Bike Saddles Demystified: They Shouldn't Be a Pain in the Rear!

Jan
8

Posted by Coach Adam Sczech

I have been a Professional Fitter and student of biomechanics for longer than I care to admit. Yet I am still surprised when I hear a rider, who is unhappy with his or her saddle say, “No saddle is comfortable”.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Assuming an individual has a proper fit and their pelvis is properly rotated, there IS a saddle that will be comfortable - probably several saddles. There are two main components of a saddle that determine the comfort - the shape and the rail. So rather than view saddles as an infinite number of options, you can begin to see them in categories. 

 

Shape

The shape of the saddle is the major determinant of whether a saddle is going to work with one’s body biomechanically. There are four general saddle shapes, and once a person finds which shape works for them it becomes easy to find other saddles that may be comfortable.

Shape 1 - The original “Saddle” shape (I call it the saddle shape because it is the mathematical definition of a saddle i.e. z=x²-y²). This shape is characterized by a dip in the middle when looking at the saddle from the side, and a rounded profile when looking at the saddle from the front/back. A few examples of this shape are the Selle Italia Flite, Selle San Marco Concor, Fizik Aliante, Prologo Scratch, and the Specialized Ronin. In my experience, this shape tends to be the least popular for an aero fit due to the fact there is not much room to move around.

Shape 2 - The Flat-Flat saddle. This is a pretty straight forward shape in that the saddle is flat from front to back and side to side. A few examples are the Selle Italia SLR, Fizik Antares, Cobb Fifty-Five, Prologo Zero, and ISM PN1.1.

Shape 3 - The Flat-Rounded saddle. This saddle is flat when looking at it from the side, and is rounded when when looking at it from the front or back. Some examples are the Fizik Arione, Fizik Volta, Prologo Kappa, and Cobb Randee.

Shape 4 - The Dipping-Flat saddle. This saddle has a dip in the center when looking at it from the side and is flat when looking at it for the front or back. A few examples are the Cobb VFlow, Cobb G2, ISM PS 1.0, WTB Rocket.

 

Rail

The rail of the saddle is also a determinant of comfort, but one of the most over looked. While rails come in several different materials (steel, titanium, and carbon), the length of the rail is what tends to be the most important. While the length of the rail is important for fitting purposes, it is also directed related to the amount the saddle is able to move in relation to the bike. Meaning the rail acts like a shock absorber. The longer the rail, the more shock that can absorbed and allowing for a more comfortable saddle.

 

Other Things To Consider

As a fitter, I have discovered that there are other aspects of the saddle that influence comfort:

Cut-outs - Cut-outs may provide perineal relief, but is important to remember that a narrow saddle with a large cut-out will have very little surface area for actual sitting causing more discomfort.

Padding - The squishier a saddle is the less comfortable it will be for long rides. It is a little counterintuitive, but the softer and deeper the padding the more the sit bones can sink into the saddle causing the padding to press more against the soft tissue ultimately leading to numbness.

 

So, if you are unhappy with your current saddle, or are like me and try new things in the off season, try some different saddle shapes and see which one works the best for you.


 

Adam Sczech is an IRONMAN Certified Coach, USAT Level I Certified Coach and a certified Bike Fitter based out of the Western Slope of Colorado. Adam has years of experience coaching beginners, juniors, elites, and clubs as well as a year focusing specifically on special needs athletes. Adam's expertise with bike fitting is extensive with over 15 years and 8,000 fits for athletes that include two world record holders, a national champion, several IRONMAN Pro/Age Groups winners and an ITU winner. He has completed several full and half Ironman races, as well as numerous Olympic and Sprint races. Adam grew up competing in speed skating and hockey in the midwest before playing football in high school and college.  After an injury in college football he took up road cycling, and competed on the road and track until making the switch to triathlon in 2009. Contact Coach Adam at Adam@TeamMPI.com

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