distance measurements, with women and men of similar body proportions differing by about 10-millimeters on average. However, the suggestion to add 10-30 millimeters applies to all riders.
How to Choose the Best Length of Saddle
Now that you’ve got your width dialed in, let’s talk length. Like the 300-millimeter Fizik Arione R1, longer saddles offer tons of room for casual riding, for scooting up on the nose on aggressive efforts, or for positioning towards the rear on endurance climbs.
Shorter saddles, like the 240-millimeter Specialized Sitero Pro, offer less room fore and aft and focus your seating area to a compact zone. Shorter saddles work well if your body position doesn’t often vary during a ride, i.e., on a triathlon.
Most riders find a mid-length saddle, like the 270-millimeter Specialized Romin Evo, works well, as there is room to maneuver without adding a bunch of unused space.
Which Wings Are For You
If you look straight down at a saddle, the wings make up the main body’s width, where you’ll sit the most. Their shape plays a significant role in comfort, whether you’re relaxed or mashing hard on the pedals.
Flatter wings, like on the Arione R1, offer excellent support and keep your pelvis level while riding to take the pressure off your soft tissues.
Domed saddles, like the Specialized Power Arc Expert, offer improved lateral support and work well in upright road riding and off-road trails.
Increase Comfort With Cut-Outs & Grooves
Cut-outs significantly reduce soft tissue compression, while grooves dampen the road feedback and offer support without high pressure. Grooves may also feature zonal density foam construction to offer soft, cushioned compliance and slow rebounding on rougher roads. The women’ s-focused Specialized Power Pro Saddle with MIMIC is a fine example of this.
In general, larger cut-outs seem to be more favorable for women than narrower ones, and most male riders prefer narrow and wide. Think about how your current saddle feels and chat with an expert Gearhead to make the best choice for you.
A Saddle Material for Every Way You Rail
When it comes to saddle rails, there’s a lot to consider. Where you live, how you ride, and most importantly, what’s your budget?
As durable, low-cost workhorses, it’s hard to argue against the reliable steel or aluminum rail design. Hearty enough for road and trail conditions, these rails can transfer easily from pulling daily tempo miles on the lightweight endurance bike to hucking some drop-ins on the enduro sled. Perhaps their only shortcomings are being prone to rust and packing extra grams compared to other, more premium materials.
As a stronger and lighter weight upgrade, titanium rails up the ante compared to steel and aluminum. Well regarded for their stiffness and support, the elite rails smoothe out rougher road and trail segments with enhanced compliance.
Carbon rails are the cream of the crop and earn their high price tag. The lightest of the bunch, saddles with carbon rails typically register sub-200 grams on the scale for swift ascents on leg-burning climbs and rapid accelerations during full-gas sprints. Carbon rails are also constructed to be extremely stiff and offer a stable and predictable platform under any road or trail condition, year after year, for a surprising level of durability.
How Riding Style Affects Saddle Choice
How you ride on the bike can help you select a saddle as well. With upright cycling, like touring, a saddle that’s 20-30 millimeters wider than your sit bone width offers comfort and support. Aggressive riding positions, like in trial and cross-country, work well with saddles ranging 10-20 millimeters wider than your measurements. Whereas aero positions, like time trial and triathlon, may only need a saddle that’s 10 millimeters wider than your sit bones for ideal support.
Now that you’re a saddle pro, head here to shop for your next saddle or connect with expert Gearheads!