Going out for a ride can mean spending a lot of time in the saddle – a bad saddle equals a sore bum which equates to a very long day of unnecessary
pain. A comfortable saddle therefore really is a must, but what makes a saddle comfortable? Saddle choice is a very personal thing, though it’s no bad idea to have a good understanding of saddle tech to help you choose. So in this blog we’re going to take a look at the various features of saddles, what they offer and hopefully demystify some of the brand terms and technologies used.
Starting at the bottom, one of the more important elements of the saddle and also where a lot money goes, are the rails. These are
generally made from either alloy, titanium or carbon and they’re important because they contribute significantly to the comfort and weight of the saddle. The saddle rail is expected to be strong (you really don’t want it to snap!), hopefully not too heavy and also provide a small amount of comfort
and shock absorption by flexing slightly. The more you spend on a saddle generally the lighter the materials used will become; top end saddles often use either carbon fibre or titanium as it is very light and also has good shock absorption properties thanks to its natural flex. Cheaper saddles use alloy rails like Fizik’s K:ium and Selle Italia’s Manganese which are strong, but not as light as carbon or titanium.
Make sure you check the profile of the saddle rails and the design of your seat clamp before fitting. Fizik and Selle Italia carbon braided saddle rails use an oval profile which means you have to use a seat clamp designed for oval rails not standard round profile rails (check out the Fizik Cyrano which can accommodate both round and oval profile rails). Carbon rails must also be carefully clamped and not over-tightened, while carbon is extremely strong thanks to its construction and the ovalised profile used by the likes of Fizik and Selle Italia it is still very susceptible to crush damage from over-tightening. Always follow the manufacturers recommendations and use a torque-wrench when tightening your seat clamp with a carbon railed saddle.
A bit of cushioning is a good thing – it helps absorb lumps and bumps in the road and cushion your seat bones on a long day in the saddle. But a good quality pair of chamois shorts will help with that, so you don’t want too much. Generally the more you ride, the more hardened your behind will become so you can get away with less padding – too much cushioning will interfere with your pedalling and cause rubbing leading to discomfort. Do your research when buying saddles – some saddles for example are suggested as being better for the higher-mileage rider i.e. someone with a hardened backside! Check out the Selle Italia C64, this has no padding just a carbon shell! Maybe taking the no padding thing a bit far though…
Shape and Profile.
The shape of a saddle is a very personal thing, ask any rider and they will have an opinion – some prefer saddles with a rounded top profile, others like a flat profile. The long flat nose of some saddles makes them comfortable for moving forward on to when climbing or attacking, but this flat nose can cause discomfort and numbness for some people which is where saddles with cut outs (check out the Selle Italia Max Flite Gel Flow as an example) can help by reducing pressure on the perineum, preventing numbness and discomfort.
Fast, aggressive riding puts your body weight forward on to your hands and feet, which is also why race saddles tend to be more minimalist (often narrower at the back of the saddle) as less weight is placed on them. When riding in a more relaxed, steady fashion however there is more weight placed on the saddle placing more emphasis on the shape and padding.
Women’s saddles tend to differ from men’s in that they are often wider and padded differently to accommodate the female pelvis which is often wider. Thankfully there is now a much larger range of women’s specific saddles designed from scratch, not just men’s saddles in different colours. Check out the rather cool Fizik Miss Tri Saddle and the rest of the Fizik women’s range and also the Selle Italia women’s range.
But what do the pro’s ride? They ride the same models as we do, just often with custom team graphics or sometimes trick materials, Fizik riders include: Thor Hushovd, Mark Cavendish and Carlos Sastre, Selle Italia are also popular with the likes of: Cancellara, Team Astana and Rabobank among others.
Keep all these factors in mind when choosing your new saddle and look at what you have been using, consider what design elements you like (i.e. a flat profile, thin nose or wide rear) and do some research before you buy. See if your riding pals have what you’re looking at and see if you can borrow it for a ride, it’s amazing how many people have a spare saddle or two sitting in the shed. Don’t forget as well that your new saddle will require some breaking in, it will soften and you’ll get used to it – persevere!