The Science of Picking the Right Saddle
How to find the perfect fit
Get it right: An uncomfortable saddle will discourage even the most avid riders from heading out to the trails. If you want to ride longer, harder and a lot more often, then finding the right saddle will be your key to success.
The wrong saddle can quite literally be a pain in the rear. There’s nothing worse than being uncomfortable on a ride, so saddle comfort is always one of our top priorities. Purchasing a saddle can be confusing, however, and you can only be shown so many plastic models of the human lower extremities before you really start to question your ability to choose the right saddle for yourself. Do I need a cutout here? Is it too soft? Does this width fit my sit bones? These are all great questions, and only the experts really know the answers. So, we set out to ask top experts for some helpful tips to finding the perfect saddle. Here’s what they had to say.
MARK SLATE—Saddle Designer and Co-Founder of WTB
EBA: What are a few tips you would give a rider looking to find the perfect saddle?
Mark: You’ve probably heard it before, but everyone’s saddle needs are unique to that individual. The advice I would give to any rider looking to find the perfect saddle would be the following:
—Ask yourself how many hours you are planning to ride each time you go out and how many rides per week you do on average. Think about what type of riding you’ll be doing—cross-country, trail, downhill, etc. These are all important questions that will determine your saddle needs.
—Consider how much body angle you will have when seated. Do you prefer an upright position, a moderately forward position or an aggressively forward cross-country position?
—Don’t be afraid to try many different adjustments to your saddle angle. Try adjusting your saddle’s tilt, as well as its fore and aft position, but make sure you keep your correct seat height.
—It may take a little time to get used to a new saddle shape, but it should be reasonably comfortable to start with. Stick it out with a saddle for a few rides before swapping it for a new one.
—For a given rider, a wider saddle with deeper padding will be more suitable for a more upright position.
—Padding density and saddle-base flexibility can vary greatly between two saddles, even if they look very similar. Take this into account and try out each saddle for yourself.
—A more expensive saddle is usually related to materials and finish. Just because a saddle is more expensive doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for you.
—The right saddle is the one that you rarely notice when you are riding. Be particular. Change if needed.
KENNY ROBERTS—SQlab Brand Manager
EBA: What is the first step a rider should take when purchasing a saddle?
Kenny: The most important starting point is to measure your sit bones, which will help determine your correct saddle width. The average saddle width measures 12cm for men and 13cm for women; however, it’s important to take into account the type of riding you do. Are you a cross-country rider? Do you ride trail or enduro? A more upright riding position may call for a wider saddle. It’s also important to know how your saddle is measured. At SQlab, we measure the sitting area of our saddles and not the outside edges. Our 14cm saddles tend to be the most popular.
EBA: What type of saddle should a rider look for based on his or her style of riding?
Kenny: A downhill rider or dirt jumper will typically want a saddle that is small, narrow and out of the way, since these riders don’t tend to sit down to pedal. Most of these riders don’t need to focus too much attention on their saddle fit. On the other end of the spectrum, a cross-country rider with a long stem and an aggressive stance will need to choose his or her saddle wisely. Oftentimes, cross-country riders tilt their pelvis forward, resulting in a reduced contact point with their saddle. This narrower contact point will need to be matched with a slightly narrower saddle. These riders should typically go with a firm saddle that will provide more support for longer rides. Soft saddles tend to allow riders to sink into them, resulting in unwanted pressure on their soft tissue, nerves or sit bones. Enduro and trail riders will typically want a wider saddle due to their more upright sitting position. Since the rider’s pelvis is tilted back more, his sit bones have more contact with the saddle, meaning a wider saddle will provide more comfort.
EBA: How can you determine if your saddle is too wide or too narrow?
Kenny: The best advice I can give a rider is to measure his or her sit bones, which will help determine what saddle width is best; however, riding style again comes into play. You might have a saddle that fits you great while riding in an aggressive position on your road bike, but that same saddle may be uncomfortable in an upright mountain bike position. The bottom line is, if you have any pain or numbness, it’s likely your saddle is too narrow. On the other hand, a wide saddle can cause a rider to experience chafing or rubbing, which isn’t much fun, either. Don’t be afraid to try a few different saddles, but don’t give up on a saddle too quickly, as your body can become more used to a saddle over time.
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