Whether on a trainer or outside, lots of training means lots of time on a bike seat. While you may not even notice a seat that is right for you, a long ride on the wrong seat is truly unforgettable (for all the wrong reasons). The wrong seat can actually lead to saddle sores which can take weeks to heal, completely derailing your training. So, here are some things to consider when looking for the right seat. Hold on tight, because it gets personal quick:
- Sit bones: Let’s cut to the chase – on a proper bike seat you should not be sitting on your genitalia, but rather on your perineum and/or your sit bones. The sit bones are particularly important for triathlon bikes and seats. Due to the aggressive aerodynamic position created on such a bike, your pelvis is rotated forward significantly meaning that you can’t avoid pressure on your genitalia unless you use a split nosed (such as the ISM PN 2.1 pictured above) or grooved saddle. With these seats it is then very important where the saddle will actually come in the most contact with your anatomy, ideally on the sit bones. What are these? They are essentially the bottom of the pelvis and can be felt as the two firmest areas on either side of the perineum. Everyone has a different width between their sit bones, so the first step is to become familiar with your own particular anatomy, and actually measuring your sit bone width. The link provides a less invasive method, but just bending over (to the angle at which you sit on the bike) and measuring with a tape measure is easier.
- Pressure: The second concern builds directly on the first, which is pressure on the perineum and genitalia. This can lead to two significant problems: chaffing of the genitalia which are obviously delicate, and loss of circulation due to the presence of the perineal artery. For males, this can lead directly to impotence, temporary or permanent. However, it is very important to note that a well-fit seat, at the proper angle, and used gradually (ie. build saddle time slowly) should not normally have adverse consequences. Should there be discomfort or consequences, however, a grooved saddle such as the Pro Stealth Carbon pictured to the right can alleviate this issue. Many saddles exist with a variety of grooves: deep, shallow, narrow, wide. It should be noted though that these saddles do reduce contact with the perineum therefore increasing contact on the sit bones…essentially changing you from three points of contact to two. This means that a grooved saddle is just one option and not necessarily ideal for everyone.
- Padding: Talk of pressure leads to talk of padding. Padding on a bike seat can be rather counter-intuitive. Have a look at bike seats of pro riders. These men and women often ride back-to-back days of 100-200km, including over rough, cobbled roads. Yet, most ride saddles with quite minimal padding. Now, professional bike riders are anomalies in a lot of ways and we should be cautious mimicking them, but with saddles they have a key insight. Too much padding can make things much worse quite quickly! Significant padding does two things: as you sink into the seat it distributes pressure beyond the perineum and sit bones therefore involving softer tissues; and it increases the size of the saddle. Both of these factors can lead to chaffing. Whereas the discomfort of pressure can be adapted to over time by slowly building time in the saddle, there is not enough chamois cream in the world to stop chaffing from a saddle the rubs wrong. Therefore, be cautious of seeking out padding as a comfort solution.
- Position: Nearly every adjustment you make to your bike position will have an impact on how you sit on your seat. Raise your seat too high and you starting rocking back and forth, lowering or lengthening your bars/stem tips you forward, adjusting your cleat position changes how your leg moves at the hip. And, of course, there are also direct adjustments to the seat such as seat angle. Many saddle discomfort problems can be addressed by correcting your position, and look to this before fiddling with things like the seat angle. Because I ride a low position on both my road and TT bike, I follow the advice of this GCN video and have the nose of my seat down. If you did the same with an upright position you would be very uncomfortable, constantly sliding towards the front of the saddle.
- Weight: Of course, I can’t talk about any bike component without mentioning weight. The two seats pictured in this article demonstrate the extremes of weight difference, with the ISM being essentially twice the weight of the Pro. Really, weight is listed last here because comfort and intended use are the most important factors, but do note that this is a place where a savvy shopper can save quite a few grams.
Hopefully these points have served to demonstrate how many factors are involved with bike seat selection and how individual this is. Therefore, the only way to find the best seat for you is to shop around. If your local bike shop has testers you can try, then do! Seats are not cheap and there can be a lot of regret if you get the wrong one. So, you can be informed by the tips above, but still need to find exactly what works for you.