View Full Version : My experiments with saddles so far

Joe Chapline
07-03-2011, 01:22 PM
I guess I've been lucky with the saddles that came with the hybrid bikes I've had over the years. I've never had any problem, never adjusted anything but the seat height, never gave the saddle much thought.

A few months ago, I bought a used road bike to get ready for one of those charity rides later this summer. I had trouble getting comfortable in the saddle. The length of my rides was limited by how much discomfort in my rear end and back I could put up with. That got me experimenting, and this is what I think I've found out so far. Comments from more experienced riders are very welcome -- don't hesitate to correct me.

First, I bought an expensive saddle online, a Selle Italia Flite. I figured you get what you pay for, right? There was no choice in size; maybe because it was on sale. I realize now that this saddle is too narrow for me.

Very important lesson: As with bikes, a saddle that doesn't fit is not a good saddle, no matter how much it costs.

Experimenting with the new saddle, though, I found I could make it easier on my back by moving the saddle forward on the bike, which shortens the distance to the handlebars, and tilting the nose up a bit more than it had been. Counterintuitive, but I think that if your pelvis is tilted forward, you're putting weight on your lower back. Better to sit straight down on the saddle and bend at the waist.

So things were better, almost bearable. But still much less comfortable than my hybrid. So I tried something pretty obvious: I took the saddle off my hybrid and put it on my road bike. MUCH better. I could feel that my weight was being supported by my "sit bones" on the saddle. (I think that before, my weight was being supported by my internal organs.)

Next step: I took that good-fitting saddle to a bike shop to see if I could get something with a similar size and shape. It's a Specialized saddle, so I went to the Specialized dealer (Twenty20 Bikes in Baltimore). They have a tool in there they call the "assometer." I don't know if other shops have this, but it's very simple. Basically, you sit on a piece of memory foam, and they measure the distance between the impressions made by your sit bones. That helps them recommend a saddle.

I'm pretty sure there's more to it than just your assometer reading. Saddles with the same width have different curvature, padding, and cutouts. But getting that measurement is a great start.

Saddles, clockwise from top left: Selle Italia; Bontrager that came with the road bike; comfortable saddle that came with my hybrid; new Specialized Avatar I just bought.


07-03-2011, 09:21 PM
When I started cycling again as an adult, I started off with a triathlon bike, apart from stationary bike workouts. I haven't had any real issues with the saddle. I guess it's a typical racing/triathlon saddle. You can and should put your weight on the sit bones on a road/tri saddle. Hamstring and lower back flexibility make it easier. Core workouts help too. You also put more of your weight on the handlebars, which is different from the upright riding position of a hybrid bike.

For longer rides, I try to shift my position from time to time. Sometimes I'll sit a bit off-center, so that I'm almost "sitting" on one of my thighs, not on my seat. Even if I'm trying to hold an aggressive riding position, I will sit up now and then to stretch my back and legs. Just moving around can help during longer rides. Shifting hand position helps to relieve pressure on the hands and shoulders.

Last winter, I switched up and did a lot of riding on the upright, Capital Bikeshare bikes. I found some aspects of the upright position more comfortable, but some were less comfortable. One problem is that all of the weight was going onto the sit bones, instead of being balanced between the seat and my arms/hands.

When I switched back to the triathlon bike in the late spring, I had to go through a brief re-adjustment period. Any change in riding position will put stress on different parts of your body. It will also require slightly different pedaling movements, with a different emphasis on the quads/hamstrings. So any change will require a brief adjustment period, whether you're going from upright to forward position, or vice versa. At least that has been my experience.