How to choose the right saddle for bicycle touring

Among the points of contact between cyclist and bicycle, the saddle is the most critical aspect. This is especially true for bicycle touring, as one spends several hours and days in the saddle. Those who take a cycling vacation for the first time, whether it is a simple weekend or a multi-day trip, experience problems with the saddle: what is initially just a slight discomfort as the hours go by turns into real pain that prevents them from sitting for more than 2 minutes straight. Problems also often arise in the delicate urogenital areas. The reason? An unsuitable saddle.

Let’s see how to choose the right saddle for traveling and avoid running into unpleasant situations.

What kind of saddle do I need?

Often, when we talk about the saddle, we focus on color, padding or materials. This is a wrong approach. The first thing to see in a saddle is whether it is the correct size for us. The back must have a width proportionate to our ischial tuberosities, which are the two bony projections in contact with the back of the saddle and therefore must find adequate support. The distance between the ischial tuberosities is individual and can also be measured with simple instruments housewares. Once we know the distance between our tuberosities, we can define the width of the back of the saddle.

Ischial bone width - SMP saddles

Should the saddle be soft?

We often see cyclists assaying the softness of the saddle by sinking their fingers into the back. The concept that the saddle should be soft is actually misunderstood, because sometimes too much softness can be uncomfortable. Saddles are usually offered with three levels of padding:

  • Minimal: This is a rigid saddle with minimal padding that provides a lot of support and allows you to move easily in the saddle. In addition, because it is rigid, it deforms less and allows excellent power transmission on the pedals. It is a saddle suitable for experienced cyclists or those who ride gravel or road bikes, on terrain such as asphalt or dirt roads and need maximum support and minimal energy loss;
Minimum padding SMP saddles
Minimum padding SMP saddles
  • Intermediate: padding is present but fingers do not sink in when we press. It is a compromise between a saddle with minimal padding and a very soft one. It is great for those traveling over rough terrain, whether gravel or mtb.
Intermediate padding SMP saddles
Intermediate padding SMP saddles
  • High: fingers sink easily and appear very soft. They are saddles designed to reduce the transmission of blows from the ground to the rider but at the same time do not allow the rider to move easily on the saddle, tending to make the rider maintain the same position. This type of saddle is recommended for those who have a very upright torso position (as on e-bikes) or for novices who are unaccustomed to sitting for many hours.
High padding SMP saddles
High padding SMP saddles

The hole is not needed, you need a proper center channel!

The wrong saddle, in addition to being uncomfortable, can create or exacerbate urological problems, such as genital numbness, difficulty urinating after cycling or, for those with genetic predisposition, have experienced episodes of prostatic hypertrophy or urinary tract inflammation.

Today, many saddles feature a “hole” to reduce pressure at the level of the genitals (male and female) and promote blood circulation in that area. But science and research show that to ensure natural blood circulation and avoid compressions to delicate areas, a simple “hole” in the saddle is not enough, but a real channel running along the entire surface of the saddle is needed. It is not, therefore, a matter of taking a traditional saddle and cutting a hole in it, but of making a real ergonomic design, such as the
Designed on Your Body
by Selle SMP, on the physical conformation of the cyclist, to eliminate any pressure in delicate areas and transfer the load to the ischial areas through carefully shaped support surfaces.

Right saddle, sure, but adjusted well

A poorly adjusted right saddle will, absurdly, tend to produce more problems than an ill-fitting but well adjusted saddle. This is because during pedaling our pelvis is constantly moving and the pressure points are constantly changing. This means that the assessment of ischial width alone is insufficient to determine the correct saddle, as it is a static assessment that does not contemplate the specific movement while pedaling. Therefore, once the correct saddle has been determined, it is crucial to adjust it well in height, advancement and inclination so that most of the weight of our body is discharged to the back and the genitals are free of pressure; at the same time there should be no tendency to slide forward or fall backward. Each cyclist is an individual case in terms of physical conformation, degree of training, type of bicycle and riding posture. After an initial rough adjustment, it is essential to try the saddle and make the appropriate minor adjustments to find the true correct positioning. Only after trying it out, and
correctly adjusted
, it is possible to confirm whether the saddle is indeed the right one.

Concluding

The saddle is a very important component of the bicycle, and we cannot be superficial in our choice, especially if the goal is to travel and spend many hours on the bike, several days in a row. First we need to know our ischial distance to determine the type of saddle and width needed. Based on our level of experience and the type of bike and terrain to be encountered, we will determine the most appropriate degree of padding. The saddle chosen should have a central channel to ensure natural blood flow to delicate parts and an ergonomic conformation of the areas where the ischial bones rest.

Finally, we will need to pay close attention to the adjustment of the saddle, lest even the perfect saddle be uncomfortable for the user.