Saturday, September 18, 2021

Bike Saddle Hell: Finding the right saddle for your bottom

August 25, 2008 by · 23 Comments 

Brooks B-67 bicycle saddle Brooks Saddle Image via Wikipedia

I want to begin by stating that I’m neither a doctor nor a bike pro. I have no qualification for analyzing bike saddles other than that which my body tells me. That said, this post is about my frustration in finding a saddle for my road bike that would:

a) Allow for race-type mobility
b) Not hurt unecessarily
c) Not make the boys go numb

About a year and a half ago I started cycling longer and longer distances after a knee injury made running a non-starter. Prior to extending these distances, the stock saddle (base Specialized Body Geometry) of my bike was sufficient. I wasn’t really pushing the ‘time on saddle’ enough to start feeling any pain. Once, I started going beyond 30 minutes on the saddle, however, I started feeling discomfort and thus my journey to find the ideal saddle began.

My first stop was the Specialized Toupe. I did do research to find this saddle, but since I was starting from 0, I was very easily convinced by the Body Geometry marketing about blood flow and a cut out in the saddle. After all, it makes sense. So I figured I’d give it a try considering that in Specialized’s own tests the Toupe showed the best blood flow.

Result after several months of trying to find the right saddle position = Pain and numbness.

After much experimentation with orientation and seating angle, and seeing no improvement in my three criteria above, I decided to try a new saddle. The Selle Italia C2 Gel Flow.

The C2 saddle also has cutouts, but had some hardish gel that felt slightly softer than the torturous Toupe. I can’t say that the Selle Italia was great, but it wasn’t as painful as the Toupe; it just was not right for me either.

I moved to a different bike not too long ago, and with it, I got a free Specialized Alias. Being that the Alias is similar to the Toupe, but with a more padded body, I figured I’d give it a shot and see if it helped. Into hour two of my London to Cambridge ride, I knew that this wasn’t going to work. I needed to find something new.

The problem with all the literature on the web is that it is quite conflicting. Some state the benefits of nose-less saddles, some state the benefits of leather saddles, some state the benefits of non-cutout saddles, and lastly many state the benefits of cut out saddles.

Because the benefits of a well fitting saddle are obvious, lets focus on the critiques I’ve seen of these different technologies, starting by addressing the two main schools.:

Non-Cutout Saddles: Some studies, such as this one, state that the saddle is more comfortable the more surface area there is for you to dissipate your weight on, and that cutout saddles actually hurt more because if focuses your weight no very specific points. Having only recently purchased a saddle in this category, the jury is out on this, but the obvious downside of this type of design is that it is convex and thus intuitively makes you feel like there would be MORE pressure on your nerves than on a saddle with a hole.

Cutout saddles: The downside is as stated above. Yes, you relieve pressure in some places, but you increase it in others, and if you don’t get it right, it could hurt quite a bit. So, since I have experienced this, I can say that I’m not fully convinced that cutouts our the way to go for me, but I also haven’t found anything that works for me yet… I am still considering a Selle SMP Strike Pro which may actually be radical enough for me to experience comfort. After all, the Scotsman that went around the world on a bike used one.

As a subset of these two types of architectures, there are various other categories, here are two others that I’ve found:

Nose-Less Saddles: The downside seems to be lack of bike control since we all use the nose-bit of the bike to some extent to control the bike movement when we’re off our seat and on it. People say they’ve wrecked before because of this. I think if you’re a person n a city stroller bike, you probably don’t have this issue, but for serious road bikers or MT bikers, this could be an issue. Plus, they’re hard to find and buy.

Leather Saddles: Many extol the virtues and comfort of leather saddles from Brooks (which seem to be the only remaining manufacturer) after the leather is broken in, but many complain that the break-in period is unbearable and that it takes way too long. Hight cost and high maintenance are another issue associated with all leather, and finally, weight. For a road bike that is made of lightweight materials, some bikers find the 400-500 gram seats a bit on the heavy side (compared to some of the newer seats in the 200g range).

So, as things are, I am currently in the process of trying out the non-cutout route with the Selle San Marco Regal C40 and if that doesn’t work, I may either try a Brooks Swift (which is what people seem to recommend for road bikes) or a Selle SMP Strike Pro, which is the aggresive form of a cutout saddle.

Here’s to keeping my fingers crossed in hopes I don’t have to sell my bike in pain.

Update: This weekend I went for two 35km rides with the Regal and I didn’t get numbness, but I did get friction soreness. The dome shape of the saddle I think, is to blame. However, I’ll give it more time to see if it’ll ‘break in’ further. One thing, though, is that I’m starting to get the feeling that perhaps cutout saddles are not for me, for the Regal, in spite of the soreness, was more comfortable than my previous cutout style saddles. I’ll keep on updating this post as the decision process progresses.

Next on my list, if the Regal fails, and until I find the right one are the following highly recommended saddles:

– Fizik Aliante
– Brooks Swift
– Selle SMP Strike Pro

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