What is it about my bike saddle?

Why is it so challenging to find one that “works”?  How do I know if my bike saddle is the perfect one for me? It SIMPLY MUST FIT.  Shopping for a bike saddle compares with trying to find the perfect pair of shoes…It’s personal. Browsing with no real intent is interesting but when I must have the perfect fit solution, I think ahead. Keeping in mind my purpose I jot down a few questions and research as appropriate.

Before I shop for a bike saddle I consider 3 questions:

  1. What does it mean to comfortably sit on my bike?
  2. What do I want from my bike saddle?
  3. What matters most?

I am surprised to be talking about finding a perfect bike saddle at this point. However, my generous friend who lives near my multi-day road bike event in Moab volunteered to transport my bike along with hers, weeks in advance of check-in time.  My oldest daughter, who has a similar enough bike fit as me, is loaning her Bianchi Dama so that I can have more “time in the saddle” before the Moab Skinny Tire Festival. I am grateful for both but after several miles riding the Bianchi, I realize that I miss my own bike saddle and have decided to look at my options for a saddle replacement. 

First off, I’m cheating a bit here because I “worked” with a great team at my local bike shop, an IBD (Independent Bike Dealer), for almost 4 years. It was gratifying to be able to make someone’s day a little better through biking and incidentally, it was my first job ever, where I seriously looked forward to going to work on Mondays. Every one of us helped customers with “saddle” questions.  Over time, we found that while there were frequently asked questions, they were posed uniquely by each customer and every response we gave was personal.   With their bike personally fitted and without using a specific “sit-upon” device, we listened to the customer to dial in at least one or more options with success.

I’d like to interject here a moment and state that I feel comfortable reaching out to a friend or two first who could loan me a saddle good enough for my purpose – that being temporary and allowing me to keep riding until my event. This post is sharing what goes into shopping for a bike saddle when reaching out, cost-free, and temporary options don’t work out.

What does it mean to comfortably sit on my bike?  

My bike is nearly the right fit for me.  At this point, I do need to remember that there are many points on my bike I have dialed in for a comfortable fit.  As I’m beginning to shop for a bike saddle and writing this post I’m wondering, how often and for how long do I simply plant my seat on my bike saddle?

What is my misery threshold?

Prolonged or sharp pain where there is no gain!  I’ll be frank here, I have never reached my threshold thank goodness.  I’m certain that I would stop riding. Why do I take this seriously? Lets not even talk about how bad it can be, to feel the hurt, discomfort, pain or the discouragement caused by the “wrong” bike saddle. Some riders experience a great deal more discomfort from soft tissue and other damage which ultimately requires much more attention to their healing options.

What do I want from my bike seat? What is my bike riding goal?

I want to depend on it in a way that I don’t notice it at all.  Uphill, downhill, straight out sprinting, stand up, sit down…effectively there for me whenever I need it. Too much to ask for a single bike component? Not if my bike saddle is considered one of the several components and fitting measurements that make for a good fit. My goal, at least for now, and whether I ride alone or socially, is to ride for fun and fitness, purposefully challenge myself, and look for opportunities in the unexpected challenges “presented” to me.

What matters most? 

Realizing that I have not been riding lots of miles regularly especially on my borrowed bike, I know that a little fidgeting on a couple of 10-20 mile rides is to be expected. I’m also operating under the assumption that my daughter and I fit her bike identically.  I’m sure, while the fitting may be “close enough” temporarily while I work toward my  current goals,  everyone is uniquely complex when it comes to fine-tuning a rider-bike “fit”.  Before I start digging in and trying saddles on for size I remind myself that saddles are awkward on counters and best on bikes!

Ready to shop? Here are two ways to get critical measurements:

First of all, I wanted to learn more about how to measure me properly in order to start with the correct size for my saddle so I called two recommended local bike shops. Each had a “measuring device” which by descriptions were different but they each measured the same “points”. Two major bike saddle brands were represented;  Specialized and Bontrager.  I went to each website and found the fitting technique to be similar; find my sitz bones (ischial tuberosity), measure the width between the two and find a saddle width that closely matches.  Although both shops said I did not need my bike to get the right measurement I know that I may be able to cut out a few trials and back and forth to the shop if they see me on my bike, hopefully affirming proper fitting, frame measurements, my riding posture to include among important measurements, my “pelvic tilt angle” and my “reach” from the saddle to the brake levers.

Secondly, because I’m curious and looking for somethingElse, I looked into heat mapping or saddle pressure mapping. This is more involved and usually considered as an option by those who have highly specific needs and cycling goals. It provides additional usable data about the bike rider’s pressure points allowing for more customized saddle shape and fit. This method is not offered as a free service at local bike shops.  I discovered a post describing the process and graphically illustrating the results of pressure mapping at the Guardian.com’s Cycle Blog. It walks the reader through a professional saddle fitting session featuring a road cyclist in dire need of a better saddle before an upcoming sponsored ride. I also found a post closer to home about a cyclist who rents bikes often and takes his bike fitting measurements with him when he travels. He writes in his post titled Bike Fitting in Boulder about his visit to the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine (BCSM) and he was helped in getting set up on a couple of his bikes where he felt he wasn’t riding with correct posture.  Technologies will continue to emerge dynamically along with scientific discoveries and medical advances to help individuals seeking aid, treatment, and advice.  SomethingElse Active does not endorse, suggest, advise or counsel in any way for any thought theory or sector. We’re driven to encourage individuals to live actively.  If you are thinking more about your saddle than ever before, here’s two of my best pointers:

  • How a bike saddle “fits” is personal and only a part of what makes my ride the best it can be.
  • The importance of getting the bike and rider fit to satisfaction includes many components before the saddle.  (Don’t put the saddle “before” the bike)

Go over these 8 Key take-aways before saddle shopping:

  • There is nothing to gain from riding any bike in prolonged pain.
  • Ask a few questions up front – in person is best for me. Do they have a certified bike fitter just in case I decide to get another opinion?  How long does a fitting take?   What is the cost and what is included in the fitting service?
  • Show up with my bike, my usual riding shorts (with a good chamois ) and the cycling shoes with pedals that I will be wearing with this new saddle.
  • Everyone agrees that a rider’s sitz bones placement on a saddle is the foremost critical factor for a comfortable saddle.
  • Before I select a saddle from the shop’s inventory (which means I would not purchase a bike saddle sight unseen or unfitted), I want to be sure my bike fit is a good as it gets. I should not expect to have to “break-in” simply to make it fit me.
  • Talk with the salesperson about how I like to ride.  Then listen.  I’m sure to learn something.
  • Ask specifically about the store’s return policy and manufacturer’s fit guarantee.
  • Leave the store with confidence knowing I have the best saddle. I’ll get set up for success by having the saddle properly installed.

What is it about my road bike saddle? Is it the most important component?  Wish I could say so. Of course there are other parts to consider along with many elements of a “good” fit. However, when all things are considered, the bike saddle is definitely at the top of my list for critical bike parts that make a ride; well… a good one.

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