ASK COACH FRED

Padded Saddle or Firm Saddle?

Question:

You may wince when I say this, but when I bought a new bike I immediately traded out the “racing” saddle that came with it for a contoured padded saddle. I'm 51, slightly overweight and rode 3,000 miles last year. I like my padded saddle. Is there a good reason to ride one that's harder and narrower? -- Brian P.

Coach Fred Replies:

I'm not sure I want to get into the "padded vs. firm" saddle debate! Everyone's anatomy is a bit different, so the saddle that's comfortable for one rider can be painful for another.

Padded saddles promise greater comfort, and if your saddle is working for you there's no reason to switch to a different style. But there are sound reasons (besides appearance) why padded saddles don't work for many riders.

First, padded saddles tend to be wider, which causes chafing against thighs during pedaling.

Second, when sitting on a thickly padded saddle, your sit bones compress the padding, causing it to well up in the crotch and create pressure right where you don't need it.

Firmer and narrower saddles, on the other hand, support your sit bones without squishy padding impinging on soft tissue. They take some getting used to because the sit bones bear much of your weight. But after the initial break-in period (your rear end, not the saddle!) they're often more comfortable.

You might have proven that to yourself if you'd tried your new bike’s stock saddle for a few rides instead of immediately replacing it.

One other point: It's friction, not pressure, that causes most saddle discomfort. That's why padded saddles usually aren't the answer. It also explains the discomfort riders often feel when wearing cycling shorts with a heavily padded liner. A thin but "slippery" (well lubricated) liner is less likely to cause pain and saddle sores than an over-engineered, plush one.

Riders who like thick padding don't need to write! Again, it all depends on personal anatomy. (A couple of great resources for research and advice on saddle design are Finding the Perfect Bicycle Seat and The Illustrated Guide to Bicycle Seatsin the RBR eBookstore.)

Coach Fred Matheny has decades of experience as a competitive racer and cycling coach. He is the author of 13 RBR eBooks and eArticles.

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