Saddle Buying Guide
Saddle selection is fairly critical because for most of us, we’re going to be spending the majority of the time we are on the bike sat down on the saddle. The science behind saddles design and fit, much like with bikes themselves, has advanced considerably in recent years to the point where there may seem to be a bewildering array of options available to you. However, if you focus on questions such as the kind of riding you are likely to be doing, how important weight is in the overall scheme of things and also whether you have strong views of what the actual saddle cover is made of, then it should be possible to narrow down the choice somewhat. Our Saddle Buying Guide sets out the key points to consider below – Shape, Padding (and Space) and Materials & Fabric.
Traditional bicycle saddles are triangular and although there have been plenty of variations over the years, the basic concept remains unchanged – the widest section of the saddle should support what are commonly known as your sit bones (your ischial tuberosities). This is because your sit bones are covered by muscle and therefore less affected by pressure exerted on your bottom when riding. If your saddle is too narrow, you’ll be applying pressure to soft tissue between your sit bones which contains lots of nerves. That’s going to be uncomfortable. When customers come to Criterium Cycles, we always get them to sit on a pressure pad to make sure we get an accurate sit bone width. Men’s sit bones are much closer together than those for women which is why mens’ saddles tend to usually longer and narrower whereas womens’ saddles tend be wider and shorter. However, if you want to measure your sit bone at home, then use our simple guide to how to measure yourself for the correct saddle below.
Padding & Space
One of the most common myths in saddle choice is that the more padding the saddle has, the comfortable it will be. However, the reality is you need a surprisingly small amount of padding to be comfortable, not least because of the reason we discussed in Shape above – if you have the right design of saddle then you will be resting on your sit bones anyway, the area with the most amount of muscle and least amount of nerves. Plus, if you are wearing appropriate clothing such as shorts with an anatomically designed chamois insert, that itself will be providing pretty much all the padding you are going to need. In fact, if you have too much give in the saddle there is the potential for the padding in whatever form it takes to be compressed by your weight whereby it will be pushed to either side of your sit bone and risk putting pressure on your perineum.
This is not a good thing, so many manufacturers are now offering saddles that have an anatomically designed cut out to provide some relief and unsurprisingly these cut outs themselves are often gender specific. The most important thing though will always be to make sure the shape of your saddle is correct to your sit bone.
Material and Fabric
This is less an issue of comfort and more about performance. As with cycle frames, saddle rails were originally manufactured from steel. Today, more exotic materials such as titanium and carbon are used in rail manufacture. They offer a little more comfort than steel because natural flex in the material absorbs some of the vibration transferred up the seat tube and into the saddle through the rails, but overall, the size and shape of the saddle remains the same for each model family irrespective of the different options of rail.
In terms of the upper part of the seat, the bit you sit on, the many synthetic options available on the market today offer the best balance between comfort, performance and durability.
The Criterium Cycles Guide to Saddle Sizing
The best way to ensure the correct saddle sizing and fit is to come into the store and be measured professionally using pressure pads. However, we recognise that is not always possible, so to do it at home, follow the steps below:
- You’ll need appropriate materials before you start. We suggest chalk (though crayon or pen will do), a tape measure and piece of corrugated cardboard large enough to sit on comfortably
- Place the piece of cardboard on a level surface and sit down on it with your feet elevated as you would in your riding position. What you are trying to do is create an impression on the cardboard so you don’t need to elevate your feet too high, just enough to ensure the cardboard takes your weight
- Then stand up and use the chalk to colour in the cardboard. Imagine you are doing an old fashioned brass rubbing! The depressions made by your sit bones ought to be clearly visible on the surface of the cardboard.
- Measure the distance between the centre points of each the two depressions and add 30mm. That is a good approximation of your optimum saddle width.