Saddles

Saddles are a sore point with most cyclists (pun intended). It seems to be an article of faith that upon purchasing a new bike, the first thing you do is get rid of the stock saddle, and put on something else.

Sadly, there’s no “best” saddle recommendation available. Since everybody is built differently, everybody has a saddle that is going to be the best fit for them. The problem is, how do you find it?

When my wife started training for her charity ride last year, her old saddle began falling apart. It was an Avocet gel saddle, and she liked it quite a bit. The local bike shop suggested the Specialized Dolce Gel to replace the Avocet, and despite what looked like an odd shape, my wife found that she liked it.

dolcegel.jpg

The Specialized Dolce Gel saddle.

Back when she had first put the Avocet on her Trek hybrid, I grabbed the Trek’s saddle for the Raleigh. It was a gel saddle, and I figured it would be more comfortable than the stock seat.

treksaddle.jpg

The Trek gel saddle.

I was right. For casual rides around town, and even some longer rides on asphalt “rails to trails” bike paths, it was fine. But on my 50-mile organized ride, it put me in agony with 15 miles to go. I went shopping for a new saddle right away.

Performance Bike, the online bike catalog store, has two brick-and-mortar stores in Austin. They carry a good variety of saddles, ranging in price from more than $200 to quite reasonable. The saddles with cutouts intrigued me. The cutout — to relieve pressure on sensitive areas of the bottom — seemed to make sense. I got the Forte Classic saddle. Forte is Performance’s house brand, and I assumed I was taking a risk of sorts, but the saddle won.

forteclassic.jpg

The Forte Classic.

But this one never really worked out. Although I rode it in the metric century, I was very uncomfortable during the last 10-15 miles. I had had the saddle for about a month at the time of the ride, and thought I would be accustomed to it by now. Didn’t happen. I was making plans to buy a new saddle when I bought the new bike instead.

The Specialized Allez Elite comes equipped with Specialized’s own Alias saddle. It’s part of the “body geometry” line of saddles, which come in different widths for different sized butts. The saddle is the firmest I’ve ever ridden. But firm doesn’t necessarily mean uncomfortable.

specializedalias.jpg

The Specialized Alias saddle.

The wings of the saddle hit my sit bones dead on. All I have to do to get comfortable is stand up on the pedals for a little while, or slide a little bit back or forward on the seat. That’s enough of a change to keep me feeling energized. The “Body Geometry” line of saddles has different width sizing, so the buyer can get a saddle that’s 155 mm across, 143 mm (the default, and the one I have), or a narrow 130 mm saddle. This was an eye-opening sensation. It caused me to rethink my attitude toward saddles — that they must be gel, or wide, or whatever. This saddle works. It’s the stock seat for this bike.

Don’t be afraid to try several different kinds of saddles before finding the one that fits you. And check with the store for their return policy. Maybe after riding on your new saddle for a little while, you might discover that it doesn’t feel so good 20 miles from home. Many bike shops will exchange saddles within a reasonable trial period. Others won’t. Ask.

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8 thoughts on “Saddles

  1. As so many things in cycling, the apparently obvious choice is often the wrong one. For middle to long distance (40 + miles) cycling the saddle with no padding is often the most comfortable one. I’ve tried various saddles, some moderately padded, some lightly, but the saddle that works best for me is the Brooks B-17. Naked leather that has formed to the shape of my butt over the past 15,000 miles. Some complain the Brooks line are uncomfortable at first but I did not find this to be the case. Still, as time has passed and the saddle has shaped to my form it has become even more comfortable. I have ridden multiple centuries with the B-17 yet have never experienced the kinds of numbness or other discomfort I experienced with padded saddles. The last century was ridden on a “rest” day during a 520 mile supported tour that lasted nine days. Saddle issues were never a problem.

  2. I think saddles are the “search for the holy grail” for bicyclists. I wish I could count the number of saddles I have bought and rode a few times and then went searching for a better one.

    One of my favorite saddles was an Avocet lycra covered one. I rode it for years until the lycra came off. Sadly Avocet is no more.

    Currently I am riding a saddle from Colorado Cyclist, their house brand Douglas. It is very comfortable so I bought a spare for when this one wears out.

    Rick Ankrum
    http://www.texbiker.net
    Texas Bicycling Information Central

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