Bicycle Saddle Comfort

The guy on the left isn't going to be riding too far I'd wager.

The guy on the left isn’t going to be riding too far I’d wager.

People who would like to ride but don’t often tell me the number one thing keeping them off a bike is saddle discomfort.  They’ve tried to ride but they just can’t take the pain from there saddles.  As Spring approaches and riding season starts to warm up now seems like a great time to talk about saddles and comfort.

When I ride the rail trail and I see folks who’ve dusted off their bikes and are out for a ride on a warm day I usually see  these folks are riding some kind of comfort bike, with the saddle way to low and the handlebar’s way to high.  They sit bolt upright and carry about 75% of their body weight on their saddle, 5% on their hands, and the rest on their legs.  Studies have shown that cyclist’s usually carry about 50% of their weight on their rear ends, they do this through a position that forces them to support more weight on their hands and legs.  The folks sitting bolt upright really don’t need a saddle, they need a seat, like you’d find on a tractor, or recumbent bicycle.

There’s a  good article on cervelo’s website about the 4 and half rules of saddle design, which are.

1. Wide Enough
2. Flat Enough
3. Firm Enough
4. Cutout or not?
4.5 T or Pear shape?

This has been on my mind lately after trying out a couple of saddles which have brought me discomfort and comparing them to my other saddles which don’t, or at least don’t cause as much.  I thought I’d do a roundup of all the saddles I have and try to find what the one’s that work and the one’s that don’t work have in common.  I’ll talk about initial comfort and lasting comfort in these mini reviews because I’ve often found they can be quite different.  Keep in mind that saddle preference is a very personal thing, what is true for me may be completely wrong for you.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALet’s start by looking at this 160mm wide WTB PureV.  It’s worn out from being on someone else’s mountain bike for alot of miles.  It’s plain to see that the plastic shell has fatigued and formed a trough where the rider’s weight is carried.  This saddle features a hole in the nose area that is filled with some kind of elastomer type stuff, which is broken and contributing to the weakness of the saddle.  It has thick padding which is very low density.  It sags a great deal under pressure.  Sitting on this saddle initially isn’t so bad.  The soft padding and weak shell spread out your weight very evenly and avoid any hard or painful spots.  The story changes after some time in the saddle.  Weight distributed to the soft tissue from the padding causes irritation and the sag causes the nose of the saddle to become very uncomfortable.

IMG_3105Saddle Vader VD-103:  I recently wrote about buying this 8 dollar saddle.  It’s around 133mm wide which makes it very narrow, and the shell has alot of flex, in fact I think it’ll flex until it hits your seatpost clamp.  Inital comfort is very high, but after about an hour and a half on the trainer I had to get off, the saddle had caused a saddle sore just like the kind I used to get with all the super flexy saddles I tried.  Total Junk.

micro-adjustable-seat-posts_spongywonder_largeThe Spongy Wonder?  I’ve never ridden one of these, I’d like to but I’m afraid.  See almost everyone I’ve ever talked to with one say’s they are the greatest thing ever, it’s almost scary how much they like them, like a cult.  Usually these people are sitting bolt upright on comfort bikes, but I also saw some guys on a road bike ride using them once.  They said the lack of a front to the saddle took away alot of control so you had to be more careful when turning, but that the saddle was very comfortable.  I rode behind these two guys for awhile and they were a bit wobbly on their spongy wonders.  The website says you can use one for offroad riding, but I’d imagine that would be a death sentence.  If these cost somewhere near what they appear to be actually worth I might try one, but 90 dollars?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPrologo Cappo Evo Pas:  Prologo categorizes their saddles by use such as road, tri, XC, Enduro, and whatever other flavor of the month is up.  The Kappa Evo is categorized as a Enthusiast saddle which I suppose is a nice way of calling it their beginners model?  it measures about  147mm wide.  It has a small amount of shell flex, but not much, it has a small amount of firm padding, but not much, especially around the nose.   It’s rounded on the surface and doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of real estate to sit on.  Initial comfort isn’t good, but not horrible either, it feels firm for sure.  After a couple hours in the saddle it was quite irritating, but that was on a mountain bike on rough trails.  The curvature on the rear of saddle was forcing too much weight to the middle I think,  This saddle deserves a shot on a road bike where I think it’s more suited.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow how about this oddball saddle.   It’s a Forte, very much a T shaped saddle.  Narrow nose, wider rear, but only around 145mm wide, and flatish.  It has a  firm shell, very little flex and Ti rails.  A large amount of padding for a saddle shaped like this, a medium density padding at that, but it’s concentrated in the nose.  It doesn’t look like it would be comfortable, especially on a mountain bike where I’ve used it for a few years.  Initial comfort isn’t bad, the smaller size becomes apparent after a few miles on trails, it becomes a bit hard feeling and on a long ride it can be a bit irritating especially when the trail gets rougher, but it’s been comfortable.  Would probably be even better on a road bike.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere’s a more traditional mountain bike saddle, a Specialized without any kind of identifying name.  It’s around 150ish wide and has ample amounts of medium density padding and a semi firm shell that flexes only a bit.   I’ve only used it on mountain bikes only and found it to be one of my favorite mountain bike saddles.  It’s wider and more padded midsection is great for all the bouncing around that occurs on a mountain bike and the shell has just enough flex to take a bit of sting off the bigger hits without sagging and causing discomfort.

b17_narrowbrown_w375_h275_vamiddle_jc95The famous Brooks B-17.  I rode one for many years, most of these years were in extreme discomfort.  Brooks saddles are old school, simple leather stretched across a steel frame.  The B-17 is around 175mm wide making it the widest saddle in this roundup.   When new the leather is very firm and tough.  Over time the leather softens and magically conforms to your anatomy forming the most perfect comfortable saddle, or at least that’s what they tell you.  I really didn’t ride much when I bought the B-17, I remember liking it at first, but eventually I began to have horrible saddle sores.  At this point the saddle had been completely soaked in all manner of oils and became soft and stretchy, it didn’t hold its original shape at all.  It’s initial comfort was so incredibly good that I didn’t believe that the saddle was causing the problems and when I did finally try switching saddles it didn’t help.

I actually had 2 of these saddles.  This one didn't last long when I put it on a mountain bike.

I actually had 2 of these saddles. This one didn’t last long when I put it on a mountain bike.

The Specialized BG2 was the low cost saddle available at the bike shop I frequented back then.  You can’t get one now, since Specialized seems to like to rotate out their saddle designs, or maybe since they realized how bad this thing is.  The BG2 seemed great for a  time because it has amazing initial comfort.  It’s very soft, lots of padding and the shell has big elastic inserts under the sit bones.  It’s around 155 wide.  The BG2 owes it’s initial comfort to the elastic inserts which cusion the sitbones, but there is very little stiff support in the rear of the saddle so it becomes very flexible and only made my saddle sore problem worse.  Upon reflection I think this saddle may have been good for about a year, after that the plastic shell was so fatigued that it could no longer support the anatomy properly.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

san marco regalThe San Marco Regal was really the saddle that allowed me to start putting real miles on a bike.  The Regal looks like an old saddle with rivets but they are really only there for decoration since it’s a plastic shelled saddle.  The saddle is 149mm wide and very firm.  It has some very high density padding, but not much.  Initial comfort is not good.  When you get on a regal it may feel like you’re riding a board.  This is because the firm saddle is forcing your to carry your weight on your sitbones, where it’s supposed to be.  As you begin to rack up miles on a regal, you’ll find that your sitbones become conditioned to the load and the rest of your neither regions are great.  When I started riding the regal all the painful saddle sores I’d suffered with nearly all season began to heal.  One possible drawback to the Regal may be it’s lack of any kind of modern cutout or relief channel.  The only time I didn’t find this saddle comfortable is when I was really bent low on the bars.

Specialized Romin ExpertThe Romin is a popular road bike saddle from Specialized and follows all the modern saddle design aesthetics.  I purchased this thing new from an actual bike shop, which is kind of weird for me and it’s been one of the best purchases I’ve made.  Like most specialized saddles you can get this is 3 sizes, around 130, around 140, and around 150.  I choose the 140 because that’s what there sitbone gauge recommended.  The saddle is firm but not rock solid, I don’t have the gel version with thicker padding so this saddle has thin but high density padding.  This is one of the few saddles I’ve ridden where Initial comfort is good and lasting comfort is good.  On the Romin I can get into a low tuck and still ride in comfort. Sadly there has to be a drawback, after 2 years of riding I believe the saddle may be getting close to wearing out.  It’s starting to feel more flexible then it did when it was new and I hear some scary creaking out of it when I hit a big bump.  This doesn’t look like the kind of saddle that was built for the long haul, but if I had to buy a new one every 2 years to ride in comfort it could be a worthwhile sacrifice.

So what can I draw from these saddle observations.  It appears most of the saddles I like are in the 140ish to 150ish mm wide range.  The average sitbones are supposed to be around 140mm wide so that makes since.  It seems like for shape, it’s hard to draw conclusions the Romin has a very different shape then the Regal and I like them both.  For padding, it appears I’m happiest with less, but firm.  I seem to be pro-cutout but I’m not sure how critical that really is.

I think the most important factor for me is firmness.  If a saddle’s shell is not firm enough your body weight will end up being spread out over too much of the saddle leading to great initial comfort since no one area is loaded up, but later great discomfort as soft tissues become sore from pressure and rubbing.  It also appears that as some saddles age, they become to flexy.  I think a person could ride a Regal until the cover wore off, but the saddles with gimmicky features aren’t going to last more then a year or two.

I’ve oftened wondered about the B-17, people seem to ride them so happily for so many years maybe I killed mine prematurely with too much oil?

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About Matt Gholson

Cycling, school teaching, husband.
This entry was posted in Barn Door Cycling, Bikes and components, Mountain BIking, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Bicycle Saddle Comfort

  1. jrezz71 says:

    I think that unidentified Specialized saddle is a Riva, maybe a slightly earlier version than the one I have, same shape, but the stitching is different. That came on my Specialized TriCross, which I promptly removed and put it on my old Schwinn I keep at work and dropped a B17 on the TriCross.

    The Riva is comfortable to me for shorter rides, but anything over 25 miles I’m ready to get off of it. I’ve got two Brooks B17s. One on my Nashbar touring bike and the newer one on the TriCross. After 4000 miles on the first B17 and 2000 on the second, I’m still liking my Brooks.

    I’ve only ever used their Proofide on my saddles, about 4 times a year. My first saddle is holding up great, have never needed to tension it, no sag and it’s well broken in. The newer saddle broke in just fine and was great until it got absolutely soaked in a pop up thunderstorm, so much that it stretched out on me. Even after getting it thoroughly dried out, it was uncomfortable the next several rides. I had to tension it quite a bit to get it back up to the level of comfort I had out of it. I also rubbed some Proofide into the bottom of it after that and did the same on my first saddle and now carry a couple of plastic grocery bags in my bag to wrap the seat in in case of rain.

    I don’t know what you used on yours, but I’ve heard of guys using all sorts of oils, even motor oil in some voodoo ritual to break them in. I just put Proofide on them and rode, maybe because I’m a bit heavier than most cyclists mine broke in relatively quickly! Both of them seemed a little stiff the first 150-200 miles, after that I thought they were great.

    I’m currently lusting after one of the new Brooks Cambium saddles. Maybe this summer…
    John

  2. Matt Gholson says:

    I used proofhide on this saddle, but at some point began using vasoline for chamois cream. The Saddle was a special edition Red, but maybe the vasoline stained it an almost black maroon. It lost it’s spine.

    I tried a Brooks Imperial and had the same problem.

  3. jrezz71 says:

    I shied away from the Imperial due to being worried about my weight and the cutout in the saddle, didn’t want to have the leather fail.

    Did the Vaseline soak through your chamois and shorts? Proofide will darken a saddle a bit. My first saddle was honey and is now a dark brown. I put it on pretty sparingly, just dip your finger in the tin and rub in it, a little goes a long way. If you’re dipping a cloth in the tin and rubbing it on the saddle, you’re using too much and/or wasting it when you buff it off. I’ll rub it on and take a hair drier and heat it slightly so it’ll liquify and soak in, buff it off and call it good for 3 months..

    It never occurred to me to treat the bottom of the saddle until after riding in the rain, especially where they stamp the date code in the leather, that area really swelled up on me, now when I treat that, I wipe it in the stamping and leave it, let it soak in on it’s own.

  4. Steve says:

    I think I am either very blessed or very ignorant with my saddle experience. I’ve never had a problem with any saddle I have owned – an admittedly small sample size. Every one came stock with the bike. But I have heard the same concerns from prospective cyclists – the seats seam incredibly uncomfortable even to just look at. I point out that (ironically) the wider, softer saddles on comfort bikes actually do more harm than good in the long run and the harsh-looking saddles are the way to go. Your butt will get sore initially, but that will fade as your conditioning improves.

    One of these days I’ll spring for a high quality saddle and perhaps I’ll be shocked at what I’ve been missing!

  5. Jim Russell says:

    Great article on saddles, nice to see someone give honest opinions. But man you are really rough on saddles; aggressive riding I suppose.

    As a beginning cyclist I learned the hard way that the soft comfy type saddles were not the best for long distance cycling. Soft saddles feel great the first 30 minutes but after a few hours the soft saddles become very painful. I currently using a Selle Italia own my road bike. First time I rode the thing I thought I was sitting on a pine board; but after a couple of hours I have to admit my butt felt fine and I had no pain. I also noticed that a quality pair of cycling shorts can make a difference on saddle comfort.

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