The Saddle is the Most Important Part of a Bicycle
Bicycle frames are vital. You certainly couldn't have a bike with no frame, bucko. And wheels are important. You're not going anywhere very fast with out wheels, bunky. And brakes, tires, handlebars and pedals all play their parts, it's true. Yet there is one part of a bicycle that can either make riding a comfortable or uncomfortable experience. Yes, your ride can be hell or heaven solely because of this single component, the long suffering, supportive, frequently fragrant all-powerful bicycle seat, fondly known as the saddle.
Choosing a saddle is very important, so listen up.
In the old days, if you had a "racing" bike, chances are it came with a saddle like the Brooks "Honey Top", shown top right, so named for its color, not for its gentleness on your nether regions during the break-in period. Eventually this saddle might feel like a honey, but for the first couple of weeks it feels more like a bitch with her teeth clamped deep in your left butt cheek for miles and miles. If you're training for two to four hours a day, after a while your ass is going to look like those red-ass monkeys at the zoo. During the break-in period, however, the leather molds itself to the shape of whatever tools you carry in your spandex shorts, so after that first couple of weeks of hell, it transforms itself into a "friend" you wouldn't mind spending hours "in the saddle" with. Like most relationships, with a little patience it ends up feeling juuuuuust right.
If in the old days you got your average Schwinn one-speed or Raleigh five-speed bike, chances are you got with the bike a saddle like the Selle Royal "Royal Drifter" women's saddle shown at right, second and third photos. This saddle has its own suspension to absorb shock. If you are a fat-botttomed girl (and me and GoldenToad got nothin' against that at all BTW) you might consider one of these for your cruiser bike around town, but if you want to go all the way, baby, less is more when it comes to cushion. After twenty or thirty miles sliding your butt around on this gel beauty you may find yourself ready to hang it up for the day. If you want to ride a hundred miles, get something that fits but doesn't ride like the pillow on your bed. You want your butt to stay where you put it, not go sliding around on gel or foam.
Today's saddles are designed to treat you right, designed to support you where you need support and leave you alone where you need to be left alone - the perineal area in particular. The perineal area is the area between your legs that lies between your reproductive gear and your elimination port, and you don't want to be putting your weight on it. If you do, it will get numb, and continued pressure might lead to other problems in your bedroom when you might want to have sex, for example. To make sure you don't damage yourself, many modern saddles provide a depression or hole where your perineal area would usually come in contact with the saddle.
You want your weight to rest on your "sit bones" - the two bottom-most projections of your pelvis, as pictured at right. If you align your sit bones correctly with the saddle, your comfort in the saddle will greatly increase.
If you are a full figured lady with a good, healthy bum on you, and you're hesitant to abandon all padding, you might try a saddle like the Performance Forte "Softail" saddle shown at right. It's a little wider to accommodate a wider bum, and it has the hole designed to avoid pressure where you don't want it just now.
The Selle Italia "Lady Gel Flow" saddle, is a bit smaller and has a bit less padding. The more you ride, the less padding you are going to probably want. Padding tends to trap moisture, and as Pearl Izumi biking attire company so aptly put it, a dry ass is a happy ass. Another benefit to less padding is decreased weight. The more cycling one does the more one tends to like speed. Since weight is the enemy of speed, the weight of saddle padding may be repugnant to you the greater your craving for speed.
Toward that end, if you've been training hard and long and your butt is in pretty good shape - no matter what size it is - you might consider a serious saddle like the Selle San Marco "Aspide Glamour" saddle, which is designed much like those used by riders in the Tour de France. Designed as it is to avoid pressure and support your sit bones, it can be as comfortable as a saddle with more padding.
The Terry company pioneered the idea of a saddle that keeps pressure off your perineal area. In terms of padding, the Terry "Damselfly", like the other saddles in this section, is designed with women's anatomy in mind. Personally I always have women's anatomy in mind, but that is a subject for a different kind of article. Why to I have the sudden urge to ask the Damselfly out on a date?
On the cutting edge of men's saddles is the Fizik line of saddles. Using mesh and other unconventional materials, Fizik delivers comfort and air to sensitive regions. Pictured at right is the Fizik "Nicene HP Flex Wing" saddle.
Next in line is the updated version of the saddle I ride until it screams, the Performance Forte "Classic" saddle. In know this saddle very, very intimately. I like the way the leather develops a slightly adhesive quality after ten or twenty miles that helps me keep my butt where I want it to be. This new version has an enlarged cutaway to protect that sensitive area. I find the old version very comfortable. If I bought a new saddle today it would probably be the Performance Forte Classic.
The Terry "Liberator" is the very first saddle ever designed to relieve pressure on the perineal area. The Liberator, I believe, may be the only bicycle seat ever recommended by doctors. It offers a little more padding for those who want it, but not excessively so.
The split design of the Selle Italia "Gel Flow" saddle is fast becoming a classic. The split enables the saddle to be more flexible and better absorb shock, and its light weight makes this saddle a contender for riders who want to cut down weight so they can pick up speed.
So that's the skinny - or not so skinny - on bicycle seats. Best of luck choosing the one that's right for you.