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Guide to saddle selection (from an idiot).(4 posts)

Guide to saddle selection (from an idiot).Len J
Jul 18, 2002 5:29 PM
Having lurked & posted here for a couple of years, I have been disappointed that there is not more information about how to select an appropriate saddle. The advice is always, try several until you find one that works. This year I have gone on the quest for butt nirvana, and I'd like to share what I've learned, in the hopes that it might help someone else.

My search began with a "try until you find something" approach, but gradually, I seemed to get a little more rational in my approach. If I was doing it over, based on what I've learned, this is how I would approach the search. IMO, there are four different things that have to be decided on as part of determining whether or not a saddle will be comfortable. They are:


1.) Firmness. Saddles come in various firmness from Rock Hard to cushy. It's probably counter-intuitive but, for long riding, the firmer the saddle you can get comfortable on, the better. A firm saddle allows you to position yourself on the sit bones, with less compression of any of the soft tissue & muscle. The saddle that started me on my search was the San Marco ERA that I found to be much too soft for me. This resulted in minor "cramping" type discomfort in the area where the Butt meets the Top of the thigh. I attributed this to restricted blood flow caused by "sinking into the saddle. Switching to a firmer saddle eliminated this entirely (For me, YMMV). I would recommend that you start your search with a firm saddle, get your butt used to it and then experiment. (It's always easier to go to a less firm saddle, starting with a firm one eliminated discomfort caused by getting the butt in shape from the evaluation of other criteria. The San Marco Rolls was the firmest I could get comfortable on.
2.) Shape. From the Selle Italia Web site: "There are 2 basic "shapes" for middle-high end racing MTB saddles - flat and curved. The flat saddles like the SELLE ITALIA Fluid, Flite, SLR, Max Flite, Trimatic 2, Nitrox have several riding positions. The curved saddles like the SELLE ITALIA Prolink, Turbomatic 4 , XO, Lady, Oktavia have 1 or 2 riding positions. Analyze your riding style so that you ride the saddle that best fits your style of riding. If you move around a lot and ride in several positions, a flat saddle should be more comfortable. If you have a tendency to sit in 1 or 2 positions, a curved saddle should be more comfortable." I tried the Prolink & while I found the firmness good, I move around & found that I "crunched" my privates on the nose too much to be comfortable. For me it was clear that I needed a flat saddle.
3.) Width. Saddles vary widely in how wide they are, not just in the area your sit bones touch (Usually the widest part, but also in the area that rests between your upper thighs. I found both widths to be important to comfort. I also found that determining the appropriate width at the sit bones is usually easier than at the thighs. The thigh width was one of the things that I determined through trial and error. Comparing shapes of saddle that didn't work with others was the only way I found.
4.) Anatomical/Non-anatomical. First of all, I would suggest that you start by trying a non-anatomical saddle. I think there is more of a selection & if you can get comfortable the selection process becomes easier. I tried several but every one of them gave me the "Numbs". Didn't matter how I set them up, how many times I got out of the saddle, Numb & Tingly. Who need that? I just chalked it up to my anatomy & started trying "Cut-out" saddles & Gels. Gels did nothing for me, cutouts worked very well. Because they move the pressure points away from the peritoneal area, the width around the cutout becomes more important as this will determine what is hitting the saddle. (see 3.) above.

Some other observations:
The less stitching on the top of the saddle, the better for me. That little seam I didn't notice for the first 50 miles becomes a major irritant around the 75-mile mark of day two of a multiple 100-mile tour.
Weight matters to me less than comfort, especially on long rides.

I hope this helps, let me know what I should change, & maybe I'll repost & we can get Gregg to save (if you think there is any value.

Great stuff.Dave Hickey
Jul 19, 2002 3:02 AM
I totally agree with the stitching comments. A small seam or stitch can be pure hell on the behind.
similar quest (long) ...tarwheel
Jul 19, 2002 5:18 AM
I embarked on a similar quest this spring after the Selle Italia TransAm Max I had been using for a year started really bothering me. Since saddles are so expensive, I opted to buy saddles only from dealers or brands that allowed returns, or relatively inexpensive used saddles I could pick up on eBay or other sources. Over a 4-month period, I tried out the SI TransAm Max, SI Max Flite Gel, Terry Fly, Lepper Voyager leather, Brooks Swift ti, and Selle San Marco Regal.

Like Len, I have found that the stitching on saddles bothers me. I also think it's ugly in most cases. One of the nicest looking saddles, in my opionion, is the San Marco Regal, and I canceled an order for one after I found out it only is available now with ugly stitching. However, I picked up a lightly used Regal (without stitching) on eBay for $40. Here are my observations:

-- In addition to width and padding, two other critical factors are rail length and the flatness or slope of the saddle surface. Rail length is critical if you have a frame with a steep seat tube angle because you may not be able to move the saddle back far enough to achieve the proper knee-over-pedal position. Unfortunately, I found this out the hard way with the Regal and Swift saddles I bought -- I cannot use them on my Gios frame because I can't move them back far enough with its steep 74-degree seat angle.

-- The Lepper leather saddle is the most comfortable saddle I have used and has long seat rails, so it fits my Gios fine. This saddle gets more comfortable the more I use it. As it has conformed to my sit bones, it also helped me understand what shape/style of saddle would fit me best. My Lepper saddle has developed depressions on either side of the central ridge which indicated to me why the Selle Italia saddles were bothering me so much -- they are too flat across the top and do not slope off enough to the sides. I couldn't get comfortable on these saddles because my sit bones were always digging into the saddle and these plastic saddles just don't give. I am so impressed with this saddle that I might just bite the bullet and buy a new one with titanium rails that costs more than $100.

-- Like Len, I have found out that saddle shape and width is more important than padding. I tried the Terry Fly because it was slightly narrower and more padded than the TransAm Max. However, I immediately got a lot of numbness from this saddle and just couldn't get comfortable. I tried it for a couple hundred miles and then returned it for a full refund, as they are guaranteed. From this I learned that padding wasn't the most important factor because the Fly was softer and more padded than the TransAm, but no more comfortable for me.

-- Fortunately, the Regal and Swift saddles fit my other bike, an older Bianchi with a 73 seat angle. Apparently these older "classic" style saddles were designed in the days when most frames had relaxed seat angles. The Regal fits me great, even though it is a very firm saddle. I attribute this to the width and shape. It is slightly wider than the TransAm and Fly, but less padded. The key factor seems to be that it slopes off more to the sides, so my sit bones don't dig into it. I haven't ridden the Swift enough yet for a thorough review, but it seems to fit very similar to the Regal. One potential problem is that is a very short saddle, lengthwise, and has short rails -- so it's adjustability is very limited front to back. It seems to have a very narrow "sweet spot" with regard to positioning.
Great Points......Len J
Jul 19, 2002 5:36 AM
about the ril length & flatness/ slope side to side. I to found this sie to side issue, now that I think about it.

The saddles I went thru in my quest were, San Marco ERA, S/I Flite, flite trans Am, Max flite T/A, Prolink T/A, Flight Gel, Aan Marco Rolls, and S/I SLR Trans Am. I really wanted the Rolls to work, probably spent more time tinkering with position on this one than any other saddle however the combination of width & numbness made it impossible for me beyond around 50 miles.

The SLR T/A appears (After about 200 miles with longest ride of 50) to fit me perfectly. Narrow enough at center, curved enough side to side, cutout & firm. Jury is still out but positivly predisposed. Using a combination of my criteria & the one's you have mentioned, I am certain that if the SLR doesn't work out the next one will be closer.