Is Saddle Discomfort Sidelining You?
Things To Consider When Looking For A New Saddle
We'd all like to find the surefire, short cut answer but the truth is that it's just not that simple. Sure, there are a few gimmicks out there that can help on some levels. One famous saddle and bike maker has device you sit on to allow your body weight to make impressions that will allow you to measure the width of your "sit" bones. Unfortunately, that measurement is only one of many factors that dictate saddle comfort. And that measurement it probably the thing that is the easiest to figure out without spending money on gadgets. It's all the other things that are trickier to measure or even talk about. Probably, the best way to do is to compare saddle shapes and show how not all saddles are created equal.
1. Saddle Width - What does that mean and what part of the saddle is the measurement based on ?
Yes, saddles do come in different widths. Reference to saddle width commonly refers to how wide the saddle is at its widest, near the back of the saddle. This where you will spend a lot of time if you aren't riding in the aero position or are cruising on your road bike. Some of us find that, when we start ridign aero or ramping up the intensity on our road bike, we start riding further forward on the saddle. So, the saddle width at the back of the saddle, while important when we're sitting back, doesn't address all of our potential issues. So, another critical consideration is the width of the saddle at the front. Take a look at a few different saddles and you'll notice that they're not all the same width at the front either. But, if you want some specifics, check out this video from Cobb Cycling where they address the issue of sit bone width vs saddle width.
Another thing worth noting here is that there are some marketing materials, almost gimmicks, out there that have you sit on something that measures the width of yours sit bones as a saddle selection tool. Clearly, if you are moving forward on the saddle and pressure is off your sit bones and has moved elsewhere, those kind of measurement tools are only going to suggest the correct saddle entirely by accident.
2. Riding in the Aero Position may require a different saddle.
Riding in the aero position like you would on a triathlon bikes will shift more of your weight to the front of the saddle. As well, the angle of you pelvis relative to the saddle and where the saddle is supporting most of your body weight will be completely different. the saddle will be different. The Adamo saddle is a good example of this. The Adamo is now the #1 saddle in the Ironman Hawaii saddle count yet it is not even close to getting that level of acceptance in road cycling. This might be in part due to triathlete's being early adopters but it could also be that the benefits of a twin rail saddle like an Adamo are more keenly noticed in the aero position.
3. How does the saddle transition from the widest to the narrowest point?
The shape of the side of the saddle can be relatively straight or curvier. Take a look at how the saddles goes from side to narrow: is it a relatively straight line like the Fizik Arione or is it a noticeable curve, more like the Selle Italia SLR? How sharply the saddle transitions from wide to narrow is important. A narrower saddle point won't put pressure on the inside thighs of a person with narrower hips. A wider saddle point will provide more support for someone with wider hips. Another factor in saddle shape is how much you move back and forward on the saddle. If you use most of the saddle at different times during your riding, a saddle that is relatively uniform shape from front to back is better and this shape should be on the narrow end.
4. The slope of the top of the saddle from front to back.
A saddle can be relatively flat with little curve from front to back or back to front. The Fizik Arione is a good example of this. Other saddles have a slight upward curve at the back. The Selle Italia SLK is like this. Then, there is Profile TriStryke Saddle which curves slightly but distinctly upward at the tip. This saddle is also slightly wider at the front that many. To make up for more bulk at the front or nose of the saddle, the Profile , you'll notice it has significantly more cushioning than others. Then, there are saddles that have a distinct upward curve at the back. This can be useful if you are climbing a lot and want something to anchor your weight against when you are climbing and sitting more towards the back of the saddle. Then there is the distinct drop off of the front part of the saddle like the SMP series. These might not work well for riding in the aero position but they can work well when you spend most of your time in the saddle with your weight centered on the saddle.
5. The shape of the saddle from side to side.
Some saddles are relatively flat from side to side. Others are distinctly curved. If you are spending a lot of time in the aero position, also take note of the shape of the nose of the saddle from side to side.
6. Saddle cutouts
Some saddles have cutout sections for relief of body weight and the shape an width of the cutouts vary a lot. An extreme example of a cutout is the SMP saddle which has a cutout the entire length of the nose of the saddle. For triathlon, a cutout can be helpful in allowing your tri short to dry quicker which can help prevent chafing and saddle sores. For general riding, a cutout can serve to remove potential pressure points from the saddle while still providing structural support for your body weight by the saddle rails and the cushioning on them.
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