Far too many people make their life harder than it needs to be by riding on a saddle that doesn’t fit them properly. It doesn’t have to be like this; with a few simple tips you can find the saddle designed for you.
The first thing you need to know is that padding is overrated, and the amount of padding in a saddle is not the main determining factor for comfort. What you need is a saddle that fits.
Your pelvis is made up of a few different bones, but there are two we’re concerned with here. Your ischium and your pubis. The ischium is the most inferior bone of the pelvis and is the major contact point with any surface you sit on. Your pubis is the front bone of your pelvis.
The key to finding a good saddle is one that evenly distributes weight between your two ischial tuberosities, the bony lumps at the bottom of your ischium. (1)
If you ever go and get a professional saddle fit, the first thing you’ll have measured is something they’ll call your ‘sit bones.’ This is the layman term for the distance between what’s known anatomically as your ischial tuberosities. These tuberosities represent the major contact point with your saddle, and therefore the saddle width needs to be proportional to this distance.
To measure the distance between your sit bones, you can either get an X-ray, or your can use a bench, a piece of cardboard, and some chalk. Sit on a solid bench that’s approximately 60 centimeters high, with a piece of corrugated cardboard between you and the bench. Elevate your feet so that your thighs are parallel with the ground. Then, lean forward into a position that emulates your riding position. For fairly aggressive riders, this means placing your elbows on your knees, but adjust them until you feel comfortable.
The way you sit should resemble your position during the upstroke of your pedal cycle.
Grab a piece of chalk and, using the long edge, shade in the entire piece of cardboard. This will reveal two circular depressions. Measure the distance between the center of the two circles, and that is your sit bone width. It will usually fall between about 100 and 130 millimeters. Now add 25, and there you have it, your ideal saddle width. Note that your sit bone width changes with your position, so make sure you measure the distance in a position that is comfortable for you.
The second part of choosing a saddle is choosing the shape. The pubis houses a space known as the perineum, a fairly sensitive area, so you need a shape that doesn’t exert any uncomfortable pressure. The general rule is that the more aggressive you ride, the more flat and narrow your saddle needs to be. This is so the shape of the saddle matches the shape of your anatomy. However if you ride in a more upright position, a curved, slightly more padded saddle will be better for you.
The Fizik Aliante (top) with its curved padded design is perfect for climbers, or those in a more relaxed position. The PRO Falcon (bottom) is an all-out sprinter’s saddle, designed for riders who put themselves in the most aggressive positions.
If your saddle doesn’t fit after matching the saddle shape and size, the next thing to think about is a cut out saddle. The cut out relieves pressure on the perineal area and can make for a vastly more comfortable ride. Unfortunately, there really isn’t a way to know if you need a cut out saddle before you try it, but there isn’t really any disadvantages to using one, so if you’re worried, it may be best just to opt for one of these straight away.
The final minute adjustment you can make is the construction material of the rails. There are three main options: alloy, titanium or carbon. Alloy is strong, stiff and cheap, whereas titanium and carbon rails, though much more expensive, will bring the weight down and have a lot more flex in their design, resulting in a more comfortable ride.
Of course, the best way to get the perfectly fitting saddle is to get measured up at your local bike shop, but these tips should go a long way in helping you find the perfect fit!
1- U.S. National Cancer Institute