So how are female triathletes and cyclists supposed to comfortably ride a bicycle with a saddle that was designed for a man’s anatomy? The answer is of course that many women will have a very tough time getting comfortable on a narrow men’s bicycle saddle.
Not so obvious differences in anatomy
Besides the obvious differences between men’s and women’s anatomy, there are some other not-so-obvious differences. The one that has the largest impact on bicycle saddle comfort is pelvic width. Women naturally have a pelvis that is slightly wider than men to allow for childbirth. Because of this extra width, and actual pelvic geometry, a woman sitting on a men’s bicycle seat can place the “sit bones” outside of the area of support. This transfers the support from skeletal (pelvic support) to soft tissue which is very uncomfortable.
The saddle should support the pelvis
A comfortable bicycle saddle should ideally support the rider from the “sit bones” and apply little or no pressure to sensitive soft tissue areas. To achieve this you want a saddle that closely matches the width and geometry of your “sit bones” while you are sitting on the bike. Your sit bones are the bony protrusions at the top of your leg near the base of your buttocks. This width can change depending on how much your pelvis is rotated forward.
Check your position first
Your position on the bike has a lot to do with your saddle comfort. For example: if you ride a triathlon-specific bike and it is set up properly, your pelvis will have a slight forward rotation. Without the correct saddle, there will be tremendous pressure on sensitive areas. If you are on a road bike with a fairly upright position you will be supported by the widest part of your sit bones and will need a wider seat. Before you go shopping for a new saddle make sure that your position has been properly set up by a professional bicycle fitter.
Check your pelvic width in the riding position
Once your position is set up properly you can then start looking for an appropriate saddle. The first thing to look for is a saddle that has a width that closely matches your “sit bones” while you are on your bike in the riding position. With your hands, you can feel for your “sit bones” to determine the exact placement. If you have trouble on your own you may want to find a professional bicycle fitter that is trained in pelvic placement on the saddle. The correct width is the most important aspect of saddle selection.
Look for firm yet forgiving padding
The next thing to look for in saddle is the padding. Ideally thin layers of very dense shock absorbing foam in the back part of the saddle. The seat should feel firm yet slightly forgiving. The firmness will help keep your pelvis locked in place and prevent excessive movement. If you get the width correct you will not need excess padding.
The nose of the saddle may need a cutout
Once you select the correct firmness you will want to look at the nose area of the saddle. It should be narrow enough to allow for your thighs to move freely without chafing on the saddle. Many saddles have a hole or relief in the front of the saddle to allow for a forward rotated pelvic position without putting excess pressure on soft tissue. Most women’s saddles today have this cutout or relief. This is a mixed solution. On one hand, it can take pressure off the sensitive areas but it can also increase pressure because of less surface area. If you are riding in an upright position you may not need or want a saddle with this cutout.
Many women will have a hard time getting comfortable riding a men’s saddle because of obvious and not so obvious differences in anatomy. Your position on the bike has more to do with your saddle comfort than which saddle your choose. First set your position then look towards the correct saddle. Most professional bicycle fitters are trained to determine the proper placement and width of saddles. This is done visually while you are riding your bike on a stationary trainer.
Women have slightly wider sit bones and different pelvic geometry than men, therefore women’s saddles should be wider to accommodate this width. Each rider is completely different and the saddle should be sized to match your position and anatomy. Once you have the width selected you will want to look at the padding. Ideally, very little padding that is firm yet forgiving. Finally, if you are riding a triathlon-specific bike you should look for a saddle that has a cutout or relief in the nose. If you are on a road bike you will likely not need the cutout.
Regardless of the saddle, you choose you should have a professional bicycle fit which will help you make the right saddle choice and help you ride with greater comfort.
Have a question or comment about this article? What saddle issues do you have?
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