One of the most common conversations at ERIK’S is how to find a comfortable bike seat. It’s difficult to know whether the stock seat on your new bike will fit you, and after a few early season rides some customers find their old saddle just doesn’t feel as though it fits like it used to. Let’s face it, riding a bike requires sitting (a lot) on a small, firm seat, and most of us are willing to do anything we can to make this experience more comfortable. Here are some points to consider before you start looking for a new saddle.
Why is it called a saddle?
Let’s get this out of the way, why is the bike seat called a saddle? It’s based on tradition, and it goes back to the days when there were far more horses than cars on the roads. A seat is something that you sit on and it supports your full weight. On a bike, your weight is also being supported by your legs and hands. A bike saddle provides partial support – it isn’t a full lounger. From that perspective, a bike “seat” has more in common with the design and use of a horse’s saddle, hence the name.
Bicycle style and rider position affect saddle choice
How you ride, and your position on the bike will affect what saddle works for you. On a recreational, cruiser, or casual bike that puts you in a more upright position the saddle ends up taking most of your body weight. On a typical leisurely ride, there’s not much pressure or force on the pedals lifting your weight out of the saddle.
On the other hand, on a performance bike with a more stretched-out position, there is more weight on the rider’s hands and less on the saddle. Additionally, pushing harder on the pedals takes pressure off the saddle by supporting more of the rider’s body weight with their legs. Typically, the more upright the position on the bike, the wider and more padded a saddle will be
Pushing your thumb into a saddle’s padding tells you very little about the actual comfort of the saddle, yet it seems to be the universal test of comfort. The amount of padding you need is dependent on several factors: the more upright rider will need more padding because they have a higher percentage of their weight supported by their saddle.
But more padding isn’t always better. Too much padding can cause chafing, push into soft tissue, or cause a rider’s hips to rock, which can lead to low back pain. If you plan to do lots of riding and longer rides, choose a firmer saddle. If you’re a recreational rider and like keeping your outings short and sweet, more padding is okay. Think about it like a bed: some people sleep better on a softer mattress, while others prefer it more firm.
Saddles can vary tremendously in profiles from tip to tail, from pancake flat to something resembling the Concorde with the nose tipped down and the tail kicking up, and everything in between. The profile of the top from side to side can be dramatically different in how much, and to what degree, the sides bend down. This can affect how wide a saddle feels regardless of its actual width.
Saddles can be more triangular or pear shaped, and this will change how you sit as well as how your legs interact with the saddle on each pedal stroke. Choosing the right shape is more a matter of personal preference, but generally, once you find a shape that works for you, you’ll know it!
Click here to check out Part 2 of our Bike Saddle blog series where we talk about the center cutout and how to find your saddle size.
This blog was written by ERIK’S Advanced Services Manager Chris Rogers. Chris is a Certified Body Geometry Fit Technician and has been fitting bikes at ERIK’S since 2008.