Friday, May 24, 2013

Saddle Up

This week I've covered the other two contact points on the bike, the handlebars and the pedals.  Now for the third, home sweet home - the saddle.  There's not a whole lot to saddles, but there are a few things to consider.  The first of which is that whatever came on your bike from the shop probably sucks unless they specifically mentioned it doesn't.  You'll do what we all do - put up with it until you go on a ride long enough that you finally declare the stock saddle an ass-hatchet and in pain and frustration gingerly limp into a bike shop to get something right for you.

There are two metrics that pretty much determine saddle choice - sit bone width and the angle of the rider position.  Your "sit bones" are exactly what they sound like but if you're not sure what yours are, they're the bones that hurt if you sit on a metal bleacher for too long.  Sit on the ground cross-legged, sit up straight and rock from side to side.  Those bones you're perched on are your sit bones.  Many bike shops have a hilarious ass-o-meter that you can sit on to determine the width of your sit bones, a very useful metric while saddle shopping.  It takes an impression of your butt bones, which is them measured - the whole process is very uninvasive. On a population wide level, women's sit bones are generally wider than men's.

The other metric, rider angle, is the same thing as "Rider position" that we discussed in the guide to choosing a commuter bike.  An aggressive riding position essentially necessitates a narrower saddle to prevent your legs from hitting the sides as you pedal, sitting up necessitates a wider saddle so you have somewhere to put your ass.  There's a huge range of saddles designed specifically for various rider positions and the packaging usually helpfully labeled by the type of bike for which they're intended (cruiser, hybrid, touring, road/racing, MTB, and so on).  Compare the difference between these two:

Terry FLX Carbon Saddle 
Terry Cite-X
The one on the bottom is intended for use with upright bikes, the one on the top is a racing-oriented roadbike saddle.  Both are extremely comfortable, great saddles, they're just meant for completely different bikes.

Once you've figured out what sort of saddle will work best for you in terms of style and width, now it's time to start shopping!  Saddles come in a startling array of materials including foam, gel, and leather.  I tend to prefer leather Brooks saddles, which break in to the user over time.  They're legendary for their comfort and durability, plus I really like how they look.  However I've extensively used a Terry Butterfly with the Cannondale and loved that saddle too because it fit properly.  Much like the bike itself, 99% of loving a saddle is making sure it fits right.

The Brooks B-17 S
Again, shop around.  There's a ton of brands and every one of them has their own "special system" for determining fit.  Any good bike shop will let you test ride a saddle to see if it works for you, on your bike.  And believe me, the right saddle makes all the difference.

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