Saddles (and soreness)

A story to start with, probably apocryphal;

Two people had decided to set of on a long cycle tour, round the world, or possibly round Europe. They met at Tower Bridge in London, as that seemed like a symbolic place to start the tour, and set off for Dover, to catch the ferry to the rest of the world. By the time they arrived in Canterbury they were both thinking of giving up. The pain inflicted on their backsides by their saddles was getting too much to bear.
They had a think about the situation over lunch. Abandoning the tour would lead to humiliation. Wandering in to the pub next Saturday night and greeted by their friends with comments such as ‘I’m not sure I could make it round the world that quickly in a 747 let alone a bike’ would have been too much to take. Besides, they had paid for their ferry tickets and wouldn’t get the money back.
They decided to try swapping saddles, and completed the rest of the tour completely free from pain in the posterior.


I have discovered recently how having a saddle that suits you makes cycling a more enjoyable experience. I managed to break a couple of spokes in the rear wheel of my touring bike. Normally I would fix this myself, but as this is the third time in the last few months that I have managed to break spokes in the rear wheel, I decided to take the wheel to Pearson’s to get it repaired and re-trued by the professionals. As a result I have ridden my *racing* bike the last few times I have been out.

Brooks B17 Saddle
Rolls Saddle
Rolls Saddle

My touring bike has a leather Brooks B17 saddle. My racing bike has a Selle San Marco Rolls saddle. All my bikes used to have Rolls saddles. That is until a few years ago when one of the rails on my touring bike’s saddle broke. The bike shop didn’t have a Rolls saddle in stock, so on a whim I decided to get a B17 instead.

Brooks make their saddle from a single piece of shaped leather suspended on the saddle rails. As you ride it, it gradually shapes itself to your backside. This means that after about 600 or 700 km it has moulded it’s self to the shape of your posterior and becomes probably the most comfortable saddle you have ever ridden

I used to find the Rolls saddle comfortable enough. Selle San Marco make it from a piece of moulded plastic, covered with a thin layer of padding then a leather cover. If the shape fits your backside, then great, but if it doesn’t then tough, the shape isn’t going to change as you ride it in. (You may get used to the pain though).

The reason that I am writing this is to encourage those of you who find cycling is a truly “a pain in the arse” that there is a solution. The first thing to do is to get yourself a pair of proper cycling shorts. You don’t have to spend a fortune, though you can spend up to £200 if you want. You can get baggy shorts if figure hugging lycra isn’t your scene.

Lycra Shorts
Baggy Shorts

The cut of women’s cycling shorts is different from men’s, not just for reasons of style, – though most earthworms have a better sense of style than most male cyclists – but also for reasons of anatomy. One thing to remember when wearing cycling shorts is this – do not wear anything under them. The seat pad sits next to your skin. It sticks to your skin so that the shorts do the rubbing against the seat and not your bottom.

If cycling shorts don’t make a difference then it might be time to find a different saddle. Buying a new saddle, finding that it is no better than your old one, throwing it, and buying another new one, is an expensive process. I do not recommend it (unless you have recently won the lottery). Some bike shops have what they call a saddle library, where you can for a deposit borrow and try as many saddles as they have. Or try doing what the people in my story did, swap saddles with your friends, then when you have found a saddle that suits you buy that one. Women’s saddles are designed differently to men’s saddles for the same reasons as women’s cycling shorts.

If your desire is comfort and not speed I would recommend one of the Brooks range of leather saddles – with the warning that it might not be totally comfortable until you have ridden it a few hundred miles. (I found my B17 comfortable enough right from the start, it just got better as time went by). The other ‘problem’ with Brooks saddles is that compared with modern saddles they are heavy. The standard model B17 weighs 507 g (well over a pound), and some of their sprung models are considerably heavier than that. At the other end of the scale, some Kevlar and carbon-fibre minimalist designs can weigh as little as 87g. How comfortable they are I don’t know, but if you prioritise speed then the lightness of your bike matters, and as they say ‘every little helps’.

My priority is comfort.

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