by David Wadsworth
How does saddle shape influence your comfort? If you look at the huge range of saddles available on the market one thing becomes very clear: saddle shape varies enormously. A small change in shape between two otherwise similar saddles can turn an uncomfortable saddle into one that is so good you don’t even notice you’re sitting on it. Your saddle, perhaps more than any other component on your bike, is so crucial for comfort and position that it’s worth examining its shape in more detail.
There is quite a difference in saddle shape when comparing the range of modern, science-inspired ergonomic saddles the shape of old school saddles like the Sella Italia SLR, particularly if you wish to ride without saddle soreness in a race position. Shape has a massive and often decisive impact on your posture and position, with ergonomically designed saddles making it far easier to achieve an ideal posture / position without discomfort. In this blog I’ll take a brief look at how saddle designed has evolved using three different saddles from one brand (Specialised).
When you look at the SHAPE of a saddle, there are three views to consider. If you have been struggling to find a comfortable saddle I have listed a few things to look at under each view:
Lateral View: Saddle Shape and Unloading the Perineum
As an example to explain the impact of saddle shape, I have taken some photos of 3 different saddles in the range offered by Specialised to illustrate how shape can vary dramatically when viewed from the side. From top to bottom the saddles are: Power saddle, Phenom saddle, Toupe saddle.
Looking from the side you can see the Power saddle has a groove whose maximum depth is 7-10mm (it seems to vary between actual saddles), which incidentally is about the deepest groove available on the market and is similar to the groove on a Sella SMP saddle. This would represent a more modern ergonomic design and perhaps not surprisingly is the biggest seller for this brand of saddles for road racing cyclists.
The Phenom, which could be viewed as a transition from the old classic flat saddle (the Toupe) to a more modern design has a moderately large lateral groove with a maximum depth of 7mm. It is often suitable for someone with a moderately aggressive position and has been very popular amongst cross country mountain bikers.
The Toupe, which according to the local bike shop has the lowest sales figures, is almost pancake flat and is the least likely to be comfortable for your perineal soft tissues. This doesn’t mean it will be a problem for everyone; after all Tom Boonen was reported to love this saddle.
Judging by the sales figures you can see where most people are finding comfort and it’s not in the old school saddle shapes. This certainly holds true in my clinic and with the bike fit clients I see.
In selecting a saddle here are some rough rules of thumb that might assist you in your selection when it comes to evaluating the saddle from the lateral view:
SADDLE SHAPE: LATERAL VIEW: how deep is the lateral groove?
Specialised saddles: Power (7-10mm), Phenom (7mm), Toupe (negligible).
Each has a different depth of lateral groove (arrows). In the Power saddle (top photo), note the hard shell projecting laterally towards the cyclists thigh muscles (arrow). Compare this to the Sella SMP design (green saddle below) where the shell curves downwards and offers a large padded guide for the thigh muscles.
The Sella SMP range of saddles generally has a large downward sloping edge of the saddle which minimises the risk of thigh irritation.
In our next blog we’ll consider saddle padding and how it can be used to alter comfort, although you might be surprised to learn that more padding is often more pain not less!