How to find the perfect saddle
I am a firm believer that a cyclist shouldn’t have to suffer saddle discomfort. Far too many people accept saddle discomfort as an inevitable part of cycling. They put up with it and hope that they will ‘toughen up’ over time. At best this approach leads to a reduction in the joy of cycling and at worst to permanent damage to bits you really don’t want damaged. I believe it is possible for the vast majority of cyclists – or perhaps even all cyclists? – to find their perfect saddle.
Finding the perfect saddle
So how should one go about finding the perfect saddle? Many saddle manufacturers have a ‘system’ for identifying which of their saddles suits a particular rider. Some use the width between the ‘sit bones’. Others use trouser size. One is based on a rider’s flexibility. Some of these systems are more useful than others but at best they identify saddles worthy of consideration. None of them has anything close to a 100% hit rate!
I think by far the best way to find your perfect saddle is to sit on it. And furthermore, sit on it in the position you assume on the bike. (Radical approach I know but stick with me here – I think I might be on to something.) Obviously this approach means that you are going to sit on quite a few saddles unless you are lucky enough to find the one straight off. So how do you do this?
Well you could buy promising saddles and trial them for a few weeks, but this gets expensive fast!
Or you could take your bike along with you on your search and get the bike shop to swap out the saddles. That’s assuming you can find a shop that’s willing to spend the (considerable amount of) time required to detach, reattach and adjust multiple saddles on the off chance you might happen to find the perfect saddle and buy it.
Alternatively you could get a bike fit at Winning Position and discover just how much having the right equipment improves the process of trialling saddles.
Here at Winning Position we use the Bikefit SwitchIt, a contraption that allows the saddle to be swapped out in just a few seconds. The rider lifts their bottom from the saddle and, with the flick of a lever, the saddle can be changed or, with the turn of a dial, the saddle angle can be adjusted. It is such a quick process that it’s possible to try heaps of saddles in one session, even the ones that you are sure would never work. (You would be surprised how often the perfect saddle is at first dismissed because it doesn’t fit some pre-conceived notion of what might suit.)
The perfect saddle in the wrong position can be as bad or worse than the wrong saddle in the perfect position. (More on this later.) At Winning Position I combine the SwitchIt with a dynamic fit bike so that, not only can we swap the saddle in record time, but we can also adjust the position in seconds. The changes required to maintain a given position with different saddles can be substantial. Where the rider sits on a saddle relative to the saddle rails can change their position relative to the bottom bracket by up to five centimetres – something that can be accommodated on the fit bike with a minimum of fuss.
It’s my experience that this process can very quickly rule out the saddles that just won’t work. It also identifies the one(s) that warrant further investigation. Sometimes it’s love at first sit but most of the time it’s not until a rider has spent some time on a saddle that they know it’s the one for them. That’s why we have a saddle return policy at Winning Position. Buy a saddle, try it for up to 28 days and, if it is not your perfect saddle, return it for a refund less a modest restocking fee (which is waived if you end up purchasing a different saddle from us).
But whatever you do, don’t put up with saddle discomfort – keep searching until you find your perfect saddle! (And your perfect fit.)
I’ll finish up with a couple of observations…
Position, position, position
As noted above, any discomfort you are suffering might not be the fault of the saddle but rather the result of a bad position on the bike. A saddle that’s too high can cause rocking on the saddle which in turn can lead to chafing and saddle sores. Also a high saddle can put pressure in places that pressure was never meant to be. A position that’s too upright can put too much weight in all the wrong places. The wrong saddle angle can push the nose into sensitive parts or have you sliding too far forward. Sitting on the wrong part of the saddle can lead to chafing and/or a lack of support. The list goes on…
It doesn’t matter what your perfect saddle looks like. Nor does it matter how much it weighs. Nor should you care what style of cycling the marketing says the saddle suits. What matters is that a saddle provides comfort and support, allowing you to pursue your cycling goals. If your perfect saddle perfectly matches your sense of aesthetics and is feather light then great! But nobody sees your saddle when you’re sitting on it and you won’t go fast up hill (or anywhere else) if you are off the bike with saddle sores. So use what works for you. Even if it looks funny, weighs more than you would like or means you have a ‘race’ saddle on a touring bike.
Get ‘em while they’re hot
Saddles have a tendency to go out of manufacture quite quickly. There are a few models that have been around for a long time but even these tend to undergo subtle, and not so subtle, changes over time. So when you find your prefect saddle I suggest you consider buying a spare or two. Or at the very least keep an eye out just in case your chosen saddle is discontinued and you need to snap up some close out specials.