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Using the right saddle can make the difference between a comfortable ride and an intolerable one. Arran Brown from Cycle Fit gives a few pointers on saddle choice, setup, and where you could go wrong. It is worth noting that this is only a general overview and it is recommended to seek professional assistance for a proper fitting.

Saddle discomfort

The most common cause of saddle discomfort is a poor saddle. Some saddles are too hard and some are too soft. A saddle that is too thick and soft will make you sink down from the weight of your sit bones and cause the middle of the saddle to push up and place more pressure on your soft tissue.

A firmer saddle is usually better, especially for longer rides. A proper woman’s saddle should have good padding for the sit bones and a cutout or groove in front to provide relief from pressure on the perineum and to improve blood flow. It’s important for the cutout or groove to extend far enough forward to remove. A women-specific saddle is essential for most women.

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Saddle tilt

A saddle tilt that is too nose up will put additional pressure on the front soft tissues. This also usually causes a hunched posture on the bike. A saddle that is too nose down will cause you to slide forward on the saddle and make you sit on the wrong part of the saddle. The sit bones will no longer provide adequate support and more weight will be placed on the hands, causing numbness and hand pain.
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The saddle should either be perfectly level or slightly nose down by a few degrees. On a time trial bike, the saddle should be more nose down as the pelvis is rotated more forward at the front of the bike. A seat post with adjustable angles allows you to find that ideal tilt. Many posts have saddle clamps with scores that often leave you with the choice of being either too nose up or too nose down.

Saddle height

A saddle that is too high will take your weight off the pedals and place more weight on the saddle. It will also cause your hips to rock, causing side-to-side movement and chafing. The perfect saddle height is measured using specific tools. We set the right and left leg at 150 degrees.

Saddle vs Handlebar height

A more aggressive position at the front will put more weight on the hands and the perineum. The difference in height between the seat and the handlebars is calculated by assessing the riders’ flexibility in the hamstring and lower back. Flexible rider = more aggressive (lower at the front). Inflexibly rider = less aggressive (higher at the front). Specific ratios are used to finally set this height difference for each rider.

Handlebar reach

Having to stretch too far out at the front reduces support from your arms and places more of your weight on the front of the saddle. Measuring the upper body angle sets the rider’s reach. The 90-degree angle is measured differently during a road setup, MTB setup and TT setup. A rider will complain of lower back, neck and shoulder pain if the reach is set too far. If the reach is too close then riders usually complain of wrist pain.

It is important to have your bike setup done by a professional, as they will provide you with accurate advice on which saddle suits you best and why.

Words: Arran Brown - Cycle Fit

Image credit: Zoon Cronje