I wish there was a shortcut to finding your perfect perch. But I don’t think it exists.
Our bodies, bikes and riding are all different. While one rider might hop on the shopping bike for 5 km, others could be commuting to work, racing for hours or cruising back roads all weekend with friends. It’s no wonder we ask different things of our saddles.
But the starting point to saddle bliss is generally sit bone width. Your sit bones (or ‘ischial tuberosities’) are the pointy bones you can feel under your bum when seated. A bike saddle should be wide enough to support those sit bones so that your spine, rather than soft tissue, takes most of your weight.
Note that as you lean forward, your pelvis tilts and your ‘sit bone width’ at the saddle (effectively) narrows. So sit bone width depends on your position on the bike and that’s how you measure it – seated and leaning forward to mimic your position on the bike.
Most of the big saddle companies use a device – essentially a pad of memory foam – to help bike fitters measure your sit bones without getting too personal. You sit on the pad, lean forward and the foam records the depressions left by your sit bones. The dimples in the foam are then measured (centre to centre) as a starting point for choosing your saddle.
For accuracy, it’s worth doing a couple of times. I’ve heard of people using a ball bearing to find the exact centre of the dimples while the high tech versions include pressure mapping and body scanning, but don’t stress over millimetres here and there.
1. Measure your sit bone width. If you don’t have a friendly bike shop handy, get creative and do it yourself.
I’ve heard of a few materials being put to use: aluminium foil over a towel on the front step, flour on a chair, floral foam and corrugated cardboard on a coffee table. Or you can put your bike in a trainer or against a fence, sit on your current saddle and have a friend quickly mark the depressions your sit bones leave. Then measure the distance in between. That’s your sit bone width.
2. Add around 20 mm to your sit bone width. This is the starting point to end your days of being saddle sore.
A saddle that’s too wide at the rear/sides can impede pedalling but equally a saddle that’s too narrow lets your sit bones fall off the sides. So like Goldilocks, you want it somewhere in between – wide enough for your sit bones with a little extra.
Once you have this width worked out, check out suitable saddles by width on the saddle sorter or test saddle page. Then consider shape and other features.
Padding, pressure and pears
A lot of women’s ‘comfort’ bikes come with wide, heavy squishy saddles. But while it may sound counter-intuitive, most women find a firmer saddle friendlier than a soft one. It makes sense when you think about what happens when seated.
As soon as you sit on squishy saddles or gel saddle covers, all that padding can bunch up between your legs and increase pressure in the exact spots you’re trying to relieve pressure. The same goes for saddles that are too rounded or domed. You’re back to sitting on the tender bits rather than sit bones. So keep an open mind and try the better saddles, which are usually firmer with less padding through the centre and flat enough for comfort. (We’re talking regular positions here, not time trial or tri.)
A performance saddle doesn’t mean you have to ride like Anna Meares or Katie Compton (although that would be nice!), but it might mean you can enjoy your ride.
A lot of women’s saddles offer cut-outs and channels to relieve pressure down under. Testing a few saddles will help you decide if they might work for you.