How to find the right saddle for women who cycle

My saddle choice - Specialized Oura

My saddle choice – Specialized Oura

For me it’s a no brainer that women need different bike saddles than men. Nowhere on the body is it more evident that women have different needs to men, than in the area of the body that makes contact with the bike seat, known as the saddle.

The saddle is the key contact area of the bike. It takes most of your weight and therefore it is crucially important to having a comfortable seat.

If you buy a women’s specific bike then chances are it will already be fitted with a women’s specific saddle but it’s not necessarily the right one for you. My recommendation when you buy a new bike is to try the supplied saddle first, but be prepared to change it if it proves to be uncomfortable.

In my experience, everyone will feel a degree of discomfort when they first start riding a road bike because it’s a new activity and your whole body needs to adapt. However, if after a month or so you are still uncomfortable then you should seek help.

One potential area of discomfort for women is caused by putting pressure on the front of your genital area. The soft tissue at the front really isn’t meant to be bear weight. We have sit bones, aka ischial tuberosities, for that job. But on a bike, in a bent-over riding position, your body weight is shared between the two sit bones and the pubic bone in the front, which means there is pressure on the soft tissue (the perineum) at the front. Read my previous post on secret women’s business for a few other tips on how to look after that area when riding.

The most common cause of saddle discomfort is a poor choice of saddle. Some saddles are hard as a rock and some are too cushy. A lot of women in pursuit of maximum comfort reach for short, stubby, armchair type saddles with gel inserts and heaps of padding. They certainly look the comfiest, but while these saddles are fine for leisurely trips to the shops, they are unsuitable for longer rides. 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.

Initially, a harder saddle will feel less comfy but it will be infinitely better in the long term because a harder saddle supports just the important bits – the sit bones. I learnt about this the hard way when I did a cycling tour on a spongy saddle around Holland a couple of years ago. It was a six day tour and by day four I was in real pain and it didn’t abate until day seven when the tour was over.

A proper woman’s saddle should have a minimal amount of padding for the sit bones and a cut-out or groove in front to provide relief from pressure on the perineum and to improve blood flow. It’s important for the cut-out or groove to extend far enough forward to remove pressure in the correct region. That’s why a women-specific saddle is essential for most women.

Width is also important. The sit bones should be sitting in the middle of the widest part of the saddle. Specialized and Bontrager both offer saddles in three different widths. Specialized has a simple device called the “ass-o-meter”, a piece of memory foam that leaves an imprint of your sit bones to determine the correct saddle width. A saddle that is too narrow causes the sit bones to hang off the sides. If your saddle is too wide, the support isn’t where it is needed. Having a choice of saddle width is important for petite women who have narrow pelvises and would normally choose a narrower men’s saddle.

Saddle selection is a personal choice. Everyone’s anatomy, weight and style of riding is unique. As a result, one person may love a saddle whereas another will hate it. When buying a saddle, make sure your local bike shop will allow you to return it if you don’t like it. Otherwise, you can spend a lot of money trying to find a saddle that’s “just right” for you. It also goes without saying that buying a saddle online unless it’s a repeat purchase is also not a great idea.

I recommend that you visit a bike shop that has ‘test saddles’ available which allow you to ‘try before you buy’. Most Specialized dealers carry a full range of test saddles (they are red and white to deter people from keeping them) that they loan out to customers who leave a deposit. If that saddle is the one you want you can then order it in the size and colour you want. You can also try several different test saddles until you find the one that is just right.

I actually recently changed the saddle on my road bike after undertaking a Body Geometry fit. My original saddle was a Specialized Ruby and I was pretty comfortable on that, but I’m now even more comfortable on my Specialized Oura which not only supports my sit bones but pushes me forward with its curved shape. And I went thought the test saddle process to find the perfect fit.

Good luck in finding your perfect match. If you going to spend many hours sitting on your saddle then don’t hesitate to hunt around until you find the right one and please don’t skimp on the price. Plus, don’t forget it’s also your choice of cycling attire like good quality well-fitted lycra knicks that will have an impact on your comfort level.

3 comments

  • I found this article very useful. This summer, I will be riding across the US (4400 miles) in 70 days, so I will be spending a lot of time on my bike. From now until then, I will try different saddles to see which works best for me. Thanks for the tips!

  • Be prepared to buy a lot of saddles!

    I’m onto my fifth one (Specialized Litha). Wait… is it my sixth one?

    Ladies, get those sit bones measured. So many saddle makers assume that women all want a wide saddle because our sit bones must be further apart. WRONG!! I’ve done the ass-o-meter. My sit bones are 113mm apart. My husband’s are 112mm. I have narrower sit bones than my brother!

    My personal opinion is forget about Sella Italia saddles and go for either Fizik or Specialised. I still have two Fizik Vesta saddles but my “good” bike (BMC team machine) has the Litha on it. I tried the Oura but it just didn’t work for me. I’m contemplating whether or not to try a Ruby. Want something a bit sleeker for the good bike. (Oh the vanity!)

  • After riding with the saddle that came with my bike and getting considerable pain and flesh wounds after riding I now have a specialized ruby saddle. Im very happy with my choice, i tested out several of the specialized saddles before deciding (I even switched back and forth!) I convinced my friend to try some saddles too and she now uses a lithia. we both ride regularly and do 50km average with no pain… and even when we do longer rides our saddles no longer give us any problems.
    I was told by one shop (male owner) that I wont ever have a pain free ride…. pfft! rubbish!! Dont settle for something 5% better in comfort…. You might have to tweak your bike but dont give up :)