Saddle up! The perfect saddle for you and your bike
Astonishingly, 100 years of bicycle history have not produced the “one” perfect saddle shape. The bicycle saddle is the most important of the three contact points between the body and the bicycle: it supports sixty to ninety percent of your weight, depending on your posture. Every unevenness on the ground has a direct effect on the buttocks and back – so an unsuitable saddle can hurt in the long run and also lead to numbness and back problems. But there’s no “one” saddle that suits everyone: each cyclist has their own individual requirements and area of use that define the perfect bicycle saddle for them. So how can you find the ideal saddle for you and your bike?
The best saddle for your bike depends on your riding style and position
Generally speaking, a good bicycle saddle is chosen based on your bike type, your weight and your riding style. Also take into consideration your seat bone distance, the right shape, padding and material to improve the riding experience. Seem like a lot? Start narrowing down the options by looking at the riding style:
- Are you an ambitious road cyclist who chases kilometres and collects mountain passes?
- Are you interested in trekking or are you tempted by longer distances away from paved roads?
- Do you like to ride your mountain bike uphill and downhill?
- Or do you tend to cover shorter distances in the city and use your bike for shopping and visiting friends?
- ...upright, like on a comfort-oriented bike (Dutch bike or city cruiser)?
- ...somewhat bent forward on an MTB, trekking or sporty city bike?
- ...in an athletic position, stretched forward like on a road, gravel or triathlon bike?
Sporty saddles tend to have a narrower shape, while comfort models usually have a wider seat. However, just the shape of a saddle says nothing about its comfort level. As a rule, a saddle shape is only optimal for you if it takes your physical characteristics into account. You should therefore factor in your individual seat bone distance when choosing a model.
Saddle width and sit bone distance
A term you should know when you’re talking about the point of contact between the pelvis and the bicycle saddle is “sit bones”. The sitting bones are the bony arches on the right and left sides of the lower pelvis on which the body rests when sitting. They don’t hurt to sit on, even when under high stress, because most of us don’t experience pressure sensitivity at these two points. That’s why it’s best to have sixty to ninety percent of your weight resting on these sit bones while you cycle, and not on the pain-sensitive tissue or muscles around them.
The sit bones are usually about 10 to 15 centimetres apart. This spacing is another important component for finding the perfect saddle for your bike. If the width and shape of the saddle correspond with the distance between your sitting bones, it relieves the perineal area and avoids numbness. Many saddle manufacturers therefore offer their saddles in different sizes (such as S, M, L) or put a "Max" in the name to indicate the sitting bone spacing.
You can easily measure your sit bone distance yourself: sit on a piece of corrugated cardboard with a bit of pressure, then you will see the imprints of your sitting bones relatively clearly as indentations. Draw a circle around the outer edges of these impressions and mark the centre of the circle as a dot. You can then use a ruler to measure the exact distance between the two points and determine your individual sit bone distance.
The contact surface of the sit bones is also important for the correct saddle width. With an athletic posture, the pressure shifts from the sit bones forward to the pubic bones. These converge at the pubic arch. Therefore, in very athletic positions, the pubic branches and bones should also be relieved. This is especially true for women, as their pubic arch is lower and can press on the saddle nose. As a rule: the more athletic the posture, the narrower the saddle should be.
However, a saddle that is too narrow on a bicycle puts additional strain inwards on the pubic arch, where nerves and muscles are also located. Therefore, when in doubt it is better to choose a bicycle saddle that is a little too wide than too narrow.
Men's and women's saddles – the ergonomics of the bicycle saddle
Men and women differ in their anatomy, that's clear. In terms of the pelvis, however, the only important aspect is what touches the bicycle saddle, in other words, the distance between the sit bones. Women usually have a greater distance than men. Nowadays, manufacturers are incorporating these findings into the basic saddle design, resulting in developments such as the divided seat area. The two sides of the saddle, as seen with FI'ZI:K's WingFlex technology, follow the pelvic movement when pedalling and prevent blockages in the sacroiliac joint. The goal is to recreate the natural pelvic movement when walking and thus prevent tension. This in turn provides relief for intervertebral discs and joints. Also, the so-called V-Cut, a V-shaped cut in the rear saddle area, allows for better flexibility of the saddle and more comfort on the bike.
The structure of the bicycle saddle: relief openings and step saddle
Relief for the perineal area is often achieved with a depression in the middle, a so-called relief channel or even a relief opening. This ultimately serves to avoid pressure on the sensitive soft tissues and organs, as well as to increase comfort. However, if the bicycle saddle does not fit well, the result can be numbness and sitting discomfort.
From leather to high-tech: materials for the bicycle saddle
These days, manufacturers rely on a variety of materials for the ideal saddle construction, cover, and saddle frame. Many saddles for bicycles are equipped with a gel filling, and some saddles buffer shocks with elastomer parts that can be chosen based on the body weight.
Depending on the type and use of the bicycle, saddles can be further optimised:
- The comfort saddle is equipped with materials such as gel and foam for padding. Leather is used as an outer material in very high-quality saddles because it is breathable, hard-wearing, and comfortable. Stylish leather saddles are available for almost every purpose in different shapes and designs.
- Manufacturers also equip trekking or touring saddles with thicker or more durable padding in different hardness levels, such as the gel padding on the TERRY FISIO GTC GEL MAX MEN TOURING COMFORT saddle.
- Saddles for ambitious MTB and E-MTB riders are available with reinforced side flanks, using materials such as Kevlar.
- With road bike saddles, the focus is not only on the fit but also on lightweight frames and materials. Lightweight carbon saddles and titanium saddle frames further reduce weight. Alloys reduce weight while maintaining good firmness. In the case of saddle frames made of "Manganese", the struts are not solid, but consist of tubes – highly stable due to a steel-manganese alloy.
- Triathletes often sit very far forward and bent over the saddle of their bike, which is why, for example, ISM's triathlon saddle range is built with special consideration for the genital area through the use of shorter saddle noses with padding.
Is a softer bike saddle more comfortable?
Comfort isn’t the same as softness: very soft saddles are really only recommended for short distances. With these types of bicycle saddles, the sit bones sink so far into the saddle pad that after a certain amount of riding time the nerves and muscles in that area come under pressure – and that hurts!
The perfect fit
One thing is clear: a saddle should not hurt. You should never accept pain and numbness, though the sit bones can get used to pressure in the long run. But don't worry if you briefly feel pain on your bike at the beginning of the season or when you get a new saddle. You usually have to ride in a new saddle up to five times before you get used to it. Then a well-chosen bicycle saddle should be more comfortable and fun, while also improving your performance. You’ll ride better when you’re relaxed on the pedals and your body can ergonomically convert its power into propulsion.