Friday, 26 April 2013

The Saddle - Friend or Enemy?

Friend or Enemy?
The saddle - probably one of the most important features on your bike. It is there to be your friend not your enemy. The reason behind this post, is that it has come to my attention that this is a serious issue. There are a lot of riders out there, including me, who has had the battle of choosing the right saddle. But if you don't know why you need to choose the right one, then you will most probably stick with what you got and that's that. So let's start there - Why is it so important to have the right saddle?

It's a pretty simple answer, so you don't hate cycling at the end of the day. Your saddle is a personal item, just like your shoes, it has to fit right for you. If your saddle is not right, you will end up hating that ride, which was suppose to be amazing but ended up being horrible just because the soft, cushy thing under your bum was wrong. Simple fact of the matter, a wrong saddle equals a horrible ride. 

But let's look more closely at what goes into a saddle decision and which models are better for what type of riding.

These are some key features that experts say you should look at when shopping for a saddle.
  • Shape - The best to do here is to measure the width of your sit bones, as they are called, which will give you a good starting point. With regards to the length, think about your spine flexibility
  • Rail composition - The longer the rail the more comfortable, so what does that mean? Check out the flexibility of the rails, this will give you an idea on how comfortable the saddle will be
  • Shell or base material - the shell is generally made from nylon and is a hard cut-out mould. Some saddles use a base material of carbon, for the affect of weight and tweak flex characteristics. The shell will determine the flexibility of the saddle under the riders weight
  • Cutout - cut-out plays a major role with saddles, and in-turn works together with the shell design. Over the years more and more riders are choosing a saddle with a cut-out hole in the nose of the saddle. The reason is it shifts pressure away from the soft tissue and toward the ischial tuberosities, aka sitz bones. However some solid nose saddles still work best for some riders, especially those who  sit crooked on their bikes.
  • Padding - Ahhh the only thing that matters to some riders. The padding is usually made up of urethane foam and also consists of a polymer gel. Sometimes there is more than one material used and these are combined to give that squishy feel. However it should be remembered that more squishiness and padding does not mean more comfort. If your saddle is set up correctly and other factors are correct, it has been shown that the saddle can be harder too.
  • Channelled - it's important because it will relieve perineum pressure while maintaining a standard saddle base
  • Covering - this is more for look than feel, but there are different materials used, some with holes or raised dots to stop from sliding around and mountain bike saddles generally have rough and reinforced covering material covering on the corners for wear and tear
So what do the different models look like? Here are a few that are common in most different cycling disciplines, from road racing, track cycling to mountain biking and even casual riding

Road Racing 

Road saddle with center cutout to reduce pressure for the rider.  Long, narrow design is best suited for heavy pedaling and racing. | Photo © ryoichitanaka / flickr
heavy duty racing saddle. Designed for racing as it has the cut-out which helps
with the pressure on the sitz bones.  Photo © ryoichitanaka / flickr
Mountain Biking
Mountain bike saddle with medium padding, reinforced shell and a slightly downward slopping geometry. | Photo © Trek Bicycle Corporation
A typical mountain bike saddle. Generally stronger and wider than road saddle
with medium padding Photo © Trek Bicycle Corporation

General riding

Gel saddles are built with gel padding, which can be soft and comfortable for short rides. However, there isn't enough support for longer, more intense rides. | Photo © Brandon Kelly
Gel saddle with lycra covering. Gel is used for a more comfortable ride
and is found on many town riding bikes Photo © Brandon Kelly

Wide, cushy saddle found on beach cruisers and other leisure bicycles.  Designed for maximum comfort, upright seating position. | Photo © UHLMAN / flickr
A cruiser saddle, also great for commuting riding and for sitting up right
Photo © UHLMAN / flickr
Dual cushion saddle that distributes weight around the sit bones. The lack of a nose can also relieve pressure from the rider's perineum. | Photo © Hobson Associates, Inc.
Dual-cushion saddle. These are designed to relieve a lot of pressure on the sit bones
as well as the short nose. Photo © Hobson Associates, Inc.

There are also gender specific saddles. Generally woman saddles are shorter in the front and a little wider at the back to accommodate a woman's anatomy, as tests have shown that it can be extremely painful for a woman cyclist in that area in the front while the mens saddles are longer and narrower. 

Terry Ti Butterfly Saddle for Women
Terry has been focusing on women's saddles for years
Photo ©Adventurecycling
More common mens mountain bike saddle

Overall, choosing a saddle is very difficult, as if you wanted to try them all you would have to sit on each one, on your bike, and not many people I know have time for that. But if you take the above as a good guideline and speak with your bike shop, most will be able to help you. As I said in the beginning, you bike saddle needs to be your friend and not your enemy. There are some fantastic brands out there, who have taken time and effort to make sure your rear-end is well taken care of.

For some more reading and in depth information here are some nice links to check out to learn more ebicyclesBikeradar has a nice write up on womens saddles and a nice Q & A for if you are sitting comfortably 

Go out there, find the right one for you and make riding feel comfortable again

 Stay Dirty!

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