One of my blog readers, Trish, recently asked the following question about comfort in the saddle:
I searched your blog to see if I could find your thoughts on comfort in the saddle, which is my biggest obstacle to long rides. I’ve been doing metric centuries every weekend, but beyond that I think my rear end would be in too much discomfort.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.
I know the saddle itself is highly personal, but do you have a favorite chamois? I like the Castelli Kiss chamois, not crazy about my Pearl Izumi, but haven’t tried all that many as experimentation is an expensive undertaking! Do you use Butt Butter or the like?
Obviously the position each rider finds comfortable varies by person, but the methods we use to achieve it are generally the same. Here’s what goes into making my saddle setup the best it can be.
Surly and the Capitol
The “Right” Saddle
Felkerino says that one of the ways you can tell you’ve become a cyclist is if you have a box full of various saddles at home. It takes some experimenting to find the right one. Reading the saddle description, perusing customer reviews, and getting input from other riders will give you an idea if a particular saddle is made to suit your type of riding, but beyond that it’s pretty much experimentation. Enter the box of saddles.
I started out riding a Terry Butterfly, which worked fine until it didn’t. Over time I switched to riding Brooks saddles. For the tandem, I like to ride the Brooks Flyer S, which is a leather saddle with springs and a wider base and a shorter nose than the regular Brooks saddles.
Taking note of the saddle tilts on the Co-Motion
Once you select a saddle that you think might go the distance, put it on your bike and start tinkering with it. Here are a couple of things I keep in mind when adjusting my saddle.
The angle with which a saddle tilts up or down can make all the difference to your ride. As you can see in the photo of my bike, I like to have my saddle tilted up. While one of my friends said it physically pains her to look at my saddle, I find it quite comfy. My sit bones are squarely on the base of the saddle, and the tilt is not so much that it creates any friction in front. Believe me, friction in front is something to avoid.
If for some reason the bolts loosen and my saddle starts to tilt such that it compromises my position, I stop to adjust it. As Felkerino says, never be afraid to turn a bolt. Whenever he has any saddle discomfort he will immediately stop to address it. I’m not as vigilant as Felkerino in that department, but it is a good philosophy. If a saddle becomes uncomfortable due to maladjustment, it will not become comfortable again until you stop, get out your wrenches, and change the setup.
The amount that you move the saddle the saddle forward or backward on its rails also contributes to a positive saddle position. For example, if I move my saddle too far forward, I can feel myself sitting on the saddle’s rivets, or close to its edge. Ouch. When that happens, I know I need to move my saddle further back on the seat post.
Different seat posts allow varying degrees of setback. (Enter box of seat posts!) I like to have a lot of setback on my saddle. For use on our tandem, I purchased (ok, Felkerino purchased) a Nitto Wayback seatpost. I have also used a Velo Orange Grand Cru Seatpost with a long setback. Otherwise, I found myself constantly pushing back on the saddle, which caused discomfort on longer rides. Because the wayback seatpost gives me the perfect amount of setback, I don’t end up fighting the saddle.
Felkerino and me (wearing the Sugoi RS shorts) on the 2012 DCR 600K (c) Bill Beck
The “Right” Bike Shorts
Just as I have a box for saddles and another for seatposts, I also have a drawer of bike shorts that did not make the “long ride” cut. Ultimately, the Sugoi RS (recommended to me by another randonneuse) are my go-to shorts for long rides.
The aspects I take into consideration when I purchase bike shorts include the following: chamois thickness and texture, chamois size, position of the short seams, the shorts fabric, shorts length and general aesthetic.
For me, the Sugoi RS work well because the chamois is not thick and it is smooth to the touch. The chamois also does not dry out easily or chafe my skin. The shorts fit me in such a ways that the seams don’t abrade me anywhere.
I like the fabric Sugoi uses, the shorts fit my body well, the length is perfect, and they are fairly understated.
I also have a couple of pairs of Voler Elite FS shorts that I’ve used on rides of 200+ miles. While the shorts fabric, fit, and chamois type work well for me, I do not like the contrasting stitching on these shorts. If I only had time to take a black Sharpie to all those seams.
For a short time I used wool shorts, but found that they ended up stretching and sagging in the butt area. That’s not a look I’m really going for so I’ve stuck to using shorts made of synthetic fabrics.
Stocking up on Chamois Butt’r
Chamois cream helps ward off any chafing during a ride. I always use it for rides that are, say, over 40 miles. At our house, we use Chamois Butt’r. It’s pretty affordable, I don’t usually need to reapply until after the century mark, and it makes my ride that much more comfortable. I know there are many others out there, but since Chamois Butt’r has always done the job, I have not done any experimenting with other creams. If you’ve got one that you really like, please put it in the comments.
Handlebar Height and Reach
One of my tweeps suggested that I mention something about handlebars, as their position on the bike also affects a rider’s comfort in the saddle. If a rider is too stretched out over the bike, that means his or her hips will be tilting forward at an angle that invites trouble, i.e., pain.
If the rider is squinched up on the bike (my technical term meaning that the reach is not long enough), another uncomfortable angle is likely to cause the rider to fight the bike in an effort to make the ride more comfortable, also leading to saddle problems.
Because I am not that flexible of a rider and the bulk of my riding is touring, I also set up my handlebars slightly higher than the saddle in order to have a more upright position. This works well for me on long rides.
I don’t know how to technically explain this, but when on the bike, the rider does not want to feel like a lot of weight is going into his or her hands. Certainly some weight will be distributed into the hands, but the bulk of a rider’s weight should be distributed toward the back end of the bike, which is why having a saddle that feels good and supports the sit bones well is so critical.
By finding the right saddle for me, adjusting it properly to my body, finding some shorts that will go the distance, making sure to put on Chamois Butt’r before rides, and tweaking the handlebars just so I’ve found that I can ride for miles and miles in comfort. I also had a lot of help from Felkerino, who was always at the ready with the wrenches. It took time experimenting and fiddling, but I ultimately got there.
Did I miss anything? Please feel free to add any other comments or thoughts you have about finding comfort in the saddle.