How Can A Good Cycling Saddle Feel So Bad?
If you think a minimally padded $400 bicycle saddle looks more like a torture device than a bicycle saddle, and I’m speaking from experience, that says more about you than the saddle. Contrary to popular belief, manufacturers won’t charge more for a saddle than most people will pay for a complete bike, whilst trying make a torture device out of it. Even those super tiny, ultra-thin, almost no padding saddles are meant to be comfortable. If yours isn’t, the problem is likely the setup, not the saddle (although there is room for the saddle being at fault – or more to the point, you picked the wrong one – but we’ll get to that in a minute). Let’s begin.
Saddle is too high. The easiest, by far, reason your saddle will feel like it has barbed wire embedded in what little padding there is that you’ve got the saddle too high. This means your hips will have to rock to stay connected to the pedals on the downstroke, where you’re weakest anyway. Put your bike on an indoor trainer and put your heels on the pedals. Spin them backwards. Your legs should straighten without rocking your hips. This can be done, carefully, in a doorway by bracing yourself with one or both hands on the jamb(s).
Saddle is too far forward or back – so you end up riding on the wrong part of your butt. If you are riding with most of the pressure on the area between your genitals and your sphincter, well, you’ve got problems. The rubbing/hurting kind of problems. You want to be riding on your sit bones, as the saddle starts to widen out – not on the very back of the saddle and definitely not on the nose (though there is precedent for scooting up a little bit when time trialing). If you look at the profile of a contoured saddle, you’re looking for the area that just starts to rise toward the middle/back of the saddle to cradle you… your sit bones should be just to the back side of that rise. In road cycling, you’re looking for position 2 or 3:
Level is off. This one is simple. For me, for the style of riding I’m used to, I’m a position 2 up above, but the profile photo of the saddle, as it is in the photo, would be a little too “nose down” for me. Not much, but a little. The key is that you don’t want the nose to dig into you, but you don’t want to feel like you’re sliding to the front of the saddle, either. The key is to find the happy spot right in the middle. This can take some saddle time and several adjustments to perfect.
Wrong kind of saddle for a rider’s flexibility. If you’ve got the wrong saddle for your flexibility, you’ll likely have huge problems trying to get comfortable on the saddle. I prefer a contoured saddle because I’m not very flexible – I’m actually in the middle range. A contoured saddle will help a less than bendy human’s torso to rotate forward slightly to aid in an aggressive posture on the bike. Those who bend at the hips well won’t need that help and will be fore comfortable on a flat saddle. Fizik has a really neat app that’ll help you understand your place in the contour food chain. There’s also this:
Too wide. Folks, I’ll make this very simple. If you’re on a saddle that’s too wide for your sit bones, the pain – and I’m speaking from experience again – will be immense. Increasing as your mileage and time in the saddle will only increase the intensity and severity. Left long enough and this pain will radiate down the legs into the hamstrings. It is quite excruciating. If you have a question about the saddle size you should be riding, this is a perfect issue to get sorted at the local bike shop (I’m about 140 mm… I can fit on a 143 but I like 138 a little more for the slimmer saddle nose). They’ll have you sit on a board with memory foam on it which will leave indentations from your sit bones. They’ll measure the distance between the indentations and come up with your saddle width. Women tend to be a little wider than men, for obvious reasons. I think Mrs. Bgddy rides a 155.
Too much padding. I have a friend who rides a cruiser around town. He’s got one of those big, fat, ugly padded saddles. Over the top of it, he’s got one of those shag padded seat covers. Over the top of that, he’s got a gel cover. And he asked me if I though he could add another cover. I’m not kidding. He had so much padding on that saddle, I think it actually cut off the supply of blood to his brain whilst riding. Padding on the saddle cuts off blood to areas that really, really need blood. When that blood flow is cut off, the affected area hurts. It’s the body’s way of telling you, hey, somethin’ ain’t right down here! I’ll tell you what ain’t right. It’s all that padding. Additional padding is not the answer, though a reasonable amount is a good thing, this can easily be overdone. The answer is a good pair of cycling shorts and the proper setup of the right saddle for your body.
Finally, and this one will be surprising (it was for me – and I just figured this out a short while back), if your saddle is too low. That’s right, too low. I was trying out one of those aforementioned $400 saddles and I had a nagging pain, like the edge of the saddle was digging into my left hip bone. I’d set the fore and aft properly (through a series of measurements), set the level properly (2 degrees nose down, then fit to feel for that cradled balance described above), and I thought I’d set the height properly. After my second ride and the saddle just not feeling right, I checked the height. Sure enough, it was about two millimeters low. I raised the saddle and the pain went the way of the dodo, immediately. The clouds parted and the sun shone (and the wind died down) and all was well.
My friends, good saddles are a dime a dozen if you know what you’re looking for and how to set one up on your bike so it feels like it should. Don’t settle for feeling like you’re riding on barbed wire after 20 miles (once you’ve got your requisite saddle time in – new cyclists will experience some pain while they acquire their cycling legs). The answer is fixing the saddle’s position, width, or height, not adding another layer of padding.