It’s a fact that discomfort will impact performance. Some of the key target areas are where the human body comes in contact with our 2-wheeled steeds of freedom – in particular: the saddle. For women: the choice of saddle is a Big Deal for reasons I don’t think are necessary to point out here. I know that finally landing (literally) on a saddle that works for me was a journey that included several painful disappointments, many misdirection’s thanks to mindless marketing, as well as significant (and potentially unnecessary) investments.
Here’s my saddle saga…
Unfortunately there has historically been very little investigation by saddle designers to create a saddle specifically for ladies. Don’t be fooled for a second that those ‘relief area’ saddles with pink swirly designs and labels like “Lady Fit” were originally for women. Nope. I don’t care what Terry says (sorry). All relief area saddles were originally created for men’s needs – which is all valid and needful. However: a pathetic amount of research has gone into saddles specifically for women. What actually happened in the evolution of lady-fit saddles is more happy accident than design. Even ISM created the full split saddle to relieve male pressure points during triathlons.
Regardless of saddle design origin, the way I see it is: there is no reason why women (or anyone) should be in pain while riding their bike. For many years I thought persistent discomfort was just “the way it is” and constant pain was ‘normal’. I needed to “toughen up” and “get used it it”. HTFU and all that. Sound familiar? After all, cycling is a tough sport and only the strong survive… yaddah, yaddah…
Bullhockey. A properly fit bike with the right equipment to fit your body does not equal miserable miles doing what you love best. It’s a miracle that so many continue to ride even though they are in pain the entire time. It’s amazing what humans can tolerate! My break-away from constant pain while riding happened in stages and the first item of immediate urgency was, of course, the saddle.
I have literally sat down on some blade-like weapons cleverly disguised as performance saddles only to pop off of them like I’d been electrocuted. I’ve said many foul words about designers who make these horrible things. After years of pain, discomfort, and soft tissue damage (yes, damage), there are a few keys points to consider when choosing a saddle.
#1 One size does not fit all.
It’s another fact that we are ALL blessedly different (to avoid deadly boredom as we bump through life). That means, what works for me won’t be as great for the next lady. How you are shaped, how you sit on your saddle, and what size you are matters.
- The saddle needs to fit your hip width. So, if you are a smaller person: make sure you choose a more narrow saddle. Opposite is true for larger folks like me. Too wide a saddle = chaffing on inner thigh. Too narrow = digging into areas that it shouldn’t! Feeling as if your saddle just violated you is NOT fun. Most ladies saddles include a wider area where the sit-bones are because our hips are wider than men’s
- How you sit on a saddle matters (and this is fit related). If you roll forward like I do, then you will need to keep in mind where your pressure points will be verses someone who sits more on the sit-bones. If you roll forward off of the sit bones it’s likely you will put more pressure on the soft tissue areas. Many women do ride like this and it’s common to have our pressure points be just forward of the sit-bones hence creating interesting times while riding.
Where’s the goods? Oh come on, you know what I mean! Where the sensitive areas are in relation to your saddle and how are they affected by the ride matters … A LOT. Numbness, pain, and even permanent damage can occur if you aren’t cautious with this area. In my personal opinion: the saddle shouldn’t touch my bits! Some women are made differently and don’t have that concern.
#2 Pick your relief area.
It’s important to determine early on where you need to create a ‘no touch’ zone with your saddle.
- Blade Runners are those ladies that can sit on those narrow men’s saddles without a pause and hammer along for miles on end. I really wonder about you gals. But, it makes choosing a saddle easy-peasy!
- Moderate Miss are those women who like a bit of relief area in the middle but are ok otherwise. Lucky you, because there’s tons to choose from because many men’s saddles offer this as well. Keep in mind that your size will drive how wide the saddle needs to be to accommodate the hips.
- Split Personality implies that you have only decided on ONE thing: that your saddle shall not touch you in any sensitive areas. A full split saddle is your preference and unfortunately you are destined to spend more money than most on your saddle. That’s fine, don’t panic, because there are few things more uncomfortable on a long ride than an ill-fitting saddle. Most likely you roll forward off of your sit-bones OR you just aren’t taking any chances.
Top Tip: for those that have a ‘Split Personality’: Cobb Saddles, ISM, Koobi, and SMP Saddles are all good options.
For anyone reading this that suffers from illusions that large, heavily padded saddles are the thing to have – please step away from the massive gel seat. Maybe for a very upright beach cruiser, but over-padded large saddles are NOT appropriate (or comfortable) for any performance bike. Ever.
To avoid needless expenditures on saddles I recommend that you first get a bike fit by a professional that can map your pressure points and adjust the ride fit to meet your needs and ride style. Secondly: hopefully this same person will have test saddles for you to try on your bike. If you fit is great except for the saddle – then skip to part two and find a place that carries test saddles. This is a much less expensive option than buying a saddle only to find out that it doesn’t work.
Top Tip: When testing your saddle don’t plan a ride over 30 miles. You should know within 30 miles, or less, whether or not the saddle is for you. It’s best practice to avoid committing to a long ride on new or newly fitted equipment – just in case.
Don’t put up with discomfort and develop your own saddle saga! The one lesson I have learned over the years is: invest in good equipment and it will take care of you. This is true whether you bike, hike, swim, run, ski, and so on.