5 Bike Seat Myths You Need to Know Before Your Next Saddle Purchase
Updated: Nov 7
Choosing the right bike saddle can be a game-changer for your cycling experience. Whether you're a seasoned rider or just starting out, saddle comfort matters. In this article, we'll debunk five common myths about bike saddles and provide valuable insights to help you make an informed decision.
Myth 1: "Measuring Sit Bones" Helps You Find the Right Bike Seat
One of the most pervasive myths in the world of cycling is that measuring your sit bones is the holy grail of saddle selection. It's an oversimplification of a complex issue that involves various factors contributing to saddle comfort. To this very day, a quick search on the internet will provide numerous articles and manufacturers using this sizing mechanism with the assumption that it’s similar to waist width equates to finding the correct size of pants. While sit bone width can be a semi-helpful starting point, it's a small part of the saddle selection puzzle. Your riding posture, pelvic position, flexibility, sensitivity, and riding style all play a crucial role in the bike seat decision process.
Your riding posture has a profound influence on saddle comfort. The way you position your body on the bike affects weight distribution and the contact points between your pelvis and the saddle. For instance, a more aggressive, forward-leaning posture usually necessitates a different saddle than an upright, relaxed posture.
In the diagram above the far left image shows a rider in an aggressive, triathlon or time trial forward-leaning posture. In this case, the pressure point is on their pelvis pubic ramus. However, as you move towards the far right image, where the rider is more upright, the pressure shifts towards the sit bones. Consequently, if you attempted to purchase from a store that only measured sit bone width as a saddle selection indicator, the saddle match for the riders leaning forward would most likely be inadequate. These nuances emphasize the importance of not using a “one size fits all” saddle measurement process, but rather decision-making criteria that account for the diverse rider positions and pelvic rotation.
Further nailing the previous point home, it’s valuable to understand the intricacies of pelvic anatomy to grasp why saddle fit is nuanced. The pelvis plays a significant role in determining your ideal saddle. When you ride, your pelvis rotates forward as you reach for the handlebars (or as in the previous example a more aggressive riding position would satisfy the same condition). As this happens, your weight shifts from your sit bones (ischial tuberosities) to the pubic area (pubic Rami). The triangle shape from the sit bones to the pubic arch determines the proper width of the center part of the saddle. This triangular region, often overlooked in saddle selection, is a critical point of reference. When you get this width wrong (which would happen if only sit bone width measurement was utilized), you may encounter saddle issues, including discomfort, chafing, and pressure points.
Your flexibility, particularly in the hip and lower back area, plays a critical role in saddle comfort. A more flexible rider may adapt to a wider range of saddle shapes, while less flexibility can demand a saddle with specific contouring to accommodate a less flexible riding position. It’s valuable to note that, unlike some companies’ correlative charts, flexibility alone does not dictate the perfect saddle for you.
Individual sensitivity levels can vary widely, making it necessary to consider saddle design to reduce pressure on sensitive areas. Some riders may be more sensitive to pressure on the perineal region, necessitating saddles with cutouts or channels to alleviate discomfort.
Referring back to the riding posture diagram above displaying the riding position on a triathlon bike compared to an upright comfort bike, different riding styles may require distinct saddle designs. The choice of saddle can greatly impact your comfort and performance, depending on your preferred riding style.
Road Cycling: For road cyclists, a sleek and narrow saddle often works best. This design allows for a more aerodynamic position and efficient pedaling. Road bike saddles often prioritize minimizing weight and providing a streamlined shape. At the same time, it’s valuable to note that comfort is more valuable than weight savings. What’s the point of having a light saddle if you can’t sit on it for more than 10 minutes without experiencing excruciating pain?
Mountain Biking: Mountain bikers typically face rougher terrain and longer periods of seated pedaling. As a result, a wider and more cushioned saddle is often favored to provide greater comfort on uneven trails. These saddles emphasize durability and shock absorption.
Touring and Long-Distance Cycling: Cyclists embarking on long-distance rides should prioritize comfort. Touring saddles are designed with higher-density cushioning, broader widths, and ergonomic shapes to reduce pressure and enhance endurance.
Time Trials and Triathlons: Time trial and triathlon saddles are unique in their designs. They often feature elongated, noseless shapes that allow riders to maintain an aerodynamic position and reduce pressure on sensitive areas.
Hybrid or Multi-Purpose Biking: Riders who engage in a combination of cycling disciplines might opt for hybrid or multi-purpose saddles. These designs incorporate elements from various saddle types to offer versatility.
Myth #2: Your Friend's Bike Seat Is Comfortable, So It Will Work for You
It's tempting to believe that if a saddle works for your friend, it'll work for you too. However, individual anatomy varies significantly. What suits one person may not be suitable for another. Factors like pelvic tilt, weight distribution, personal preference, and sensitivity of the saddle region matter.
While your friend's recommendation can be a starting point, it's essential to remember that saddle comfort is incredibly subjective. What feels comfortable for one rider may not feel the same for you. Instead of relying solely on recommendations, take the time to test different saddles and find the one that fits your unique needs.
Myth 3: More Cushion = More Comfortable
Contrary to popular belief, more cushioning doesn't necessarily equate to greater comfort. Excessive padding can lead to discomfort, chafing, and even numbness. What's essential is finding the right balance between cushioning and support.
While some cushioning is necessary to provide comfort, it's crucial not to overdo it. Excess padding can lead to increased pressure on sensitive areas, causing discomfort during long rides. The ideal saddle offers adequate support to reduce pressure on key contact points while providing enough cushioning to absorb road vibrations.
Myth 4: All Bike Seats Are Uncomfortable
Cycling culture, especially in the past, often perpetuated the idea that pain was an inevitable and necessary part of riding. The belief was that enduring discomfort, especially during long rides or races, was a testament to a rider's commitment and toughness. Cyclists prided themselves on their ability to persevere through saddle soreness, numbness, and chafing.
However, this mindset has undergone a significant shift in recent years. Cyclists are now realizing that pain and discomfort are not synonymous with dedication or skill. In fact, they can hinder performance, discourage new riders, and lead to long-term health issues.
The Reality: Modern Bike Seat Comfort
The reality is that not all saddles are uncomfortable. Thanks to advancements in saddle design and technology, riders can now enjoy a level of comfort previously thought unattainable. Features like ergonomic shapes, strategically placed cutouts, and innovative materials have revolutionized saddle comfort.
These improvements have not only made cycling more enjoyable but have also opened the sport to a broader and more diverse audience. Cyclists no longer need to endure pain to prove their commitment; instead, they can focus on improving their skills and enjoying the ride.
It's also essential to understand that not all saddles are created equal. Some saddles are specifically designed with comfort in mind. Brands like Selle SMP, Selle Italia, Ninty-K, Cobb Saddles, ISM, WTB, and Infinity Saddles are known for their commitment to rider comfort. Exploring their offerings by visiting us can lead you to a saddle that transforms your riding experience.
Myth 5: Bike Seat Shape Doesn't Impact Comfort
One of the common misconceptions in the world of cycling is that the shape of a saddle has little impact on comfort. However, this couldn't be further from the truth. Saddle shape plays a pivotal role in determining how comfortable your ride will be. Let's delve into the details of why saddle shape matters and explore the different saddle shapes you should consider:
Why Seat Shape Matters
Weight Distribution: The shape of a saddle determines how your body weight is distributed across its surface. A well-designed saddle shape ensures even weight distribution, reducing pressure on sensitive areas and preventing discomfort.
Support: The right saddle shape provides optimal support to your most sensitive contact point between you and the bicycle. This minimizes pressure on soft tissues and nerves, reducing the risk of numbness and discomfort.
Riding Style: Different riding styles require different saddle shapes. Whether you're a road cyclist, a mountain biker, or a commuter, the ideal saddle shape should complement your riding posture and style.
Comfort on Long Rides: A saddle with the appropriate shape can significantly enhance comfort on long rides. It reduces the likelihood of soreness and chafing, allowing you to enjoy extended cycling adventures.
Different Bike Seat Shapes
When it comes to bike seat shapes, several options are available, each catering to specific riding styles and preferences. Here's a bulleted list explaining the different saddle shapes:
Typically found on road, gravel, and MTB saddles
Provides a flat, even surface with minimal curve.
Offers a noticeable curve or arch from front to back.
Suitable for riders with a forward-leaning posture who prefer a more aggressive riding position.
Keeps riders in a sustained position (fore-aft) on the bike seat
Refers to side-to-side curvature
Reduces leg chaffing compared to wider saddles
T or Pear-Shaped Saddle
Provides a long and narrow front which transitions quickly to a wide rear
A T-shaped saddle usually has a bit more of a dramatic transition vs. a pear-shaped saddle
Features a central cutout or channel to relieve pressure on soft tissues.
Excellent for riders who experience numbness or discomfort in the perineal area.
Provides ample surface area, distributing weight over a broader space.
Often chosen by leisure and commuter riders for comfort on short rides.
Women tend to choose wider saddles due to having different pelvic geometry.
Offers a streamlined profile with a narrower width.
Preferred by competitive cyclists who prioritize aerodynamics and efficiency.
Hybrid or All-Purpose Saddle:
Combines elements of different shapes to provide versatility.
Suitable for riders who engage in various cycling disciplines.
Choosing the right saddle shape is crucial for maximizing comfort and performance. It's essential to consider your riding style, posture, and personal preferences when selecting a saddle shape.
To Sum it All Up
The world of bike saddles is full of myths that can lead you astray when it comes to comfort. Armed with the right knowledge and guidance, you can make an informed decision. Testing different saddles and seeking expert advice are key steps in finding the perfect fit for your cycling adventures. Contact us about our bike saddle demo program to learn more.