Words by RoseMary Sindt, Photography Courtesy of RoseMary Sindt and Brooks England LTD.
My quest for the perfect saddle started about ten years ago, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. At that time and place, cycling was more about being a punk and sticking it to the man, than it was about logging miles or pushing watts. In that scene it was hard to justify spending money on anything that wasn’t local, fair trade, or alcohol so when it came to bike parts or accessories they were generally found in a free box on a friend’s front porch. My vulva could only take so much of this, and this was quite possibly the beginning of my becoming a reformed punk. I wanted to spend more time on my bike, and not just to get from A to B, I wanted to go on long rides by myself, outside of the city. I could not do that on the dilapidated squishy-gel, free-box saddle that was currently on my bike.
I began asking other cyclists, what do you ride? There was a couple in town that summer who had been touring the country on their bikes for 3 years, 3 years on a bike? How, the, hell?! They were probably the most gnarly smelly punks I had met, and they were both riding Terry saddles. My saddle obsession had started. I read all the information I could find on saddles for women. I annoyed every bicycle mechanic I knew with questions about saddles. Finally I just did it, I invested in a Terry saddle for one bike, and a Brooks saddle for the other. The longer rides began, and the discomfort ended.
Currently, I find myself a long way from digging through free boxes, and suffering through months of Minnesota winters on busted cycling equipment. I am in Southern California, working in the cycling industry. I am an Inside Sales Rep for a rad little company called, Highway Two, distributor of Brooks, Fi’zi:k and Selle Royal, some of the finest and most coveted saddle brands on the market. It is important to invest in a fine saddle, just as a runner must invest in supportive shoes. I say this not just because it is my job to convince people to buy nice saddles, but because making that investment changed my riding habits from being an across town commuter, to riding an average of 200 miles a week. The contact points on a bike are the most important part of your cycling experience, if your ass and your feet and your hands are comfortable, you can ride the crappiest bike for a really really long time.
There are a lot of saddles on the market, and it can seem overwhelming, so what is it that makes a really comfortable saddle? It comes down to a couple of things, the stiffness, the width, and a perineal relief cut-out. The type of riding you are doing, and your personal anatomy are going to affect each of these categories. The width you choose will vary depending on your sit bones and your riding style. The further upright that you sit, the flatter and wider your sit bones will be positioned on your saddle, so as you sit up further, the wider the saddle choice. If you find that you have numbness, stinging, or burning in your soft tissues, investigate saddles that have a full cut out, or a perineal relief channel. Never choose a squishy saddle, the word to keep in mind is firm. The more aggressive your riding position, the more narrow and firm your saddle choice will be. A general rule that works for me when selecting a saddle width is, my sit bone width + 20mm. For instance, my sit bones measure 130mm center to center, so in my most aggressive riding position the most narrow saddle I can comfortably ride is 150mm. If I go any more narrow that that, I am sitting right on my soft tissues. Your sit bones should be what contacts the saddle. If you feel like you are putting pressure on your soft tissues, try tilting the nose of your saddle down 1 degree, not too far though, or you risk putting too much pressure on your hands and wrists, which will cause a whole series of other problems.
In my experience, I am most comfortable riding saddles without a relief cut out, as long as there is good flexibility through the nose. I do not race, I just ride a lot, so the weight of my saddle is not a concern, you will almost always find a Brooks saddle on my bikes. If you are racing, check out saddles from Fi’zi:k, Selle Italia, or Terry. If you are seeking a comfort saddle, try Brooks, Selle Royal or Terry. WTB or Terry are both great options for mountain biking or CX, as well as the Brooks Cambium series, which is of course, my favorite.
Ask questions at your local bike shop and don’t feel weird making the Sales Associate or Mechanic uncomfortable for a few minutes, they probably have some pretty good advice and personal anecdotes that will help you in your selection. Spend the money, ride further, make your vagina happier. The right saddle won’t solve all your bike fit concerns, but it can really make a world of difference.
We had a really fun night over at Golden Saddle Cyclery trying on saddles and drinking all the wine. Check out Jen Abercromie’s piece over at The Radavist where she also created an awesome info-graphic to help with choosing a saddle.