In my role as a female cycling advocate I’m often asked – What is the best women’s bike saddle? And unsurprisingly, there isn’t one answer. It depends on what sort of riding you do, on your own shape and size but thankfully help is at hand with a number of brands who’ve done plenty of product research and development in this crucial area.
The saddle (or seat) 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.
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.
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. I can remember when I started riding about 11 years ago I felt quite tender after a long ride but I found that I adjusted to this over time.
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 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.
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.
I’m a fan of the Specialized Oura which is a women’s specific saddle and I have it on all my bikes. More recently Specialized has also 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.