There are three points of contact between you and your bike: hands, feet, and seat. Of these three, the bike seat or saddle is the area with the most options for customization. All bikes come with a saddle, but if you experience pain or discomfort on rides it is time to swap out the saddle that came with the bike for another one.
The bike saddle should support your bones, not your flesh and it is hard to know just by looking at a saddle if it will fit your bone structure. Also, if you want to give a new saddle a try, it takes more than just a ride around the block to know if it is right your you—you need to take it on a long ride of at least 1 hour so you can settle in and determine how it accommodates your pressure points.
Where should you start when choosing a saddle?
Riding position on a specific bike is important to understand. There are two basic positions:
Saddles shells come in carbon fiber, aluminum, and steel. Rails are the bars the seatpost clamps onto under the saddle. In order of weight these can be made of carbon fiber, titanium, alloy or steel. Some saddles designed for upright riding contain springs and these are steel. The choice of materials impacts weight and ability to absorb vibrations, with lighter weight materials costing more.
Saddle coverings may be vinyl, leather, or fabric and may come with our without cushioning materials. Cushioning can be achieved as follows:
What is different for women’s saddle
Women’s anatomy is different from men’s so a saddle designed for women would have a wider back and shorter nose. Although there are usually less options available for women, they do come in the same materials and price points.
What about saddle channels and cutouts?
Eliminating material (cutout) or introducing a depression or groove (channel) in the center of the saddle is designed to relieve pressure in sensitive areas and enhance air flow although for some they create an additional point of friction on the edges of the cutout or channel. It is hard to know if these features suit you until you try it so other factors should be given priority.
A demo saddle program at a bike shop is a good idea—it allows you to audition a saddle for 1-2 weeks and if you find it is comfortable, you can purchase it. If not, you can try another saddle until you find the right one. Manufacturers are constantly changing their saddle offerings so once you find a saddle that is comfortable, it is a good idea purchase an extra one for when your primary one wears out just in case it is no longer available.
Sharon Kaminecki and others comment on adventures in bicycling and other stories