Rubber Side Down | Saddle Selection

On my last family adventure I found myself in Tucson, Arizona and decided to do a little riding up Mount Lemmon, a grueling 7,500 feet of climbing over a 30 mile span of road. Air travel and the expenses of boxing a bike drove my decision to rent. Although the ride was a success, I encountered one major issue… my tail end. Despite the agony, I still had a fantastic time, but it got me thinking about saddles and some of the trouble customers have finding the right one. A lot of people come to us asking: Is there a way to fit saddles? Is it different for different people? Are there different sizes like shoes? To spare you from the pain, let me share with you what I’ve learned about finding the right saddle for you.

Saddle Width

Width is arguably the most important thing to get right when selecting a saddle. Akin to shoes, each saddle offers a unique fit, but ignoring saddle sizing transforms the effort spent finding a comfortable saddle into an Sisyphean exercise in futility. Saddles support the body by making contact with the sit bones. Incorrectly sized saddles place weight on anatomy that cannot support it and this leads to a fair amount of discomfort. Art’s made a little video to help determine proper sit bone width and how to use that information to find the right saddle. Let’s take a look.

Beyond saddle width, things start to get a little subjective. There are a few different qualities to look for, but selection will be rider specific and more difficult to quantify. For example, saddles vary in their degree of curvature. Most are flat in the front and then curve to an extent towards the rear. Some curvature can be nice to feel centered on the seat, but too much curvature will result in pressure between the sit bones and cause discomfort to the perineal area.  If you like to stay planted in one spot, curved saddles offer excellent support, but if you find that you prefer or need to move a bit more, a flatter saddle is a better choice.

In an effort to relieve pressure on the perineal area (soft tissue below the pubic bone) some saddle designs include a cutout in the center. Watch the video below to compare a few different variations in saddle design.

ISM has taken saddle technology to a new level with their radical departure from traditional saddle design. Their saddles are designed to relieve perinial area pressures by only placing body weight on the sit bones. If you are having trouble finding a traditional saddle that works for you, the ISM’s are worth a look. Traditional saddle manufacturer Selle Italia now has a similar, but slightly less radical offering in a line of saddles they call Superflow.

ADAMO Pressure Test

ISM pressure test results from the ADAMO saddle

Having found the perfect saddle, I might bring it along on the next family vacation and avoid another suffer fest with a rental bike. For those unsure of regarding more subjective saddle characteristics, fear not, Art’s Cyclery offers free return shipping on all saddles if you can’t find the one you want the first time. We even include a printed return label in the box!

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Rubber Side Down is a weekly column dedicated to the fledgling cyclist in all of us. Art’s Cyclery Web Content Editor, Brett Murphy is not a professional cyclist, and doesn’t try to masquerade as one either, but he does love to ride bikes. Whether you are clipping in for the first time or counting down the days until your first race, read on, learn from his mistakes, and keep the rubber side down.