You need to find the right road bike saddle for you
By far the most important touchpoint you have with your road bike is the one that holds most of your weight – the saddle, so you need to find the right road bike saddle for you. A few years back I worked in a bike shop and one of the most commonly asked questions from female road cyclists was – what is the best women’s bike saddle for me? And unsurprisingly, there isn’t one answer. It depends on a few factors including the sort of riding you do, on your riding position, on how far you ride, and on your shape and size.
When I started riding about 13 years ago to complete a charity ride, I recall feeling pretty uncomfortable on my saddle in the first couple of years. I didn’t feel sore all the time, mostly on longer rides. But it wasn’t my bottom that hurt, it was the far more delicate soft tissue area that really felt sore.
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.
The saddle on my first road bike was supposedly a women’s specific saddle but I suspect it wasn’t wide enough, and it was too flat, offering me no support. The breakthrough for me occurred when I had a bike fit and discovered my true love in bike saddles – the Specialized Oura. I have the same Oura saddle on all my bikes, and while Specialized no longer makes my beloved, I’m confident their newer saddles would suit me if I ever need to replace any of them.
Try it first
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 their 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 padding in the front to provide relief from pressure on the perineum, and to improve blood flow. It’s important for the cut-out or padding to extend far enough forward to remove pressure in the correct region.
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.
We’re all unique
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.
When I was working in the bike shop, Specialized offered 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. I believe they still have a generous returns policy but check before you make a purchase.
Try the Specialized Power
In recent years Specialized has developed a range of saddles called Power. I’ve tried just the regular Power saddle and it was really comfy. Now Specialized also has the Power with Mimic which has gel padding on the nose of the saddle. I’ve recommended it to several women and they all love it. It would certainly be where I’d head if I needed a new saddle. Specialized saddles come in a range of prices from $150 upwards which makes them very accessible, so the entry-level Power Comp with Mimic is $150.
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.