At my bike shop a very consistent question is what to do with discomfort with the seat/saddle of a bicycle. Old school riders will say to just tough it out but there is plenty that can be done to help you find a seat that fits, supports and is in the right position to make riding a bicycle fun again. For some the saddle that came on your bike works great and you’ve got no complaints! That is great and part of the success of bicycle companies trying to hit the middle of the bell curve when it comes to fit and support of saddles at different bike sizes and the people that ride them.
But for those of us outside that bell curve, including your’s truly, it can take some time to find a saddle that works well enough to not be constantly on you mind as you ride. The three main factors are fit, support and position - I’ll hit them quickly below:
Support: A saddle that supports properly is one that makes proper contact with your sit bones at the bottom of your hips - skeletal support. Saddles range in size from 133 (narrow/italian standard) to 168 (my size/garden shovel). Different brands have different sizes they go to; Specialized has the largest range and is popular for it’s saddles. A shop should have a fit tool to help you measure your middle point to middle point between sit bones and then a recommendation of saddle. My measurement is 136mm from middle point to middle point which means a 168mm saddle is my best fit.
Special Note: Many people come in asking for a “big” saddle because they want to cover both skeleton and “soft tissue.” This is the equivalent of trying to make a saddle a chair - which it isn’t designed to do. A bicycle seat is meant to support your body while also reducing chaffing and allowing your legs to pedal and move freely. Too wide of a saddle can create a bunch of pressure in the perineum (numbness) and/or chaffing on the inner thighs (no bueno). I did have one lady who couldn’t find a saddle in our shop to work, she had larger legs and backside. She found a Brooks saddle that she loves and has her riding happily.
Fit: There are also different contours that a saddle can take, how it’s support connects to your body and position on the bike. Some have more drastic curves for a more aggressive or forward position. Some are flatter for a more upright or recreational position. Some have a greater cut out in the middle to reduce pressure on the perineum, some are rounded to create a consistent connection with the saddle. Body type, position and preference come into play on the fit of a saddle. But in general, the more upright you are sitting on the bike the flatter the saddle and more padding you will want - because more of your weight is on your backside instead of balanced between your hands and backside. The more forward you sit on the bike the more contoured you want your saddle.
Special Note: Those with sway-back (something I have as well) which is when your lower back curves inward towards your belly-button more then usual will want to trend towards the contoured saddles. Even if you are upright your forward hip position will feel better connected with a saddle that is for an aggressive position.
Position: The last note for comfort on the saddle is the it’s position. First of all, make sure your saddle is level. Nose up will make the perineum tap-out quickly. Nose down and your hands and shoulders will hate you. Level is the way to go. And make sure your saddle is at the proper height and set back (set back is the forward or rear position of the saddle based on your knee over the pedal - your local bikes shop can help you with this). I’ve had several people come in for a bicycle fit because of saddle pain and it ended up being a saddle that was too high (causing rocking, pressure and chaffing) or too low (increased pressure / more weight on backside).
Special Note: Very small adjustments up or down 1 degree in the nose of the saddle can end up being a preference that helps a saddle to find it’s perfect “zone” for you and your ride. Just nothing drastic :).