The topic of bicycle saddles can be a never-ending argument amongst cyclists. What saddle is best for me may not be the best for someone else.
So I am not going to try to sell you on my choice of a bicycle saddle.
However, I am going to discuss the subject enough, hopefully, to give you the correct information so that you can choose the best saddle for you.
Bicycle Saddles For Touring
What Makes a Saddle Comfortable?
When you sit on a flat surface, the soft tissue between the surface and your ‘sit bone’ supports most of your weight. It is the same for bicycle saddles. Your behind might feel fine at first on a padded saddle because you are adding more ‘soft material’ between the hard surface and your ‘sit bones’. As the miles roll away and your behind becomes sore, the pain will just increase and the saddle sores will develop in the concentrated areas of your ‘sit bones’. This soreness will just reappear day after day and will never get better.
Most cyclists toss their existing bicycle saddle and buy another softer saddle hoping that will help. From my experience, it won’t solve your problem. Until you find a bicycle saddle that supports evenly and not just on your ‘sit bones’, you will be buying different saddles or will be living with the rear pain.
But someone told me to get a gel saddle or a gel pad? Gel is just another type of padding. All you will be doing is trying to fine a softer saddle. If you increase the thickness of the padding too much, your rear may bounce on the saddle. Bouncing will cause chafing in the inner thigh area.
Plastic Or Leather: Which Is Better For Touring?
Modern bicycle saddles are usually made from either plastic with covering, plastic with closed-cell foam and covering, or leather. On almost every bicycle you see in the store will be a variety of the plastic style. No matter what style of riding you will do, the manufacturer assumes that the saddle will fit your behind and that you will be happy. Unfortunately, this is hardly ever the case. The new owner will have to live with the outcome or break down and buy another saddle or two.
If the saddle is uncomfortable during the first mile, then it will be more uncomfortable as the miles roll away and will never get any better. The pain will result from the saddle supporting mostly on your two ‘sit bone’. Even with padding, this supporting area will not change. Consequently, your behind will hurt.
The racing cyclist usually rides on a narrow hard plastic or composite saddle with a lightweight covering, padded or non-padded. For short, fast rides where the rider regularly comes on and off the saddle and stays low on the handlebars or drops, these lightweight bicycle saddles perform fairly well.
The bicycle tourist has a different riding style than racers and most sport cyclist. Just the general nature of touring causes the posture of the body to be more upright and to spend more time directly on the saddle. As a result, the ‘sit bones’ will have more contact with the saddle. So the more surface area that you can spread the load out, the less painful contact you will experience. Unless your plastic saddle conforms perfectly to the shape of your behind, the surface will remain on your ‘sit bones’ and it will never change.
One of the things that a properly broken-in leather saddle offers is a perfectly formed platform for your behind to sit. As you ride a leather saddle, it will gradually conform to reduce the pressure points that cause pain to your behind. The results from a seasoned leather saddle will be a perfect mold of your behind that supports the entire area instead of just your ‘sit bones’.
Years ago I rode on leather saddles. As the newer padded saddle came on the market, I changed with everyone else. I had terrible behind pain and I almost gave up bicycling. Luckly, a few years ago I switched back to leather saddles.
Now I can ride 8 hours a day and not get saddle sores.
Over time I changed all my bicycles back to the leather bicycle saddles. I would highly recommend that you give a leather saddle a chance if you are having saddle soreness.
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Width Of Your Saddle
Everyone’s ‘sit bones’ are different and, as such, one width of saddle will not fit all. If the rear of the saddle is too narrow for you, then your ‘sit bones’ will hang over the saddle and will not support you behind properly; and conversely if the saddle is too wide, you will have severe chafing of your inner thighs. One word of caution, you need to verify the proper adjustment of your saddle before you switch it out. You don’t want to buy another bicycle saddle and the problem persists due to improper adjustment.
Do You Need Springs?
I believe that the modern sprung bicycle saddles have a definite advantage over other saddles in the right situations. Generally, if you ride in a more downward posture and your handlebar height is below your saddle height, then an unsprung saddle may be your better choice. Conversely, if you ride upright, like most tourists, and your handlebar height is at or above your saddle height, then a sprung saddle may be better.
A word of caution, I have found that the bicycle saddles with soft springs make you bounce a little, especially if you are spinning. Any bouncing will cause you to lose pedaling efficiency and chafing on your inner thighs. I have had extremely good luck with the stiffer springs as found on Brooks leather saddles. These springs have just enough spring to give you a slight rear suspension effect without bouncing you all over the place.
Issues For Men
During the last decade or so, there has been considerable concern about men’s impotency issues with standard bicycle saddles. The primary concern centers around the narrow, hard saddle pressing the penile arteries and reducing blood flow.
This problem has been debated even amongst the medical profession. If it is a concern for you, I suggest you talk to your doctor. However, I would suggest that you revisit your saddle adjustment by going to a bicycle shop and have a fit test conducted by a qualified professional. During this fit test, your entire position on the bicycle will be evaluated and adjusted if needed.
One main area of adjustment will be the position of the bicycle saddle. From my experience, I believe that the saddle should be approximately level and not tilted too far up or down. If the saddle is pointed up, then you will put too much pressure on your crotch area and will probably experience numbness. Conversely, a downward tilt will force your body to slide forward, putting more pressure on your crotch and your hands on the handlebars.
Some manufacturers offer saddles with the center area depressed or cut out. This solution has also been debated vigorously. Some people have remedied this problem by switching to recumbent bicycles. The recumbent seats are similar to sitting in a chair, which spreads your weight over a larger area.
MoonSaddle manufactures a unique saddle that takes the pressure away from the crotch area.
The design eliminates the nose of the saddle, and utilizes the natural support system of the skeleton and includes several anatomy-friendly features. It is made from a self-skinning elastomer, high-tensile stainless steel tubing, and allows fore and aft adjustment. It is extremely well made and the company stands by their product.
- Protection for the delicate perenium
- Engineered to fit from youth to adult anatomies
- Riders can achieve maximum power without compromising the perenium
The MoonSaddle is definitely worth a second look if you are experiencing pain in the crotch area, especially since they offer a 60-day money-back guarantee.
Issues For Women
In general, women’s bicycle saddles are wider than men’s saddles to accommodate wider hips. As discussed earlier, if the saddle is too narrow, the ‘sit bones’ will hang over the saddle and will not properly support the rider’s weight. However, not all women will require a wider saddle and may want to check out either a narrow women’s saddle or a men’s saddle.
If you are experiencing discomfort in crotch area, you can tilt the saddle slightly downward. But be careful not to put too much weight on you hands and wrist. Another solution offered by manufacturers is the cutout center. Also, take a look at the MoonSaddle design discussed in the Men’s Issues section above.
Leather Saddles: Are They For You?
While touring, I have met many causal and serious bicycle tourists. Time and time again I have seen twice as many of the tourists, especially cyclist on long distance treks, using a leather saddle.
Time and time again they have informed me that they wouldn’t tour on any other saddle.
Personally, I agree with them completely. Once my touring saddle was broken in properly, it has become the most comfortable saddle I have ever used. It has stood up to 1000s of miles without any degradation in performance and quality. If it ever becomes too flexible, I just slightly tighten the tension bolt, about every 1000 miles or so.
But is a leather saddle for you? If you are a racing cyclist, probably not since the leather saddles are heavier than the modern high performance products. But if you go on sport to long distance rides, you definitely might want to try one. I use one of the leather models on every bicycle I own, even my off road bicycle. Since then I have never experienced any pain beyond normal slight soreness that goes away quickly.
So you have decided to give a leather saddle a chance. Here are a few recommended models by Brooks England LTD:
The Brooks B-17 is one of the most common unsprung leather saddle you will see.
It is medium width (170 mm) and fairly long (280 mm) for general touring and recreational riding. I use this bicycle saddle on my light touring, century bike. It would always be my first choice for an unsprung saddle. A ladies version (B-17s) is available. It is the same width but slightly shorter (245 mm).
The Brooks B-68 is excellent for someone who has a more upright posture and handlebar is above the saddle height and needs a wider saddle.
Its wide width is 210 mm and medium length is 260 mm. It is excellent for heavy touring, long-distance riding, and off-road riding. A ladies version (B-68s) is available. It is the same width but slightly shorter (235 mm).
The Brooks Flyer has the same shape as the B-17, but with stiff springs.
It is excellent for someone whose has a more upright posture and handlebar is above the saddle height. Its medium width is 170 mm and long length is 280 mm. It is excellent for heavy touring, long-distance riding, and off-road riding. A ladies version (Flyer s) is available. It is the same width but slightly shorter (245 mm).
B-67 Sprung Model
The Brooks B-67 has the same shape as the B-68, but with stiff springs.
It is excellent for someone whose has a more upright posture and handlebar is above the saddle height and needs a wider saddle. Its wide width is 210 mm and medium length is 260 mm. It is excellent for heavy touring, long-distance riding, and off-road riding. A ladies version (B-67 s) is available. It is the same width but slightly shorter (235 mm).
Leather Saddle Break In
There are a couple of methods to break in a leather saddle. In the end, you want the leather to conform to your anatomy so that pressure points are eliminated. Once all the pressure points are gone, then equal pressure will support your behind.
So how do you accomplish this task as quickly as possible without ruining the saddle?
- Brooks England Ltd Method:Proofide is the only substance that they recommend for use on their leather saddles. This conditioning substance also waterproofs the leather to keep it from drying out. The Proofide should be applied liberally to the underside during the break in period to help condition the leather to form to your anatomy.Occasionally, the Proofide should be lightly rubbed into the top part of the saddle. From my experience, the break in period using Proofide only takes about 500 miles of riding. The end result will be a comfortable saddle that will last thousands of miles.
- Alternate Break In Method:I use a slightly different approach to breaking in my leather saddles. Since this method uses leather oil instead of Proofide, Brooks does not the approved of the method. But it decreases the miles for break in to about 300 miles.First I pour glove leather oil like neatsfoot or seal oil all over the cupped underneath portion of the bicycle saddle. I let the oil soak in for couple of minutes and then I bloat up any excess oil. You will notice that the top portion of the saddle will stain with the oil. Afterwards, I ride the bicycle for about 20 miles. (Please wear black riding shorts since they will absorb some of the oil. The oil should wash out with soap and water.) From that point on I only apply Proofide on the top and bottom portions of the saddle.
- Tensioning a Leather Saddle: As the leather saddle loosens, you will want to tighten the tensioning bolt (use the supplied tool). When you feel that the leather is bowing too much (this is a personal choice), turn the tension bolt about 90°to tighten up the bowing. It is better to tension the bolt slightly, ride it for a while, and adjust if needed.
Did this article help you? Then help support Bicycle-Touring-Guide.com. If you need to buy any bike gear and click on one of the links below, we get a commission and that helps keep this site afloat.
Thanks for your support!
Here’s where you can buy touring bike saddles: