Let me share my own experience first. I started riding almost 12 years ago to complete a charity ride and was hooked almost instantly. I recall when I rode that charity ride which was an 80 km ride on undulating and hilly terrain in the Barossa Valley that I got quite uncomfortable on my bike saddle and it wasn’t my bottom that hurt, it was the far more delicate soft tissue area that really felt sore. I remember laughing when a non-riding friend asked me if I had a saw bum after all that riding.
By far the most commonly asked question from newish female road cyclists that I and others get is – what is the best women’s bike saddle for me? And unsurprisingly, there isn’t one answer. It depends on what sort of riding you do, on your riding position, on how far you ride, and on your shape and size.
The saddle on my first road bike was a supposedly a women’s specific saddle but I suspect it wasn’t wide enough, it was too flat, and I had no bike fitting (just a quick seat height adjustment from the bike retailer). Over the next few years, I just got used to it and the pain subsided and it wasn’t until I had a bike fit at my local Specialized store (Ashfield Cycles) that I found the saddle that I’m still using some eight years later. My saddle of choice is the Specialized Oura and I have the same saddle on all three of my road bikes. But beware, just because it suits me, doesn’t mean it suits everyone.
The saddle is the key contact area of your bike. It takes most of your weight often for many hours and therefore it is crucially important to have a comfortable seat. I believe that every woman can find a comfortable saddle that she can sit on for hours and hours.
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. If it’s really narrow then it is likely to be uncomfortable for the majority of women.
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.
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 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 those all-important sit bones.
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 an electronic device that you sit on to measure your site 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.
Saddle selection is a personal choice. Everyone’s anatomy, weight, and style of riding are 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.
Specialized offers a 30-day money-back guarantee on all its saddles so if necessary you can try several different test saddles until you find the one that is just right.
Although I’m really happy with my Specialized Oura, Specialized has since introduced a women’s specific saddle called the Specialized Power Mimic which is designed to conform to a woman’s anatomy to relieve pressure, support soft tissue.
Good luck in finding your perfect match. If you’re 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.