the poor bicycle seat. Few products in the history of sports have taken
such a bum rap. Prostate problems. Numbness. Boils. Infections. Chafing.
Even impotency! You name the malady and its likely been blamed on
the pedalers perch, the bike saddle.|
Some criticism is justified because any reasonable person might assume that if you buy a good bike, you get a good seat. In fact, you might not even give the seat a second thought and start logging big miles immediately. And, if you develop pain and discomfort, you might cling to the notion that it cant be the seat and simply keep riding, figuring that if you pedal enough, the aches and pains will disappear. If youre lucky, that might happen. But, it could also be a bad mistake — the type of oversight that could cause many of the problems mentioned above.
Unfortunately, bike seats are not that simple. A seat is a bit like a pair of shoes. The same way youd buy a certain sneaker for a particular foot and sport, you must purchase a saddle that fits your body and your style of riding. Whats more, and this is absolutely crucial for problem-free cycling, the seat must be expertly adjusted to fit your body (see sidebar below). Often, a perfectly adequate seat will feel awful and cause trouble simply because its not set correctly.
Science of Bicycle Seats
Selle San Marco
Terry Bicycles seats
Try one of these seats if youre unhappy with conventional models:
Spongy Wonder (below)
The Spongy Wonder MK9
Real Seat (below)
The Real Seat is a lawn chair for your bike
(click pic to enlarge).
ALSO: Learn all about seat design and what will work for you in Joshua Cohen's new book:
Finding the Perfect Bicycle Seat
And, don't miss Joshua Cohen’s latest, the E3 Form Gel seat, shown to the right.
Came From Outer Space
Not a Random Design
A lot of people look at the typical narrow bike seat found on a modern road or mountain bike and wonder what demented individual designed such an obvious torture device. Thats an understandable reaction but it overlooks the fact that the modern bicycle saddle is a sophisticated invention that took about 150 years to develop.
From the earliest days of cycling, inventors realized that having a comfortable saddle was key and they experimented wildly (see illustrations) to come up with sweet seats. As the bicycle changed in design, saddles changed and the typical seat found on todays bikes is a product of that evolution.
Though it looks odd and maybe uncomfortable, its actually quite clever. The long narrow shape allows the cyclist to spin his/her legs at high rpms. A wider platform would interfere with pumping thighs. The back of the seat is just broad enough to support the pelvis and just padded enough to absorb impacts without adding weight. Because the saddle top is suspended on rails beneath the seat, theres give in the seat top that helps suck up bumps and air can pass beneath the seat helping to cool it a little. Plus, the long top allows the cyclist to scoot forward or back to shift the pedaling position and to adjust body weight when needed to control the bike or simply for a change to rest tired butt muscles. Whats amazing is that all these features are available in something that can weigh less than 200 grams, last 10,000 miles and cost less than a good meal.
Use it, Dont Abuse It
So, just because a seat may look scary, dont assume its a stinker. First, adjust it properly and try it. Dont hit the road and/or trail in jeans or ordinary shorts, though. Why? Because clothing such as jeans and many types of shorts have seams in the crotch area. Sitting on top of these seams puts pressure on the sensitive tissues in the groin area causing pain and numbness. Instead, purchase cycling shorts, which include padding (called the chamois) and are seam free in the crotch area. Underwear is not worn with cycling shorts either because, you guessed it, underwear also contains seams.
that youve got your cycling shorts, you need a couple of riding
tips that will help protect your body. Dont just head out and mindlessly
pedal along. That will concentrate the pressure on the contact points,
the handlebars, pedals and seat. The key to comfort is moving around regularly
to shift the pressure (this goes for your hands and feet, too). Standing
occasionally such as when youre climbing, will relieve the pressure
on the seat and get a whole new set of muscles working.|
And any time youre rolling over bumpy terrain, take the weight off the saddle by lifting your body slightly with your knees so that youre in a jockeys position on the bike. In this riding position, the seat wont be able to slam into your groin or transfer energy from the wheels running into ruts, rocks, holes, etc., into your body.
There are hundreds of seats to select from but they fall into eight broad categories. Keep in mind that theres crossover between categories and types. For example, Gel seats are available in performance, mountain bike, wide/cushion styles and others. The important thing to understand is that theres no reason you cant use any seat for any purpose if it feels good to you.
|Seat type||Ideal User||Features|
||You ride for fitness and training wearing cycling clothing and maintaining a high pedal rpm and fairly rapid pace. You like to go long, ride centuries and sometimes ride aggressively on and/or off road. You sit in a racey position with your handlebars lower than your seat.||Lightweight (sometimes have titanium or hollow seat rails); minimal padding; narrow shape; pretty stiff top.|
||You ride a lot off road on challenging terrain where your body and bike take a beating. You move around on the seat a lot to apply body English on technical sections, for example sliding way off the back of the seat to safely descend a steep slope or perching on the saddle nose to keep the front wheel down on a cliff-like climb.||Fairly narrow shape; medium padding to soften blows; lightweight; shaped rear section to ease moving rearward; downward sloped nose for moving forward further; sometimes reinforced on the areas that touch down when you crash. A few models designed for aggressive off-road riding, feature extra length for even more fore/aft body position adjustments when jamming.|
||You find that most seats irritate your groin or your sit bones. You suffer from occasional numbness if you ride long. You enjoy all types of riding and want a seat that doesnt hurt to sit on.||Great cushion through the use of gel, a shock absorbing material that also molds to your shape for a custom fit; medium weight (not light); often slightly wider throughout; flexible top; may feature bumps to support the sit bones; can have high-tech look.|
||You ride long and hard on and off road and you like the fit and feel of a narrow, lightweight racing seat but youd like a little more give in the seat. You dont want to go to more padding or gel because of the additional weight and because you prefer the racey looks of the lightweight seats.||Suspension is built into the underside of the seat in various ways, often by adding elastomers (rubber bumpers) between the seat rails and the seat. Otherwise, the seat resembles a standard narrow racing seat with a sleek long top; light weight; high-tech look.|
||Youve tried lots of seats and you cant find anything that eliminates pain, tingling, numbness and irritation. Especially bothersome is the saddle nose that digs into your groin and genitals causing pain and suffering even on short rides.||Material is removed from the saddle top to eliminate pressure points; some have actual cutouts (holes) in the top; various models (i.e.: performance; mt. bike; gel; etc.); high-tech look.|
||You ride in an upright position on a bike where the handlebars are as high or higher than the seat, which puts a lot of your weight on the seat. You dont pedal very fast or ride very aggressively. You dont wear cycling clothing.||Wide throughout but especially on the back; lots of padding; sometimes springs are built into the underside of the seat; heaviest of all seat types.|
||Youre a traditionalist who likes natural bike products and wants a classy looking bicycle. You ride long distances at a good pace and you want a seat that will break-in to fit your body over the miles. You dont mind taking extra steps to maintain your products but you like them to last a long, long time.||Beautiful; absorbs body heat keeping you cooler; medium weight; breaks-in to your anatomy over time; susceptible to water damage (carry a plastic cover and use it whenever it rains); can be expensive; not widely available; may require break-in before it becomes comfortable.|
The Easy Seat: available here.
|Youve had prostate surgery or have injuries to the groin area that make it very painful to sit on regular bicycle seats and youve tried them all. You ride in an upright position with handlebars higher than the seat and you dont pedal fast or ride aggressively. You just want to ride again for fun and exercise and are willing to experiment to find a seat, any seat that wont hurt you.||Wildest designs
of any seat category; often adjustable or articulated (parts of the seat
move with the body); ample padding (some are inflatable); can be expensive
though not all are; heavy; dont always attach easily to the bike.
The Moon Saddle