Your nether-regions are not for sitting on. Your feet are for standing on, your legs are for walking on, and your bum is for attaching your legs to your body.
Finding the Right Saddle – Cycling Tips 2009
I have a problem with bike saddles. I won’t show you a list of all the ones I’ve tried, as that would just be embarrassing. Most people seem to use whatever comes with their bike, and stick with that, but it’s taken me ages to find the ‘right one’ – comfortable, light (and,because I’m a Bike Tart) good looking. I also use my road bike to commute to the office, and finding something that is comfortable without padded tights is useful. (On that note, I’ve also found that white saddles and jeans don’t mix, unless you actually wanted an indigo saddle).
Now to be clear, I’m talking road bike saddles here. My Pashley Guvnor has a lovely Brooks B17 in honey brown that is a fantastic saddle. Especially now that’s breaking in nicely (didn’t take long!). It just doesn’t look right on a carbon road bike though, and the weight makes it much less suitable.
To try out so many saddles, I’ve been mostly picking them up secondhand on ebay. As well as others selling saddles that didn’t work out for them, you can often find cheaper versions with steel or manganese rails, rather than posher Titanium or Carbon. Its also likely that you can pick one up that has already been ‘broken in’, This is less of an issue than it is for Brooks traditional leather saddles, but I’ve found a used Charge Knife was more comfy and flexy than a brand new one. This meant I could try one out, and if it didn’t suit, pop it back on ebay. There’s also a ‘Saddle Swap’ forum on Bikeradar’s Forums where you might find someone to exchange seats with.
Here’s what I’ve learnt about saddles so far, but be warned, there is inevitable talk of my genitals…
Even the smallest adjustment can turn a harsh saddle into a comfy one. There’s a lot to adjust too; height, position fore/aft, vertical angle (pointing the nose up/down very slightly, or keeping it dead level) and even horizontal angle. Unless you have an aero seatpost, it can also be tilted left/right very slightly. I’ve found some scooped saddles that need to be setup dead level, and some that need the back to rise slightly. The only way I’ve found to test a saddle properly is to ride it a bit, adjust it, ride for a bit again, rinse and repeat (A turbo trainer isn’t a great place to test saddles – they all feel harsh). After a while you can take note of how your sitting and adjust accordingly – e.g if I found myself pushing back on the saddle, it needed to be further forwards.
Saddles have different shapes – from flat ones (Fizik Arione, Selle Italia SLR) to rounded and scooped (Charge Spoon, Fizik Aliante, Prologo Scratch), as well as cutouts for dangling your delicate bits should you have them (Specialized Romin), or even with rails placed in the centre to allow the sides to flex while pedalling (Selle Italia Signo). The slightly rounded & scooped shape seems to suit me best. Channels or cut outs don’t always work for me though, e.g the Romin cutout was OK but with the Fizik Aliante VS I could feel the edges of the channel digging in.
Padding is not necessarily a good thing – too much and it can cause chafing.
If you think about it, a deck chair doesn’t have any padding and yet is still comfortable, so padding in itself is not the cure for an uncomfortable seat. A deck chair is comfortable because the fabric has tension in it and supports you with a low average pressure through-out the seat.
I’ve tried saddle recently that pretty much just a carbon shell, with only a mm or two of padding, but it wasn’t as uncomfortable as it looked, due to the supportive shape.
Specialized focus on the width of your sit bones with their ‘Body Geometry’ saddles. The distance between the bones is measured, and then you choose a saddle with just enough width to support these bones, but no more. They are one of the few manufacturers that offer 3 different widths for their range. To measure your sit bones you can sit on a special gel-pad widget at the bike shop, or try and recreate it a home. Its quite a sight though, it involves sitting half-naked on carpeted stairs with tin foil under your cheeks and leaning forwards – hoping to get two clear sit bones bumps in the foil.
The more expensive Carbon, and particularly Titanium, rails are meant to help filter out road buzz, but I can’t say I’ve felt any big difference. It feels like more of a slight weight advantage. I have found that Nylon bases are more flexible than Carbon ones though.
Fizik have a system called ‘spine concept’ which looks at the riders flexibility rather than sit bones. From rigid ‘Bulls’ (unable to touch toes, which is me) to flexible ‘Snakes’ that can easily touch their toes easily. It may sound like marketing guff, but actually is quite common sense: I have low flexibility, so need to rotate my pelvis a lot of achieve a road riding position. I sit on the saddle with different parts of my undercarriage than someone with high flexibility.
Fizik saddles are lovely, the quality is superb, and I love how they have a built in clip system, which makes it quick and easy to switch a saddlebag between bikes. Its the best system I’ve ever used.
The Arione (above) in particular has a stylish racy look that makes it ‘the saddle I wish I could fit’. Sadly it felt like sitting on a rail – too narrow to support my sit bones. The Antares was wide enough, but hard on the sit bones, while the Aliante (which has been my saddle choice so far) has been comfy on the sit bones but pushed up into my squashy bits a little too much on long rides. I’ve always felt that I needed a saddle shape inbetween the Aliante and Antares.
Two years ago, Charge Bikes (who make the Knife Saddle, and the very popular spoon) came out with a new product – the Charge Scoop. A simplified three-part construction: a foam top, vacuum bonded to a nylon base and rails, with no staples or glue.
It was such a hit that other bike manufacturers wanted to spec the saddle, so it made sense to split off Scoop production into a separate company, and so the company Fabric was born. Now these are being specced on Cannondales and the gorgeous new Mason range.
This is the Fabric Scoop Shallow, and its now my favourite saddle. The level of fit and comfort is amazing, a revelation even, and it looks lovely! The shape is spot-on, the padding is comfortable without being too squishy, but I think the most important aspect is that the base is flexible. For the first time, I can sit on something, and really forget about. All my bikes now have a Scoop (with the exception of the Guvnor of course).
I’ve also been trying out their rubbery knurled bar tape, and that’s great too. It’s very easy to wrap, cushioned with a gel backing (without adding too much bulk) and feels nice and grippy. Although similar, Lizard Skins tape was harder to wrap, and the tape moved about after a few weeks, leaving gaps. Fabric’s still looks as good months later.
So fabric have won for me!