|Pity the poor bicycle seat. Few products in the history of sports have taken such a bum rap. Prostate problems. Numbness. Boils. Infections. Chafing. Even impotency! You name the malady and it’s likely been blamed on the pedaler’s perch, the cyclist’s throne, the bike saddle.
Some criticism is justified because any reasonable person might assume that if you buy a good bike, you get a good seat. In fact, you might not even give the seat a second thought and start logging big miles immediately. And, if you develop pain and discomfort, you might cling to the notion that it can’t be the seat and simply keep riding, figuring that if you pedal enough, the aches and pains will disappear. If you’re lucky, that might happen. But, it could also be a bad mistake — the type of oversight that could cause many of the problems mentioned above.
Unfortunately, bike seats are not that simple. A seat is a bit like a pair of shoes. The same way you’d buy a certain sneaker for a particular foot and sport, you must purchase a saddle that fits your body and your style of riding. What’s more, and this is absolutely crucial for problem-free cycling, the seat must be expertly adjusted to fit your body (see sidebar below, or read my step-by-step bicycle fitting guide). Often, a perfectly adequate seat will feel awful and cause trouble simply because it’s not set correctly.
The Science of bicycle seats
Your seat must fit your type of riding and your body. The faster you ride, the more likely it is you’ll want a narrow, racing-style seat. This is because, a fast-riding position on a bike shifts you forward placing more weight on the hands and feet and reducing a lot of the weight on the seat. Also, as you pedal more vigorously, you spin faster and you don’t want interference from the sides of the seat.
As you ride more casually, however, such as on a cruiser bike with wide backswept handlebars, most of your weight is planted directly on the seat. Plus you don’t pedal quickly at all. These factors make a wide, heavily padded saddle ideal to support your weight and provide cushioning.
Equally important, most manufacturers offer their popular seat models in both men’s and women’s versions and there are significant differences.
Because male and female pelvises differ (women’s are wider), it’s usually a good idea for men to start with men’s saddle models and women with women’s (though not always: women sometimes do fine on men’s seats). The men’s is a bit longer and narrower while the women’s is a bit shorter and wider.
Next, the seat must fit your particular anatomy. You can sometimes see how you fit a seat if you sit on it for a while then get off and immediately look closely at the back of the seat top. If a saddle is right for your body, its rear will support your sit bones (the ischial tuberosities – those two protrusions that bug you when you sit on a hard bench). These bones will form dents in certain types of seats. If the seat is correct for your anatomy, the depressions will be centered on the pads of the seat on either side.
While the rear of the seat supports your sit bones, the front (nose) of the seat is designed to help you control the bike with your thighs and support some body weight.
The problem with the nose of the bicycle seat is that it bothers many riders, both women and men. This is the part of the seat that’s most likely to compress nerves, irritate soft tissue, cause chafing and generally abuse the body. Fortunately, there are plenty of seat models currently available that address the issue with various innovations.
Certain models incorporate a channel or groove centered down the length of the seat. Others use a hole or long slot in the front. Seats with channels and holes are often called Cutaway seats. Some seats feature soft foam or gel in the nose and softened bases beneath to reduce the stiffness. These are usually called Gel seats. The important thing to know is that if you find the seat’s nose a problem, there are models designed to remove the intrusion. Try a few until you find the model that works for you.
| Five Steps to Perfect Seat Adjustment
Fun Seat Sites
Selle San Marco
Terry Bicycles seats
Real Seat (below)
|It Came From Outer Space
ALSO: Learn all about seat design and what will work for you in Joshua Cohen’s new book:
And here’s one of Joshua’s new seats, the E3 Form Gel (click pic to enlarge).
Not a random design
A lot of people look at the typical narrow bike seat found on a modern road or mountain bike and wonder what demented individual designed such an obvious torture device. That’s an understandable reaction but it overlooks the fact that the modern bicycle saddle is a sophisticated invention that took about 150 years to develop.
From the earliest days of cycling, inventors realized that having a comfortable saddle was key and they experimented wildly (see illustrations) to come up with sweet seats. As the bicycle changed in design, saddles changed and the typical seat found on today’s bikes is a product of that evolution.
Though the modern seat looks odd and maybe even uncomfortable, it’s actually quite clever. The long narrow shape allows cyclists to spin their legs at high rpms. A wider platform would interfere with pumping thighs. The back of the seat is just broad enough to support the pelvis and just padded enough to absorb impacts without adding weight.
Because the saddle top is suspended on rails beneath the seat, there’s give in the seat top that helps suck up bumps, and air can pass beneath the seat helping to cool you a little. Plus, the long top allows you to scoot forward or back to shift the pedaling position and to adjust body weight when needed to control the bike or simply for a change to rest tired butt muscles. What’s amazing is that all these features are available in something that can weigh less than 200 grams, last 10,000 miles and cost less than a good meal.
Use it, don’t abuse it
So, just because a cycling seat may look scary, don’t assume it’s a stinker. First, adjust it properly and try it. Don’t hit the road and/or trail in jeans or ordinary shorts, though. Why? Because clothing such as jeans and many types of shorts have seams in the crotch area. Sitting on top of these seams puts pressure on the sensitive tissues in the groin area causing pain and numbness. Instead, purchase cycling shorts, which include padding (called the “chamois”) and are seam free in the crotch area. Underwear is not worn with cycling shorts either because, you guessed it, underwear also contains seams.
|Now that you’ve got your cycling shorts, you need a couple of riding tips to protect your body. Don’t just head out and mindlessly pedal along. That concentrates the pressure on the contact points, the handlebars, pedals and seat. The key to comfort is moving around regularly to shift the pressure (this goes for your hands and feet, too). Standing occasionally such as when you’re climbing, relieves the pressure on the seat and gets a whole new set of muscles working.
And any time you’re rolling over bumpy terrain, take the weight off the saddle by lifting your body slightly with your knees so that you’re in a jockey’s position on the bike. In this riding position, the seat won’t be able to slam into your groin or transfer impacts from the wheels if your run into ruts, rocks and holes.
| Six Tips to Defeat the Saddle-Sores Blues
There are hundreds of seats to select from but they fall into seven broad categories. Keep in mind that there’s crossover between categories and types. For example, Gel seats are available in performance, mountain bike, wide/cushion styles and others. The important thing to understand is that there’s no reason you can’t use any seat for any purpose if it feels good to you.
|Seat type||Ideal User||Features|
||You ride for fitness and training wearing cycling clothing and maintaining a high pedal rpm and fairly rapid pace. You like to go long, ride centuries and sometimes ride aggressively on and/or off road. You sit in a racey position with your handlebars lower than your seat.||Light (sometimes have titanium or carbon rails); minimal padding; narrow shape; pretty stiff top.|
|Mountain Bike||You ride a lot off road on challenging terrain where your body and bike take a beating. You move around on the seat a lot to apply body English on technical sections, for example sliding way off the back of the seat to safely descend a steep slope or perching on the saddle nose to keep the front wheel down on the steeps.||Fairly narrow shape; medium padding to soften blows; light; shaped rear section to ease moving rearward; downward sloped nose for moving forward further; sometimes reinforced on the areas that touch down when you crash. A few models designed for aggressive off-road riding, feature extra length for even more fore/aft body position adjustments when jamming.|
(example of a sport type; gel seats come in all varieties)
|You find that most normal-padded seats irritate your groin or your sit bones. You suffer from occasional numbness on longer rides.||Great cushion through the use of gel, a shock absorbing material that also molds to you for a custom fit; gel adds weight but there are light and heavier gel seats; often slightly wider throughout; flexible top; may feature bumps to support the sit bones. There are many types of gel seats.|
||You’ve tried lots of seats and you can’t find anything that eliminates pain, tingling, numbness and irritation. Especially bothersome is the saddle nose that digs into your groin and soft tissue causing pain and suffering even on short rides.||Material is removed from the saddle top to eliminate pressure points; some have actual cutouts (holes or slots) in the top; various models are available: performance, mountain bike, gel); high-tech look.|
||You ride in an upright position on a bike where the handlebars are as high or higher than the seat, which puts a lot of your weight on the seat. You don’t pedal very fast or ride very aggressively. You don’t wear cycling clothing.||Wide throughout but especially on the back; lots of padding; sometimes springs are built into the underside of the seat; heaviest of all seat types.|
||You’re a traditionalist who likes natural bike products and wants a classy looking bicycle. You enjoy longer rides and keep up a fair pace and you want a seat that will break in to fit your body over the miles. You don’t mind taking extra steps to maintain your products but you like them to last a long time.||Beautiful; absorbs body heat keeping you cooler; medium weight; breaks in to you over time. Note that leather can be susceptible to water damage (carry a plastic cover and use it whenever it rains) and some saddles may require a break-in period before they becomes comfortable.|
||You’ve had prostate surgery or have injuries to the groin area that make it very painful to sit on regular bicycle seats and you’ve tried them all. You ride in an upright position with handlebars higher than the seat and you don’t pedal fast or ride aggressively. You just want to ride again for fun and exercise and are willing to experiment to find a seat, any seat that won’t hurt you.||Most unique designs of any seat category; often adjustable or articulated (parts of the seat move with the body); some are expensive; heavier than standard seats; don’t always attach easily to the bike. Sources (more above):
The Moon Saddle
Reference Source : http://www.jimlangley.net/crank/bicycleseats.html