The saddle, or seat, of your bicycle, is one of three contact points between you and your bike. If it is not correctly adjusted, you will run into many problems. If you are experiencing discomfort, soreness, or numbness, that is a tell-tale sign that your saddle is not adjusted correctly.
Proper saddle fore and aft position, height, and angle allow you to prevent butt pain and make the ride more comfortable. Saddles of the right shape and size with a cutout design and padded shorts can make even the longest rides more comfortable,
What works for one person may not work for another, and it’s good to try different options to see what works best for you. But what is it that you should try? Adjust angle or height or something else? Let’s find out together!
Right Saddle Position
The best position for a bicycle saddle varies depending on the rider’s anatomy, riding style, and flexibility. Still, a few general guidelines can help you find the most comfortable and efficient position for your body.
Saddle height: The saddle should be at a height that allows the rider to pedal with their knees slightly bent at the bottom of the pedal stroke. One way to determine the proper saddle height is to place your heel on the pedal at its lowest position and ensure that your knee is slightly bent.
Using this method allows you to find a good baseline for saddle adjustment. From this point, make minor adjustments of no more than a centimeter or two until you find the right height. The correct height should allow you to make a smooth pedal stroke without rocking your hips from side to side.
Saddle fore-aft position: Position the saddle so that your knee is directly above the pedal spindle when the pedal is in the 6 o’clock position.
A correctly set fore and aft position allows for the handlebars to be at a comfortable reach for the rider and allows for a neutral wrist position.
The angle of the saddle: The saddle’s angle should be adjusted so that you are comfortable and don’t experience numbness or discomfort.
The saddle angle is the one seat adjustment I see most frequently forgotten. People have many misconceptions about saddle angle, but it is usually best to have your saddle angle set horizontally with the ground.
Depending on the shape of your saddle and your anatomy, you may end up with the saddle pointing a few degrees down from horizontal, but you will rarely ever want to have your saddle’s nose pointing up.
You do not want an upward-tilting seat because you should be sitting on your sit bones. An upward-tilted saddle will pressure your perineum and can cause numbness and discomfort very quickly.
Protect the Perineum
Let’s talk about the most uncomfortable aspect of saddle discomfort: perineum pressure.
You are probably asking, what the heck is a perineum?! And that’s an excellent question to be asking. It’s time for a quick detour from bicycling to anatomy.
There’s no nice way to put it, so I’ll just say it. The perineum is the area of the body located between your butt and genitals. It is a diamond-shaped region of the body that is made up of several different structures, including muscles, nerves, and blood vessels.
During cycling, the perineum can be subject to pressure and compression, which can cause discomfort and numbness in some riders. This is where the cutout design in the saddle comes in handy.
A cutout creates a space or channel in the saddle’s center to reduce pressure on sensitive areas of your body. The cutout is positioned where your perineum would come into contact with the saddle. The cutout allows for better blood flow and reduces numbness or discomfort in this area.
Some saddles have a full cutout, meaning the entire center of the saddle is removed, while others have a partial cutout, meaning that just a portion of the saddle’s center is removed. Some saddles have a hole or channel in the center rather than a cutout.
Not every rider will benefit from a saddle with a cutout; it depends on your anatomy and riding style. Some riders may find a cutout saddle more comfortable than a traditional saddle, while others may find the opposite true. It’s good to try different types of saddles to see what works best for you.
Use the Proper Saddle Size
Bicycle saddles come in different sizes. The saddle size generally refers to the width, which can vary depending on the model and brand. Saddle widths typically range from around 130 mm to over 200 mm.
Measuring your sit bone width is an excellent way to determine the correct size for a saddle. The sit bones are the two bony protrusions you can feel when sitting on a hard surface.
You can estimate your sit bone width by sitting on a piece of corrugated cardboard and marking the points where your sit bones make an impression. Then measure the distance between the two marks.
If you’re putting serious time into your bike, you will want to look into cycling shorts. I know you’re envisioning skin-tight lycra bodysuits right now, but I’m here to tell you that you can get the comfort and support of padded bicycling shorts without looking like a Power Ranger.
I have a few pairs of plain black bicycle bibs that I wear under mountain bike shorts. The bib shorts have ample padding that helps with soreness and comfort, and having a pair of shorts on top makes it less awkward to stop at the store, bar, or coffee shop mid-ride.
Generally speaking, it’s better to have padding on your shorts versus padding on your saddle. You’ll notice that most saddles are made of pretty hard material, and that’s for a good reason. Your sit bones are more supported on a hard surface.