Image credit: Wired.
Saddle Up: How to Buy the Perfect Bike Seat
by Valerie Farabee
What do prostate problems, numbness, infection, chafing, and impotency all have in common? If you guessed “bike seats” you’re most of the way there! It’s not the seat itself, but an improperly fitted bike seat that can cause a number of unpleasant issues in the sensitive area between the sit bones. Before you panic-pitch your bike in an attempt to avoid the above mentioned health issues (and more!), know that finding a bike seat that fits your body and your particular riding needs can save you the pain and expense of the medical issues caused by a poorly fitted bike seat. Priceonomics is here to guide you through the economical and anatomical issues, solutions, and problems on your journey to bike seat city.
Seat or Saddle?
Although you may have heard it referred to interchangeably as seat and saddle, a bike seat is actually properly called a bike saddle. A seat is designed to bear the entirety of your weight. A saddle is designed to support some, but not all of your weight. You are looking for a saddle; a bike seat would be what you put your toddler in when taking him for a ride!
How Do You Roll?
The first thing to consider when choosing a bike seat is the primary type of riding you do. A saddle is designed to carry some, but not all, of your weight. It must fit your body and your type of riding, be it leisurely trail riding, road racing, or intense mountain biking.
The Shape of Things to Come
The shape of the saddle is dependent on the type of rider and intended style of riding. Saddles designed for high mileage and speed are thin and long with a narrow rear, putting the body weight forward on the hands and allowing unimpeded fast pedaling. More relaxed riding and leisurely cruises lend themselves to shorter, broader saddles with a little extra padding for comfort. The width of the hips will dictate the type of saddle you choose; if you are someone with narrower hips, you can comfortably ride a narrow seat. If you have wider hips, you might choose a broader seat for better comfort.
Is Softer Better?
No! There are three points of contact on a bike for your body: the handlebars, the saddle, and the pedals. While a soft saddle may sound like a good idea after a long ride with painful, badly fitted one, a soft saddle does not provide enough support for lasting comfort on longer rides.
Different Strokes for Different Folks
There are as many different types and styles of saddles as there are running shoes, each designed to suit a different type of body and style of riding. With all the aesthetic and ergonomic variations it still boils down to three basic types: racing saddles, cruising saddles, and comfort saddles.
Racing Saddles are designed to allow you to move around, pedal fast, and avoid chafing. Your weight rests on the pedals and handlebars instead of the seat. Saddles for road biking tend to be thin, light, and hard, while mountain bike saddles are also thin but add some padding for shock absorption and comfort. The newer generations of racing saddles are designed to protect the reproductive organs, improve erectile function, and relieve pressure from the soft tissues in between the sit bones. Racing saddles can be found on Amazon for as low as $7 and as high as $400. Spend what it takes for comfort - the health issues associated with a poorly fitting saddle will cost you way more time and money than shelling out for good one from the start.
Cruiser Saddles are designed for leisurely rides on mostly flat surfaces and provide cushioning and support on both ends. A cruiser’s upright handlebars mean that most of your weight is directly on the seat, so you need that comfort. A racing saddle is designed for fast pedaling and lots of movement, whereas a cruiser saddle is designed for relaxed, unhurried biking, so you can have a wide, padded saddle without causing any health issues. Cruising saddles have a pretty tight price range, from a kids saddle for $6 to an adult saddle for around $50. If you are buying the saddle for an adult, expect to spend around $40.
Comfort Saddles, like cruiser saddles, are wide and include more padding, but are also designed to allow for easy pedaling. These saddles are commonly used for long distance touring, and the design allows for shock absorption from rough country roads. Women specific saddles can fall into this category, as the wider seat better suits female anatomy. Expect to spend about $20 on a comfort saddle.
Vive la différence!
Everyone’s bum is different and unique to their own bodies, but that difference none more pronounced than between men and women. Women have, on the whole, wider hips and sit bones than men, and wider seats tend to support the female anatomy better than the longer, narrower seats. Narrow hipped women, however, may find traditional men’s seats more comfortable. It all comes down to your particular anatomy and what works for you; try many different styles in the store to get a feel for the style of saddle that fits your body best.
Your Health Matters!
There are a host of health issues related to poorly fitted bike saddles, and the depth of variety in the saddle market speaks to the many different solutions offered for the diverse issues and bodies within the cycling industry. I can’t stress it enough: get the right seat for your body, and you will not have painful problems in the long run. Pay now to save later!
Have fun on the road, don’t forget your helmet, and look out for fast cars! Enjoy your new seat!