It’s All in the Saddle: Picking the Right Saddle for My Old-School Road Bike (and everything you’ll need to know to find the right one for you). Part 1
Or alternately, To Thine Own Butt be True. Sorry, couldn’t resist.
Up until three weeks ago I had a Selle Italia saddle on my Trek 5200. Very flat, very black, visually an excellent, elegant match for that bike and it’s new paint job. The only problem is I hate that saddle. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just not a good fit for me. Put simply, it doesn’t fit my butt right.
Saddles are a funny thing that way. Cycling enthusiasts tend to be, and should be, fairly fickle about their saddle. We spend a lot of time on them.
Let’s go to the bike room, shall we? I’m on my third saddle in as many weeks for the Trek:
I want to go back a bit… Originally, I put a Specialized Romin saddle on the 5200 because if there was ever a saddle made for my sit bones and heinie, the Romin is it. That Romin went on the tandem though, because if ever there was a bike that needs a comfortable saddle, a tandem is it. So the Selle that originally came with the tandem then went on the Trek. I hoped I could simply “get used to it”. I thought, I can put that Selle on the Trek, it’s my rain bike.
Then I got all of the worn out bits replaced on the bike and it became fun and fast so I spent a lot more time on it. In fact, I started to take the rain bike out on perfectly clear days. I opted to take it up north for the Northwest Tour for some serious miles and opted to take it on vacation over my “A” bike. Putting that many miles on the Selle saddle was too much.
Contrary to popular thought by the uninitiated, cycling enthusiasts do not enjoy spending several hours a day on a saddle that hurts their derrière, just to have a tiny, lightweight saddle that looks cool. Those tiny saddles are exceptionally comfortable when they fit properly and something had to be done to make the Trek a little more enjoyable on the keister.
Thus a journey has begun, to find the perfect saddle for my Trek, and I will take you along for posterior-ity’s sake.
After making the decision to do something about the Selle, I went cheap. I have a ’91 Cannondale that is sitting till my daughter goes to college. I took the Specialized Riva off of it and put it on the Trek. The 5200 went from mildly uncomfortable to “butt-er” instantly. After a week and some decent miles on the Riva, I had a good idea about what I wanted. There was only one problem with the Specialized Riva. I’m a little silly about my components matching up. Trek bikes get Bontrager parts, Specialized bikes get Specialized parts.
I started at the bike shop because I’m not going to order a saddle online. The owner gave me the Bontrager saddle that you see above, to try. At first, I was skeptical. You can see the Riva off to the side, the Bontrager saddle clearly has a lot more padding than the Riva – and typically, I like a hard saddle. There’s hardly any padding on a Romin:
In fact, there’s so much padding on that Bontrager saddle, I’m betting it’s a mountain bike saddle… I almost balked at trying it because I thought it too squishy, but installed it anyway (at least the color is right, eh?), and gave it a spin. At first the saddle felt way too squishy. It was so bad I was actually bouncing with each pedal stroke. That’s when I headed back to the house to grab an Allen wrench to stick in my back pocket…. and where this little post gets interesting. The Allen wrench went with me so I could adjust the saddle on my ride. What better way to pay attention to the feedback the saddle is giving me?
What do we know about cycling on a road bike? Bouncing is bad. Bouncing is for those spin classes you see in TV commercials. Rocking, and bouncing are two different things and are most often caused by saddle height. Too high for the former, too low for the latter. If one doesn’t know this, one might simply set their new saddle at the proper height and go, either living with the bounce or going for a different saddle. With a few millimeters of extra padding, when we sit on the saddle, the padding compresses…. therefore my saddle was actually too low.
Before leaving the driveway again, I raised the saddle a couple of millimeters to account for the excess padding. That ended the bouncing immediately. I’d also set the saddle for my standard -1.6% drop (back to front of the saddle, so the nose is a shade lower than the back) and I realized after about a mile that I was getting a little negative feedback from the front of the saddle. A saddle set right will cradle the rider with their hands on the hoods or in the drops. If the nose is giving me pressure, I drop it by tightening the front bolt a half-turn (this varies by saddle post design, of course). That wasn’t quite enough to do away with the pressure so I lowered the nose a quarter-turn a couple of miles later and that’s where I left it. I kept waiting for the saddle to hurt, but to my surprise, the extra padding actually helped smooth out the road just a little bit – and that’s actually needed for the Trek. With the Specialized, it’s not.
So, after 18 miles Wednesday evening, another 14 yesterday evening and then 30-40 today, we’ll see where I’m at with it. There is a method to the madness too. I’d never go big miles on a brand new saddle right out of the packaging… A couple of short rides first, then if nothing hurts, double the short ride distance and evaluate. If I can do 40 on a saddle comfortably, it’ll be fine for 100.
The point is, some saddles simply make a spider angry, it just is what it is. If that’s happening to you, it’s time to hunt down a new saddle because once you’ve established a decent amount of time spent in the saddle, you’re sphincter should remain relatively happy. The trick is finding the right saddle at the right price point for the bike and the butt. A poor match for a saddle can be lived with on short rides, but when you start looking at spending three or four hours at a time on a bike, a good match should be sought.