Saddle comfort seems to be one of those topics within cycling that has it's fair share of misconceptions around what one should / could expect from sitting on a bike seat. You hear various phrases such as 'breaking in a saddle' and 'toughening up your nethers' or just putting up with the pain and numbness that occurs, but is that or should that really be the case?
For those new to cycling, a bike seat provides a very different and more concentrated set of contact points when compared to a chair or sofa for example. In the first instance, the bike saddle is designed to faciliate two essential roles: support the rider's weight and allow an uinhibited pedalling motion. For these two things to happen the shape of the saddle must, to some extent, flare towards the rear and taper towards the front. So immediately we are going to be concentrating our weight on a smaller surface area than we may be used to. In this regard, riding on a bike saddle does indeed take some getting used to and will require time for your body to adapt to taking weight through the ischial tuberosities (your sit bones).
Another element to bear in mind is that many of those new to cycling are likely to be putting less power through the pedals or perhaps less efficiently creating a less stable pelvis, both of which will contribute to more saddle pressure and likely discomfort.
Pressure on the saddle nose pressing on genitals
Tingling or numbness in genitalia (compression of nerves or blood vessels)
Rubbing or pressure under the sit bones (ischial tuberosities)
Chaffing on the inner side of the thighs or near the buttock crease
Blisters or saddle sores
But what about those who have been cycling for a long time and have been plagued by saddle discomfort or symptoms of tingling or numbness in genitalia? I always address this issue head on during bike fit sessions and it still amazes me how many riders tell that they thought this was just a normal and part of riding a bike. I'll pause now to say this:
Persistent pain, saddle sores and tingling or numbness in the genitalia should not be a part of the bike riding experience - and they don't need to be!
So what can we do to improve or optimise comfort on the saddle? Firstly, try to avoid the obvious pitfall of rushing out and spending lots of money on various saddles that look like they might be better / more comfortable. The most common issue related to saddle discomfort is saddle location (height, fore/aft, and angle) and the set up of the handlebars (reach and drop from the saddle). If these elements have not been suitably set up then your risk wasting money on many saddles, or indeed the saddle you have, not working out for you, simply becuase they are not set up in the right position.
Have you had a bike fit?
The first thing that I would advise any bike rider to do that is suffering with saddle discomfort is to get some help or advice on setting up their saddle position. Of course, the best way to do this would be to have a bike fit session where all of these elements can be assessed and addressed. Once the saddle is well set up we can then truly establish if it is working well for the rider or not.
Saddles come in a dizzying array of shapes, sizes, profiles, levels of padding and some with added comfort features such as gel layers, vibration damping systems, shock absorbers etc.
But here are a few simple ways to broadly break down the options, though each of these areas could be broken down into smaller sub-categories.
Side Profile: Flat, Flat with a kick-up at the back, curved
Shape Profile: V-shape, T-shape, short fit tend to have a more rapid flare from front to rear
Width: Refers to the maximum width (approx 15-20mm wider than sit bones)
Pressure Relief: No cutout, cutout, channel - the size and position of any cutout or channel is very rider anatomy specific to get the best from it.
Padding Level: This is very individual - more padding does always mean more comfort, the shape of the saddle and it's interaction with your pelvic shape is first priority.
If you are testing saddles try to think beyond the basic premise of 'Do I like it?' but rather draw up a list of pros and cons using the categories above as this can start to help you understand what elements of the saddle design are working for you and which ones aren't. This will help narrow down your search criteria to find better options.
At The Bike The Body we have curated a range of saddles that try to best cover the variety of needs of riders for road, off-road, triathlon, e-bike and more recetrational riding. We work closely with specific saddle manufacturers that have spent substantial time carrying out scientific research to inform their saddle design to create products that really help to solve some of the common problems mentioned above.
There are a number of brands that I am particularly happy to work with and have linked below to their research and development processeses.
Perhaps the most unique looking saddles on the market and with good reason. They have been designed to optimise blood flow in the perineal and genital area in both male and female riders.
This company has also carried out rigourous pressure mapping studies to design both male and female specific saddles that cover a wide variety of riding styles.
Another German company and in this instance a very unique approach to solving pressure related issued, particulary those with persistent numbness related issues. They have a unique 'shelf' at the back and a central drop off to relieve pressure and on some have a very clever central mono-link rail attachment to allow side to side flex of the rear of the saddle which can work wonders.
Beyond Selle SMP, Ergon and SQ Labs we also have saddles from Gebiomized, Pro, Specialized, Fizik, Selle Italia, ISM, Bontrager, Fabric and more...
Where possible we will always try to accomodate a demo period for you to be able to test a saddle out in the real world to ensure it works as well for you in proper riding conditions rather than just in the studio,
So if you are looking to find your perfect saddle then hit the link below to book in and get started with some testing.