By Tom Demerly.
Saddle discomfort is the cyclist’s most common complaint. For triathletes who are new to riding sitting in a forward-rotated pelvic posture may be even more of a concern than a traditional road cycling posture. Finding the solution to saddle discomfort is the most important challenge on the triathlete’s bike agenda. Until you can sit on the saddle tolerably you won’t be able to train consistently and you won’t race optimally.
“A bike saddle, even the best of them, will never be an easy chair. It will never be truly ‘comfortable’. Tolerable and functional is the goal.”
In any discussion of saddle comfort you must begin with a calibration of terms: just what should the saddle feel like? A bike saddle, even the best of them, will never be an easy chair. It will never be truly “comfortable”. A better goal for saddle interaction is “tolerable”. Tolerable will include bouts of discomfort that include numbness and pain. That is normal. Extended periods of discomfort and numbness after riding, including problems with urination or sexual function are not normal. Very high levels of pain in the saddle area and any lesions or broken skin in the saddle area are also valid saddle maladies and should be taken seriously.
The Saddle Comfort Triad: Three Factors of Saddle Comfort.
The lowly bike seat has taken the blame for saddle discomfort among newer cyclists for decades. The logic goes like this: “If the seat hurts, change it.” This approach is too near-sighted. Saddle comfort is comprised of three predominant factors, in order of significance:
1. Bike fit and position and acclimation: If your position is bad you won’t achieve good saddle comfort with any saddle. The road to good saddle comfort starts with proper fit. Additionally, if your body isn’t acclimated to sitting on a bike saddle it will hurt. Saddle acclimation takes time, often weeks or months, and overweight riders will have a more difficult time.
2. Dress Right: Padded cycling shorts for training, tri shorts for race day or a saddle pad when racing in a swimsuit at short distances are key to reasonable saddle tolerance. Shorts must fit correctly- which means no wrinkles. Use chamois lubricant and never wear underwear. Some triathlon specific saddle designs such as the Cobb V-Flow Max, Plus and V-Flow may favor the thinner pad of tri shorts due to their specialized configuration and additional padding. these unique saddles are the exception- not the rule.
3. Saddle Choice: Chronic saddle discomfort is seldom the fault of the saddle. Most conventional, high quality saddle designs will provide adequate comfort if the rider is acclimated and not overweight, bike fit and position are optimized and they are dressed properly. Some saddles do offer an interim solution to saddle discomfort. Other saddle designs may suit a particular rider better than another. Although the differences are small, they are worth investigating to optimize performance through better comfort.
Triathlon Saddles and the Triathlon Position: The Difference.
A fit and acclimated triathlon cyclist sits on the saddle of a tri bike differently than a road cyclist on a road bike mostly because of the steeper, more open seat tube angle of a triathlon bike. The pelvis is rotated forward and the point of pressure is more forward on the crotch and not on the “sit” bones or Ischial Ramus and Tuberosity- the pointy bones at the bottom of your butt. As a result, triathlon saddles are as different from road saddles as tri bikes are from road bikes. This article examines saddles that reside in the triathlon category.
The Nose Knows.
As the rider rotates their pelvis forward on the saddle, opening the angle between the femur and torso to rest on the aerobars, the nose configuration of the saddle becomes more critical. Additionally, a marginal triathlon bike fit will result in the rider sliding forward onto the front half of the saddle, likely degrading saddle comfort.
On a properly fitted tri bike the front 2/3rds of the saddle are the most important part. On a road saddle, the rear 2/3rds of the saddle are more critical.
There are three prevalent strategies to managing the nose comfort of triathlon saddles:
1. Increase the size and padding in the nose of the saddle. This group includes the Profile Tri Stryke, the Profile Tri Stryke Elite, the San Marco Aspide TT, and the Terry TRX Gel Tri.
2. Use a “comfort cut-out” to relieve pressure on the nose. The Profile Tri Stryke, the Koobi Saddles and most Cobb designs use cut-outs.
3. Eliminate the nose of the saddle. Saddles from ISM and some designs Cobb Cycling own this category. They are shorter saddles with a truncated nose. The logic is: If the nose hurts your crotch, remove it.
Saddle Fit and Position: The Golden BB of Saddle Comfort.
New cyclists tend to replace saddles when saddle comfort becomes a problem. A more expedient, interim solution may be to adjust the position of the saddle to achieve an optimum orientation. There are four primary axis of saddle adjustment:
1. Saddle Height.
2. Saddle Fore/aft position.
3. Saddle angle.
4. Saddle yaw.
The first three adjustments are part of every good bike fit and position. Some bikes with aerodynamic seatpost may not facilitate the fourth adjustment. Saddle Height is a function of optimal comfort and pedaling efficiency combined with injury avoidance.
Saddle fore/aft is also oriented toward positioning the saddle under the rider where they most efficiently pedal at their most common work rate.
Saddle angle is a touchy adjustment; some saddle designers will tell you their saddle design is intended to be ridden perfectly level- and that if it doesn’t feel appropriate when perfectly level, it is the fault of the saddle height of fore/aft, but not the angle. In general, saddle angle should be a last resort as an adjustment and should be done in very small increments. The most common error in triathlon bike fitting is to angle the saddle with the nose down to relieve saddle pressure at the nose. This is generally a mistake since it transfers rider weight onto the handlebars from the saddle changing the handling of the bike. Some saddles such as the ISM Adamo and some Cobb designs are intended to be adjusted nose-down. Their installation instructions will indicate this.
Saddle yaw angle, or the “straight-ness” of the saddle relative to the bike as viewed from above, is available on bikes with round seat posts or bikes with an adjustable head that can be rotated slightly to the left or right. As with saddle angle, these are fine adjustments used in very small measures. Because of his surgery for testicular cancer, Lance Armstrong has been observed to adjust his saddle angled slightly to one side.
“Athletes with saddle discomfort tend to look to saddle choice first as the solution to the problem. … this is short sighted…”
Saddle Design under a Rider’s Weight.
Athletes with saddle discomfort tend to look to saddle choice first as the solution to the problem. As mentioned, this is short sighted since other factors such as fit, position, saddle acclimation, rider weight and what the rider is wearing weigh so heavily on saddle comfort.
Another error saddle shoppers commonly make is shopping by appearance and intuition. When you look at a saddle to decide if it may be more comfortable than your current saddle you are viewing it without a rider seated on that saddle. With 110-190 pounds pressing down on the saddle the shape changes considerably. A narrow nose saddle becomes wider, so-called “comfort cut-outs” close up under rider weight to produce a concave profile to the saddle, concentrating rider weight on small pressure points.
So, What do I Do?
Step One: Get a good bike fitting by an experienced fitter.
Step Two: Buy the best quality cycling shorts for training (not tri shorts) you can afford. Allocate as much to your shorts as to your saddle in your cycling budget. Be certain the shorts fit tight enough and consider bib shorts for optimal comfort. Never wear any undergarments under your shorts. Always use chamois lubricant on your chamois pad. Only wear your shorts while actually riding- do not travel to events with your shorts on and change out of your shorts immediately when done riding. One exception to this rule for some riders may be heavily padded triathlon saddles with substantial cut-outs such as the Cobb V-Flow triathlon saddles (V-Flow, V-Flow Plus and V-Flow Max) . These saddles may interface better with triathlon shorts since some users report the thicker pad of cycling shorts not conforming well the the unusual cut-outs and contours.
Step Three: Acclimate to the saddle. For new cyclists saddle acclimation usually takes from three to six months. That’s right. If you are overweight you will be at the higher end of the scale. If your saddle comfort is intolerable during the first 3-6 months revisit the first two steps here before beginning to switch saddles.
Profile’s Tri Stryke is a problem solver saddle for many triathletes. Its long nose and overall length combined with forward biased rails make it ideal for riders who sit steep with an open, relaxed angle between torso and femur. The thickly padded nose is tremendously forgiving, making it a good Ironman distance choice. The nose is wide, so small riders may experience chafing. The cut out is held open by a series of “stiffeners” that also direst sir flow at high speeds. This saddle is soft and tends to wear quickly, usually lasting riders about 2 seasons of big bike miles until the padding becomes so compressed it has to be replaced. The reasonable price means replacing it is less than a cost of bike shorts. At 283 grams it is heavy, but the weight is worth it for the comfort.
A sleeker adaptation of the standard Profile Tri Stryke, this saddle may be the Tri Stryke for small riders. No comfort cut-out but a thickly padded nose and shorter length which save considerable weight. The trim nose still provides adequate padding and the rounded cross section tends to flatten under rider weight. Another good value in a saddle at only $89.95 with titanium rails.
A noseless design that shifts weight back onto the rearward anatomy including the pelvic bones like the Ischial Tuberosity. The logic is simple: If the nose is bothering you, remove it. The short length means fitting this saddle correctly is crucial. Designed to be oriented slightly nose down. Effectively, the rider only uses the front 2/3rds of the saddle, sitting on the “horns” predominantly. May influence bike handling since some weight can be transferred to handlebars using this saddle. A highly effective solution to chronic saddle discomfort.
The long 30 centimeter saddle facilitates multiple postures since it has a flat profile and is designed to be ridden level. A true professional quality saddle, the construction is excellent meaning this saddle will last for many seasons. Uses “Kium” metal alloy rails. A relatively narrow nose works well for most riders with good saddle acclimation and bike fit. Saddle breaks-in using a series of slits along its mid point that fracture to accommodate the individual rider’s anatomy. The road version is one of the most commonly used saddles among top professionals. Spec’ed on many high end bikes such as Scott Plasma 3. This writer’s favorite since it was introduced.
An exotic, lightweight, carbon rail version of the popular and successful Arione Tri 2 with metal Kium rails. This saddle is 5 millimeters shorter than the conventional version and a full 51 grams (1.79 ounces) lighter. The rails are carbon braided 7 X 9 size which are not compatible with every seatpost clamp. The shell is also carbon WFTF material. We found that both weight and dimensions on this saddle were different than what was quoted on the manufacturer’s website.
An impressive, premium saddle from one of Italy’s premiere saddle cobblers. The deep, narrow nose, standard 27 cm length and deep carbon rails make this saddle a performance oriented choice for light, fit riders with good saddle acclimation. At $249.95 it is the most expensive saddle in our survey but also the lightest weight saddle at a gossamer 163 grams. This is racing equipment, and a beautifully hand-crafted piece of equipment built to Formula 1 auto racing type standards.
A deep section, split nose tri specialty saddle from Koobi, makers of split framed saddles with a long groove down the center. The groove tends to moderate with rider weight on it. The intention is to relive pressure for the center of the saddle. The deep titanium rails also provide excellent shock absorption. Well padded and moderately shaped, this is a strong design without being too radical.
Designed to be in compliance with UCI Specification 1.3.014 and 1.3.013 that stipulates the saddle nose is a specific distance behind the bottom bracket, this saddle has little application for triathletes except in unusual fit circumstances. This UCI rule does not apply to triathletes. To achieve compliance this saddle is only 24.5 cm. long, whereas a standard saddle is 27 cm long.
Terry’s excellent women’s saddles include this luxurious female specific tri saddle with generous padding, a round-ish profile and a rather short length. Well suited for recreational triathletes who sit in a relaxed, upright position. At 275 grams a relatively heavy saddle that trades weight for comfort. This is a reasonable compromise between road and triathlon designs. Not a high performance oriented racer’s saddle due to its wide width and short length.
A longer, narrower version of the Butterfly Gellisima. This saddle is best suited for recreational triathletes doing shorter events that have reduced saddle acclimation. Well padded and rounded, it is a luxury saddle more than a performance saddle. If you’d rather ride in a Cadillac than a Corvette this may be your saddle. Because of its luxurious padding it is a heavy saddle at 271 grams but the trade-off of weight to comfort is worth it. A good interim choice for new riders as they transition to more performance oriented saddles.
This saddle literally has the word “girl” written all over it but it is an excellent saddle for either gender. This is a true performance oriented saddle with an excellent profile and cross section and a long, rounded nose for the aero posture. At 28 cm. long this is a true tri saddle, the moderate weight and excellent $99 price tag make this a category leader. While men may be reluctant to try it because the word “girl” is embossed in the saddle cover it truly is an excellent saddle for men and for fit females. This saddle would be perfectly at home between your legs on the Queen K at Ironman. A truly worthwhile offering from Terry.
Another split nose model from Koobi, the Tri has a full length comfort channel and deep rails for good shock absorption. The slightly long saddle is well suited for men and medium and larger females. A flat profile provides a wide spectrum of positions which works well on hilly course and for long distances.
Addition to our Line-Up: Cobb Cycling.
A master of bike fit, innovation and saddle design, John Cobb is the father of modern wind tunnel testing and an innovator in saddle design. As of this publication date we have only tested Cobb saddles but not received them for sale yet. We were impressed- these designs are category leading. We will carry the Cobb saddles including the V-Flow, V-Flow Plus and V-Flo Max along with the V-Flow HC-170 and SHC-170. The Cobb Cycling V-Flow, V-Flow Plus and V-Flow Max use such a triathlon specific design that some users report they actually work better with lightly padded triathlon shorts than with cycling shorts, a boon on race day. Cobb’s saddle designs have influenced many of the designs you already see on this page and will be featured in their own review on this page soon.
The Problem Solver- DeSoto Neoprene Saddle Cover.
Another solution for saddle comfort, especially on race day if you wear non-padded or lightly padded bottoms and for women or men who want to race in a swimsuit only, is to add a DeSoto Neoprene Saddle cover. These lightweight, stretch covers add almost no weight and do not change bike fit or position tangibly. They may be slipperier than your standard saddle covering. A DeSoto Neoprene Saddle Cover can truly “tune” and improve the feel of a saddle, especially Koobi style saddles with a comfort channel. The neoprene cover tends to moderate the feeling of the saddle edge against your body.
Saddle Name Weight Length Price Profile Design Tri Stryke 283 grams 29.0 cm. $74.95 Profile Design Tri Stryke Elite 234 grams 27.6 cm. $89.95 ISM Adamo Racing/Tri 275 grams 24.0 cm $189.99 Fizik Arione Tri 2 245 grams 30.0 cm. $144.95 Fizik Arione Tri 2 Carbon 194 grams 29.5 cm. $269.95 San Marco Aspide TT 163 grams 27.0 cm. $249.95 Koobi Stratus Tri 274 grams 27.7 cm. $138.95 Fizik Ares 165 grams 24.5 cm. $198.95 Terry Women’s Tri Butterfly Gellisima 275 grams 26.0 cm. $109.95 Terry Men’s Fly Tri Gel 271 grams 26.8 cm. $109.95 Terry TRX Gel Triathlon 219 grams 28.0 cm. $99.99 Koobi Tri Saddle 250 grams 27.5 cm. $138.95