The saddle and seatpost are important components on the bicycle as they support a majority of your body weight. Saddles and seatposts are not created equally.
A lot of attention has been made to the saddle as a source of urogenital issues in numerous scientific studies and reviews. Leibovitch and Mor (1) in their 2005 article describe that bicycle saddle-related symptoms widely vary, but find that erectile dysfunction is found in 13-24% of endurance bicyclists and that nerve entrapment/compression resulting in numbness occurs in 50-91% of endurance bicyclists.
Not much attention has been paid to the seatpost. A poorly positioned or functioning seatpost will amplify apparent saddle related dysfunction. In fact, poor positioning of the saddle and seatpost will precipitate a compliment of upper extremity and spine discomforts to accompany basic urogenital misfortune. A little bit of practical information should be helpful in making life much more comfortable for you on the saddle.
Selecting a saddle can be a bit of an uncertain proposition. Where to start? Appreciating some saddle attributes will help you be a savvy saddle consumer. Saddle construction/material, width and areas of decompression are all attributes to consider.
Construction and Materials
Construction and materials can range from leather, vinyl, lycra-cover, gel pads, carbon, polyethylene, and more. Leather saddles require break-in periods for optimal comfort, and are often exceptionally uncomfortable on the first few rides. Once broken-in, a leather saddle can provide a very comfortable custom fit. A carbon fiber saddle will always be a very hard saddle. Vinyl saddles have no break-in period and are among the most common saddles you’ll find in bike shops.
Saddle cover material (vinyl, lycra, leather) will affect your slide and glide on a saddle. Excesses of saddle gel will have to move somewhere within the saddle itself when weighted and can thus be a source of chaffing.
Some structural materials in saddles will break down fairly quickly which can make a saddle become uncomfortable fairly quickly. Another source of quick saddle breakdown are saddles lean on structural material for the sake of weight savings. Lightly constructed saddles do not last long for heavier riders (180 lbs. or more).
Saddle width is a major consideration. General selection of saddle width should consider the width of your “sit” bones, or ischial tuberosities. Riders that assume a more upright posture on the bicycle should have a wider saddle. Riders that assume a fairly down/forward position will be best off with a more narrow saddle.
Saddle decompression concepts were made popular as a reaction to medical literature that described the perils of prolonged exposure to a standard bicycle saddle. Thus the saddle market has been flooded with cut-out saddles. A saddle cut-out does not guarantee comfort. Some riders find partial cut-out saddles more comfortable than full cut-outs.
Saddles have rails that move forward and back on the seatpost to allow for your position. Saddle fore/aft position is frequently based on the position of knee over pedal in a three-o-clock position. Time trial/aero positions more frequently place knee forward of pedal.
Seatposts – more important than you think
The obvious job of a seatpost is to attach the saddle to the bike. A poorly functioning seatpost can make a great saddle seem like a poor one. Saddle positions that are affected by the seatpost include height, fore/aft, and tilt. Saddle height is affected by the length of the post. When setting up your bike, make sure you have enough post to assume a proper saddle height.
seatpost lengths vary, with road posts typically shorter than mountain bike posts. Make sure your seatpost provides enough length to accommodate your needs.
Seatpost designs vary in their location of the saddle clamp in reference to the run of the post. There are seatposts with set-back, neutral (clamp on top of post) and forward projecting posts. Your chosen discipline of bicycling will determine your fore/aft seatpost needs.
Saddle tilt is determined by a clamp/bracket on the seatpost. A common seatpost allows for approximately three degree angular changes of the saddle, which does not allow enough capability of fine-angle change to allow best saddle positioning. Angular “fine-tune” seatposts are your best choice when helping ensure saddle comfort. Some examples of these include: Thomson Elite or Masterpiece, Easton EC 90, and FSA K-Force.
Be critical of the positioning of your saddle. Your seatpost may have a lot to do with how you position your saddle. Try out your friends’ saddles. Some shops will allow for test-periods of a saddle as long as you tape the rails. Of course, a good pair of bicycling shorts and chamois crème will help improve comfort on the saddle as well. Appropriate choices will make your life in the saddle much happier.
1. Leibovitch I, Mor Y. The Vicious Cycling: Bicycling Related Urogenital Disorders. European Urology 47 (3) 2005: 277-86.