Saddles are tricky. What works on one road bike may not work on another. What works on a mountain bike probably won’t work on a road bike, though the right mountain saddle set correctly can make a rough riding road bike feel like $4,000. Such is the case with my Trek. I’ve been through three different saddles on that bike before finally getting lucky with a cheap Bontrager mountain bike saddle that changes that bike from something I’d ride 30 or 40 miles to my go-to multi-day tour bike.
The two photos at the top show the saddle I use today, it’s a $35 mountain bike saddle and has no business on a high-end carbon road bike but it works. In the lower left photo, the bike sports a Selle Italia saddle that came on my tandem – and I put that saddle on the Trek because I put my $100 Specialized Romin (lower right) on our tandem… The Selle Italia looks awesome but felt like I was riding on barbed wire after 30 miles. It had to go. The Romin felt good but with only a couple of millimeters of padding on the saddle, the ride was a little harsh. The Romin works excellently on my Venge and on the tandem though.
First things first, notice that there are no gel pads on my saddles. If you think gel pads are necessary to be comfortable on a bike, that we’re all suffering in agony to look cool, you’re wrong. Entirely. A hard saddle that fits your sit bones on a good, properly fit bike is vastly more comfortable than something with a ridiculous amount of padding. Vastly. If you’re not comfortable on your bike unless you’ve got four inches of padding on the saddle, you’ve got bigger problems than an over-padded saddle. Also, a saddle that’s too wide for your sit bones with all of the padding in the world can have you taking time off with hamstring issues (happened to me, not overdone on the padding though).
To find your sit bones, well, it’s a little obtrusive. They’re incredibly important to cycling, though, so we have to go through this…
One of the biggest mistakes, myself included, that noob cyclists make is they sit on their tender nether regions in front of the sit bones and on the nose of the saddle rather than the sit bones on the proper part of the saddle farther back. That pad in the photo on the right is Specialized’s measurement device – it’s used to figure out the width of the saddle you’ll need. The photo on the right shows where we should be sitting. If you haven’t had that test done, or one similar to it, I can’t recommend it enough. Putting in 200+ miles a week is going to hurt your heinie enough, no reason to make it worse by having the wrong saddle.
With that out of the way, let’s get those Godforsaken gel pads out of the way. Simply stated, the gel that many think is padding their ride is actually cutting off blood flow which causes discomfort. Ironically, those who believe in excessive padding then think the answer is… More padding! It boggles the mind. Anyway, the best way to ride is to wear padded cycling shorts with a minimally padded saddle. This keeps the blood flowing as, and where, it should.
It’s not always about getting the saddle in the right location – some saddles just don’t work for a rider.
Sometimes you end up with a saddle you love right out of the gate, it happens. Other times it’s a trial and error thing. You can’t even go with the “if it’s expensive, it’s gotta be good” theory – I rode 385 miles in 4 days on that cheap Bontrager saddle and enjoyed every minute of it. This is where your local bike shop will be an indispensable resource. They’ll likely let you try the whole line the shop carries to get you in the right saddle… and they’ll know how to set it where it needs to be.
There’s an app for that.
If you’re looking for a saddle, some manufacturers made apps so you can figure out your flexibility rating and thereby have an easier time picking out one of their saddles. Fizik would be one, and I have the app. Typically, Fizik are in the high-end group of saddles. Selle Italia has a good range, as do America’s big three (Specialized, Trek, and Giant). By far, the best way I know to get through finding the right saddle is to work with your local shop. It’s their job to help you get comfortable on your bike so use that resource. Finally, there are too many videos on-line to bother linking them all that cover everything one could possibly need to know about saddles.
To wrap this post up, getting the saddle right can be the difference between suffering through a ride and riding in comfort. While we have to be careful of the princess and the pea syndrome, it also helps to take the time to find what works best. We connect to the bike in five places (or three depending on how you want to look at it): The hands, feet and butt… The one that takes the brunt of the weight needs to be properly taken care of.
Ride hard my friends.