Saddle discomfort is a common problem for cyclists and can really ruin the experience of riding. Bikes come with a stock saddle but this may not be suitable for everyone, which is why saddles are often changed for a different model. Saddle recommendations is a question that comes up time and time again, particularly now that we are all spending more time on the turbo trainer during lockdown.
There are tons of saddles on the market and finding the perfect one takes some trial and error. It’s very subjective and there isn’t one solution which works for everyone. There are several factors which influence finding the perfect saddle: your gender, the type of riding you are doing, your flexibility, core strength, sit bone width, and your soft tissue anatomy.
Both men and women struggle with saddle discomfort, but because of women’s sexual anatomy, it can be more challenging to find the perfect cycling saddle. Inflammation and soreness of the labia is unfortunately very common (and painful) for female cyclists. Cobb have a useful article on identifying when you are an ‘innie’ or ‘outie’ and then choosing the appropriate saddle. Specialized have also done a lot of work in designing the perfect female-specific saddle- I hear good things about their MIMIC technology.
Get a bike fit to avoid saddle discomfort
Getting a professional bike fit will ensure you are in the most comfortable and efficient riding position, with your weight distributed evenly across the saddle, handlebars and pedals. Some bike fits include technology to map pressure on the saddle and measure your sit bones to find the most appropriate option.
The bike fitter should also carry out an anatomical assessment to see if the issues are being caused by leg length discrepancy, a lack of flexibility or muscle imbalances.
The discomfort might not be because of the saddle, but rather the result of the positioning. A saddle that is tilted up or down, or positioned too high or low can cause rocking or pressure which leads to discomfort. During a fitting session, your ideal saddle position is calculated to the millimetre.
Most bike fitters will have a range of different saddles which you can test during the session and borrow to ride outside. I had a Retul bike fit in 2016, and tried 3 different saddles before settling on the Cobb V-Flow which I took away to test.
The best way to find the perfect saddle is to test ride several different options, so speak to friends and clubmates to see if they have a preferred saddle which you can try.
What to consider when trying to find the perfect cycling saddle
During this period of lockdown, it’s not possible to get a bike fit, so if the discomfort is unbearable you might want to research some potential saddle options. Here’s what to consider:
Width- A saddle’s width is measured from edge to edge across the top of the saddle at the widest point. It should be wide enough to support your sit bones (ischial tuberosities), which vary from person to person, particularly in females. A saddle that’s too wide can cause saddle sores, whereas a saddle that’s too narrow will mean that the sit bones are not supported by the padded areas. Some bike shops are able to measure your sit bones, otherwise, you can do it yourself using this guide.
Length- As well as the width, saddles vary in length. Shorter noses tale the pressure off soft tissue when you reach lower and forwards. Some saddles have split noses, which again is designed to relieve pressure on the soft tissues.
Padding– generally saddles which are very cushioned are used for recreational cycling, whereas road bikes have firmer saddles. You might think that a soft, cushioned saddle will be more comfortable, but sometimes they can cause more pressure as the padding distributes itself under your weight. Padding can be made from gel which molds to the body, or foam which is more supportive.
Cut-outs- Some saddles have a channel or cut-out in the centre to relieve pressure on soft tissue areas. Again this is a personal preference, as some riders find that they prefer a cut-out whereas others need more soft tissue support.
My preferred saddle
The saddle which I’ve found works best for me, is the Cobb V-Flow, however this has now been rebranded as the Delta V. Cobb saddles are not easily available outside of the USA, so I’m scouring eBay for another one for my second bike. I’m also currently test riding a Cobb SHC to see if that works as an alternative.
More tips to improve your comfort in the saddle
- Wear cycling shorts with a padded chamois. Again chamois pads in shorts come in different sizes, shapes and thicknesses.
- Use chamois cream to reduce rubbing and chaffing.
- Stand up out of the saddle every 10-15 minutes to give yourself a break from the pressure, even if only for 10-15 seconds.
Have you been able to find the perfect cycling saddle?