How to Rebuild a Road Bike From the Ground Up: Part Three. That Which Matters Most, What One Sits On. The Saddle
So I started with the frame, now we’re going to look at the saddle and seat post. I’ve been through five saddles on my Trek. The two most-comfortable were the Bontrager Montrose Pro Carbon that I have on there now, and the second saddle I put on the bike, a Specialized Romin.
Please forgive my staging of the bike, I know, it’s all wrong. Getting to what’s important, look at that big, heavy, gnarly saddle on that bike! I rode the bike with that saddle for a few months before I began having problems… erm, betwixt the legs. At first, it showed up as pain on the insides of my legs, directly next to “the boys”, where my leg bones went into the hip socket. After a couple of months riding like that, the pain radiated down to the hamstrings. At that point, I was legitimately hurting. I was running as well, at the time, so I naturally attributed the hamstring pain to a running problem. I was mistaken.
Eventually, I paid a visit to the local shop and they measured my “sit bones” on a piece of memory foam, then checked my saddle. I need a 143 mm saddle, the old saddle was a 155. It was too wide for my sit bones and that caused all of the pain. The saddle was changed, and angels sang in delight. I haven’t had a problem, or a 155 mm saddle, since.
The next problem I ran into was in adjusting the saddle nose up and down. The old seat post had “notches” so the saddle nose was either too high, or too low for me to ride comfortably. I am very finicky in this regard. This ended up being important because, as you can see, I started tinkering with the bike’s setup a little. The stem was lowered as far as it could go, and I rotated the handlebar up a little bit to get everything “on plane”. What I didn’t know is that this is wrong for that style of bar, but that’s not important at this point.
In any event, I went to the shop again, because I had no clue how to find what I wanted, and they picked out an Easton seat post that was infinitely adjustable as opposed to the original “notched” seat post. It’s also carbon fiber, because if you’re going to go and rebuild a bike that you plan on riding for 40+ years, carbon fiber.
Now, a lot of people will get nervous about going from a saddle with a lot of padding, like the one in the first photo, and the one in the second. You don’t need all of that padding, it just cuts off blood flow, anyway. What’s important is getting a proper saddle to go along with proper cycling shorts, that fits one’s heinie. Along with that, a seat post that will allow for the proper adjustment of the saddle, though in my case I have a tendency to be a little picky – especially when a new carbon fiber part is the answer to a problem. Ahem.
If you’re going to do it, it’s worth doing right.
In any event, if you wanted to measure for your own saddle, get a piece of “rigid insulation” from the local building material store, 1-1/2″ will suffice. Cut a piece, say 1′ x 2′ and put a pair of shorts or underwear on. Choose a place a little lower than a normal chair, so your knees will be up at chest height, and sit down on that foam. Your sit bones will leave an impression in the foam. Measure the distance between them (at the center of the impressions). Convert the inches to centimeters or millimeters and Bob’s your uncle. Or just go to the local shop for a quick visit – they should be able to get you sorted out.
The saddle can be a tricky thing, too. I don’t want to leave the impression that picking mine for the Trek was easy, it was anything but(t)! I’ve been through five saddles before I finally found the best; a Bontrager (Trek) Montrose Pro Carbon – 138 mm:
Each of those saddles had positive points. The Romin (above, when the bike was still red) was great. The Specialized Aria, upper left, wasn’t a good fit. The Bontrager mountain bike saddle (the one with red pinstripes, upper right) was quite nice, but just had too much padding. It hurt to ride that more than 65 miles on it. The Selle Italia (lower left), if fit perfectly, at exactly the right height, felt great (surprisingly), but I switched that saddle to my race bike because it was incredibly light… and when I put it back on the Trek, I just couldn’t get it right again – it was especially rough after 75 miles. As the Trek is my distance bike, I decided to go a different route and, after checking the profile against the Specialized Romin that I loved so much, went with the Montrose. That saddle proved to be fantastic at any distance I could ride (up to 104 miles this last year). Just the right amount of give and padding… plus, carbon fiber.
The saddle, and in my case, the seat post, were integral parts of making my bike enjoyable over the long haul. The choice should never be taken lightly, one’s butt depends on it.
The easiest way to tell if something’s amiss; if you feel like, after 40-ish miles, you’re riding on barbed wire, that’s a tip-off.
Check saddle height, fore/aft positioning, then tilt (nose up, nose down). If all of those are right, maybe it’s time to look into a different saddle. Width and profile, I found, are the most important:
The contoured Montrose upper-left and the Romin below; bueno. The flat SLR upper-right? Not so much. The flatter saddles are for highly flexible people. I’m not one of those.
So that covers the saddle and seat post. We’re going to have some fun in part four…