Ask Ella: What is the best women’s saddle?

by Sheyleigh Walsh


Why shouldn’t I wear underwear under my bike shorts? What is the best women’s bike seat? Do I really need a women’s specific bike? How the heck do I manage a middle of nowhere pee break and, even worse, how do I deal with my period when I’ve got an epic ride planned?

Cycling can have a way of making you feel like a two-year-old kid again as so many questions keep coming up. But you may not know who to ask, so Ask Ella! 

Ask Ella is our new column in which we’ll answer all your cycling questions, from the simplest to the most complicated. Former bike shop worker and current ride ambassador, Sheyleigh Walsh, who only in recent years found salvation in cycling herself, will give or find you the answers. As a “but why” type of person she’s probably asked all the questions you are likely to come up with herself at some stage and has heard many more on the shop floor and road. Sheyleigh has also got our range of Ella experts to draw on for the more specialised conundrums. So ask away – don’t be embarrassed as we’ve all been there – and keep reading. You might just find the answer to a whole lot of questions you haven’t even known you needed to ask yet!


What is the best saddle?

Recently my friend acquired a bike that didn’t have a seat. That might sound strange to some but when people get attached to their saddles, they often migrate them from bike to bike. So, in need of a saddle, she asked: “how many types of bike seats are there and which is the best one?”

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If ever there was a loaded question that there isn’t a generic answer to that’s it! I can’t just say, “my Oura saddle is the best, you HAVE to get it” because whilst it works for me, it isn’t necessarily what’s best for someone else. You don’t even have to look beyond the Ella team to spot that there is no one right answer, as you can see in this article on favourite saddles, they all opt for something different.

The saddle is the most personal part of your bike, and while a good saddle is barely noticeable, an uncomfortable one can make your ride miserable. If your saddle is uncomfortable, go to your local bike shop and test-ride different saddles until you find one you like – believe me, it’s worth it! There are plenty to choose from, with some of the most popular for women including Specialized, Selle Italia, Bontrager, Fizik, Terry Saddles and Selle SMP.

So what should I consider?

There are plenty of things to take into account when trying to find the saddle that’s right for you and, while the approach to determining the right one varies between saddle brands, there are some common considerations. We’ve discussed them in detail previously in this article on riding comfort, but here is my bite-sized rundown:

Gender specific. Yes, there is a difference between men and women’s saddles – for pretty obvious reasons! Then there are also the less glaringly obvious ones. A women’s pelvis differs so we can give birth, so generally speaking the anatomical difference of women’s generally lower positioned pubic bone arch often leads to high pressure experienced on the saddle nose.

The Specialized Power saddle design looks strange with its stubby nose but it works remarkably well.

Unisex saddles (like the Specialized Power saddle pictured above for example) can work for some but it’s yet another factor which depends on the person. Believe me I found out the hard way after straying from my comfortable saddle to try one that others around me swore was amazing and it looked just as cool as it sounded. After trying to make my body conform to it my ‘soft tissue’ felt like it had been sucker-punched and with a lesson learned it was back to my tried, tested and comfortable option.

Riding position and style. Your body characteristics, like flexibility, change the way you sit on the bike and it goes beyond whether you have a generally aggressive or upright position. The style of riding also adds another level of variability as after all there is a big difference between spending half the day out on a relaxed road ride with friends and getting aero in a short time-trial.

Out of the saddle

You want to measure my what? In March was my new bike day – you know the day all cyclists love and which trumps Christmas, birthdays and, well, just about anything! I got a bike fit for the new bike build, part of which was measuring my sitbones. Don’t worry that doesn’t mean some stranger getting out the tape measure to measure your backside, it’s much easier than that as it usually involves sitting on a gel pad to create an indent that can be measured.

There were two things the bike fit taught when it came to choosing a saddle. The first is my seat bones are wide, I’m a 168mm width (so I can officially use the big bones excuse now, right?) and secondly, I actually have a tilted pelvis which meant my saddle only felt comfortable to me when the sit bones were higher than the nose, maybe even more so than ‘normal’. As such I need a saddle with a higher sit bones area at the back and lower nose profile at the front. For me, that’s the Specialized Oura.

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Bike love. It’s hard not to get a little attached once you find that saddle that seems just right for you.

And the short answer is …

My saddle situation is unique, and yours probably is too. The best saddle is the saddle that is correct for your body and what is right varies with the key considerations of gender, riding style, sit bone measurement and position on the bike. It may take some time and effort and a bit of help from your local bike store or bike fitter to find the right one, but it is worth it.

Try out demo models at bike stores, ask your mates if you can give theirs a go and also, don’t forget there is more to comfort than the bike seat, as even the best saddle can’t fix a bad bike short choice or make up for a bad bike fit. But they are issues for another time!

Some of the do’s and dont’s of saddles

  • More padding doesn’t necessarily equal more comfort.
  • Wider doesn’t equal better, the right size for you does. Get measured!
  • Try, try and try some more.
  • It’s OK to be a bit “Princess and the Pea” about your saddle. After all, comfort = joy.
  • Even the perfect saddle can’t make up for an imperfect bike fit.
  • Just because it works for your bestie, doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. You’re unique and your saddle choice should be too!

 

Got a burning cycling question on another topic you want answered? You can send us an email on ella@cyclingtips.com, or drop us a line on Facebook and you just may find the answer in one of our upcoming Ask Ella columns.

 Sheyleigh has a love for adventure on two wheels, cycling with friends and taking on the odd punishing challenge, like Everesting. She is a Specialized Women’s Ambassador and Cycliq brand ambassador, with a passion for helping beginner cyclists find their pedals. You can follow Sheyleigh’s expeditions and more on her website.

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