Women bike: saddles

What saddle do you ride? Can you recommend a good saddle? My butt hurts from riding; is that normal?

We get questions about saddles more than anything else, and we’re not alone. It’s one of the top questions women ask each other at the bike shop or of other experts. And that makes sense as it’s probably the most personal part of the bike. A good saddle is barely noticeable but an uncomfortable one will make you regret getting on your bike with every pedal stroke. 

I never thought much about saddles until I started riding more frequently and for longer distances. I was spending 150 to 200 miles in the saddle every week and well, it started to hurt. But I just thought it was part of cycling. Until I got on a ‘real’ saddle–a saddle that was made with research and purpose instead of the poorly made, no-name saddle that had come stock on my equally cheaply made bike. Today, I ride a variety of different saddles–each with a different purpose, and I still haven’t found the one perfect saddle for me.

So I decided to ask for advice from someone who has spent more miles and long days in the saddle than any other woman I know: Susan Notorangelo.

Notorangelo is a pioneer in women's long distance cycling and an ultracycling Hall of Famer. She has ridden the Race Across America five times, winning it two of those times. Additionally, her palmares includes setting the women’s 24-hour record (401.6 miles in 1982), setting the women’s transcontinental record alone and on a tandem with Lon Haldeman–​, and setting the women’s RAAM record in 1989 with a time of nine days and nine hours. So she knows a thing or two about saddle time.

“You know, I ride the same [make and model] saddle today that I rode in the 1980s: the Brooks B17,” said Notorangelo. “It’s not a woman’s specific but it works for me."

Leather saddles have been around for long before carbon and plastic saddles were even invented yet you won’t see many aluminium or carbon bikes with them.

“Leather saddles are generally heavier than modern plastic ones and for most road and race bikes, every ounce counts,” explained Notorangelo, adding that the plastic and carbon ones are great if you’re racing or going less than 60 miles or so.

Notorangelo said that in buying a saddle, taking into account your riding style and purpose is very important. People who ride longer put more weight onto their saddle than those who ride for shorter amount of time and who put all their weight and power into the pedals. For them, the saddle is more about positioning and less about comfort.

“Comfort is a much bigger concern than weight when you’re riding across the country,” she said.

Notorangelo did point out that leather saddles have a noticeable break-in period during which time the leather softens and molds to your unique shape. She also reiterated that saddles are personal but all riders, especially those experiencing saddle issues, can benefit from a proper bike fit.

“You want to try to alleviate the pressure off the contact area of your saddle. More comfort means more joy of cycling and that’s really what’s important,” she said, adding that switching saddles during long tours or for different disciplines is not a bad idea.

And if you’re seriously struggling with saddle issues and the position of a regular bike, Notorangelo suggested trying a recumbent bike. “Recumbents are very comfortable because you’re basically sitting in a lawn chair!” she said. “They have great weight distribution.”

She also recommends trying a variety of saddles before you commit to one. And when you do find one you like, be sure to buy a second! You never know when they might go out of production.

Here are some popular saddles among my female bike riding friends: 

  • The Selle Italia SLR Lady Flow - terrible name but women swear by this saddle
  • Fizik Arione Donna - This one doesn’t have the popular cut-out but people like them because they’re stiff and you can change your sitting position throughout the ride. They also last a long time.
  • Fizik Vesta - Good all-around saddle whether you’re riding around town, in the dirt or the STP. Does favor a slightly less aggressive riding position.
  • Specialized Jett and Ruby. Both are solid saddles. I ride them both and was bummed to learn that Jett had been discontinued.
  • Brooks B series - men and women alike love this saddle for comfort.
  • Terry Butterfly - offers more padding than most race-y saddle
  • WTB deva - especially popular among dirt riders Note that discomfort is not all the saddle’s fault. 

Note that discomfort is not all the saddle’s fault. Saddle sores and “butt pain” is caused by a number of reason, notably chaffing, a poor bike fit, sweat and ingrown hairs (see our June column on saddle sores).

 

Thanks for the positive feedback to this column. I’m happy to help! Please continue to email me your questions at amrook@cascade.org and I’ll answer them anonymously.

Read our previous columns here >>>  

The views expressed by columnist(s) are their own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cascade.