The Perfect Saddle
A saddle manufactured from leather, is the only saddle that will anatomically form to the contours of your body and become a truly ‘custom fit’. Your saddle will marry itself to your unique sit bone position and will become as unique to you as your fingerprint. Given time your saddle will, very much like a quality pair of leather shoes, fit like a glove. As with shoes any quality leather saddle will require a break-in period, after which time they’ll reward you with many years of loyal service becoming so comfortable that you’ll wish you had discovered the brand earlier.
Get it right and you don't notice a good saddle, get it slightly wrong however and an uncomfortable perch will detract from the ride experience and leave you very sore. There's no other component that comes down to personal preference more than saddle choice.
The saddle must fit your body and type of riding. From a leisurely cruise to time trialling there's a saddle to fit every shape and style This doesn't make selection any easier and it's not surprising that there are such a huge variety of saddles to choose from. Follow these guidelines to help you make the right choice and take the guess work out of choosing a saddle that is right for you.
Shape and style
The shape of the saddle varies depending on the type of riding and the rider it's intended for. High miles and speed puts your body forward, increasing the weight on your hands and feet but reducing the load on the saddle. The lightweight race saddle complements this style by being thin, long with a narrow rear section so as not to impede fast pedalling. More relaxed riding moves you up and back and as a result the saddle becomes shorter and broader at the back to support your weight and extra padding laid down for improved comfort.
Making the switch
If you've got a saddle you like, check out the upper surface. Is it flat or rounded accross the nose? Does the back curve down toward the outsides or is it level? If possible, try a few sadles before you buy. Also, there was a lot of height variation in the saddles tested so measure your old saddle height, fore/aft distance and the angle before switching and make small adjustments until you achieve a position that's right for you.
Getting the right saddle can be a problem for everyone, but women have it particularly bad. Ruth Brooker in Bikeradar.com writes...
"On long rides, one nagging question plays over and over in my mind: is this as good as it gets? After whingeing in the office about the saddle that came with my bike, I was handed a foam-padded 'women's saddle' that looked like a small sofa. Initially, it was comfy, but 20 minutes into the ride and I had to stand up every five minutes to relieve the pressure.
The final straw came when I was riding in a mountain bike enduro event (with a potential eight hours of riding) having based my saddle choice on someone else's recommendation. An hour into the event and I knew I'd made a mistake. The nose of this instrument of torture was mashing my delicates so much that I was arching my back to lessen the contact and getting lower back pain as a consequence. The next day I was hobbling with my legs apart and drinking sparingly to avoid the sting of peeing. I decided that this had crossed the line between expected discomfort and unnecessary pain, and so began my determined quest to find the women's saddle equivalent of the Holy Grail.
In the last few years, horror stories of erectile dysfunction caused concern among the male cycling population, but the problems for women weren't focused on as closely. I also suspect that a few blokes think girls are just making a fuss... Well listen up, fellas, saddle pressure on female genitalia is the equivalent of you sitting on the end of your old man. Yeah, it's that sensitive!
Researchers at Boston University have acknowledged that saddles can cause urinary tract problems and sexual dysfunction for women, along with the general complaints of chronic pain and numbness. It's not surprising that saddle related problems stop girls from riding their bikes.
Search for bottom bliss
So what should a girl perch her pert posterior on? There's a bewildering array of choice and opinion on offer to those seeking a superior saddle: short and fat, hard and skinny, hole in the centre, chromoly rails, gel implants, fleecy covers... So where do you start?
Most ladies in pursuit of maximum comfort reach for short, stubby, armchair type saddles with gel inserts and loads of padding. They certainly look the comfiest, but while these saddles are fine for leisurely trips to the pub, they are unsuitable for longer rides. Initially, a harder saddle will feel less comfy but it will be infinitely better in the long term; with a softer saddle there's more contact between you and it, not necessarily where it's needed, leading to more chafing and aching, whereas a harder saddle supports just the important bits. Also, don't be put off if the saddle is not the usual women's 'shorter-in-the-nose' variety. Many saddle experts reckon that this design is just a fashion that gives women the impression they're getting a product specifically for them rather than something that's rooted in necessity.
Some shops run a 'try before you buy' scheme, so ask about this at your bike shop. It's also important to ensure that your bike fits you correctly because an ill-fitting bike can contribute to your discomfort. Off-road and road riding pose different problems for your undercarriage. On a long road commute you're usually leaning forward in the aerodynamic position so there's more continued pressing on the nose of the saddle, which puts pressure on the nerves and causes numbness. Off-road you tend to sit in a more upright position so there's more weight on the sit bones, but the riding is more aggressive and the saddle bangs and rubs."
Leather and Quality
The wise man who is taking up cycling in any form, or changing his style of riding due to either age or inclination, must exercise great care in the selection of his saddle.
We should like to impress upon all riders the great advantages, both in power and comfort, that are derived from a saddle meticulously handcrafted by technicians who have honed over 130 years of saddle making experience.
At Brooks we appreciate that to choose a saddle which is suited to both rider and his machine, and also the class of road/terrain he intends to ride upon, is a matter well worthy of more consideration than is normally devoted to this question. With over 70 percent of the rider’s weight being coupled to an area of only a few square inches, it is essential an informed decision is made.
Naturally, in supplying the needs of a demanding public, it is necessary to eliminate unnecessary costs, but cost is always a consideration to be dealt with last by Brooks, as we decline to produce anything that does not fulfil the requirements of our exacting customers.
The Brooks policy is, and has been since the firm was founded in 1866, "Quality First".
Of all the components of a quality saddle, none is more important than the leather, and its scrupulous selection is entrusted upon men who, as judges, cannot be excelled. They have absolute and definite instructions to examine every individual hide and pass none that do not reach our high standards. They buy nothing but the highest quality 'middlings', or butt, ensuring that whilst all stretch is eliminated the flexibility of the leather is retained intact. The ultimate result is that not only will the Brooks top keep its shape for years to come, but it will also form to the contours of your body.
For Brooks saddles, only the butt of a hide is employed and whilst commanding a higher price it is only by use of such material, that our quality may be maintained and the experience of many millions of cyclists confirms the prudence of this wise precaution.
Saddles cut from butts, dressed during manufacture, are practically waterproof, yet capable of 'breathing' in a healthy manner; this is why Brooks saddles never become clammy and are always cool to ride, thereby providing greater levels of comfort, even on the longest rides, on the warmest days.
Primitive man recognized the serviceable qualities of leather and it has been utilized for footwear ever since. Its value in the manufacture of quality footwear is widely recognized and despite great advances in technologies it still remains the number one choice of its purveyors.
A cycle saddle, subject as it is to hard service, requires a covering of exceptional toughness. We have much correspondence from cyclists who have used the same Brooks saddle for fifty or more years, great testament to the value of leather.
Another, and even more important feature peculiar to leather, is that of porosity. Invisible pores in the animal hide provide natural ventilation; that is why a Brooks saddle remains cool, and expert medical opinion emphasizes the benefits of leather in this respect.