Seat Types: More Important Than You’d Think
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Your seat must fit your type of riding and your body. The faster you ride, the more likely it is you’ll want a narrow, racing-style seat. This is because, a fast-riding position on a bike shifts you forward placing more weight on the hands and feet and reducing a lot of the weight on the seat. Also, as you pedal more vigorously, you spin faster and you can’t tolerate interference from the sides of the seat.
As you ride more casually, however, such as on a cruiser bike with wide backswept handlebars, most of your weight is planted directly on the seat. Plus you don’t pedal quickly at all. These factors make a wide, heavily padded saddle ideal to support your weight and provide cushioning.
Equally important, most manufacturers offer their popular seat models in both men’s and women’s versions and there are significant differences.
Because male and female pelvises differ (women’s are wider), it’s usually a good idea for men to start with men’s saddle models and women with women’s (though not always: women sometimes do fine on men’s seats). The men's is a bit longer and narrower while the women's is a bit shorter and wider.
Next, the seat must fit your particular anatomy. You can sometimes see how you fit a seat if you sit on it for a while then get off and immediately look closely at the back of the seat top. If a saddle is right for your body, its rear will support your sit bones (the ischial tuberosities - those two protrusions that bug you when you sit on a hard bench). These bones will form dents in certain types of seats. If the seat is correct for your anatomy, the depressions will be centered on the pads of the seat on either side.
While the rear of the seat supports your sit bones, the front (nose) of the seat is designed to help you control the bike with your thighs and support some of the body weight.
The problem with the nose of the bicycle seat is that it bothers many riders, both women and men. This is the part of the seat that’s most likely to compress nerves, irritate, cause chafing and generally abuse the body. Fortunately, there are plenty of seat models currently available that address the issue with various innovations.
Certain models incorporate a channel centered down the length of the seat. Others use a hole toward the front of the nose. Seats with channels and holes are often called Cutaway seats. Some seats feature soft foam or gel in the nose and soften the base of the seat beneath to reduce the stiffness. These are usually called Gel seats. The important thing to know is that if you find the seat’s nose a problem, there are models designed to remove the intrusion. Try a few until you find the model that works for you.
There are 7 basic types of seats you can look into: Racing Seats, Mountain
Bike Seats, Gel Seats, Suspension Seats, Cutaway Seats, Extra Wide Seats and
Leather Seats. Racing seats are great when you’ll be wearing cycling clothing and
going fast. Mountain Bike Seats are best for general purpose riding; this is what
you’ll likely want to choose for your mountain bike. Gel, Suspension, Cutaway and
Extra Wide seats are made for the sake of comfort. Gel seats have a soft gel
covering that molds to your body and can be found in any of the other designs but
they do add some weight to your bike. Suspension seats generally look like racing
seats but they have a suspension system so that they have more give and can
bounce under pressure. Cutaway seats have sections cut out so they introduce less
stress to certain pressure points and can alleviate pressure, tingling and numbness.
Extra Wide seats are exactly how they sound; they have wider-than-average
frames and usually some extra cushion. While they’re very comfortable they can
make it difficult to pedal fast. Leather seats are somewhat hard to find; they look
nice and can eventually mold to your body but they’re expensive and susceptible to
If none of the standard types of seats really work for you there are a myriad
of alternative designs that incorporate all sorts of strategies to make you
comfortable. Some seats are like hammocks and others have two pads for the
buttocks, there really are a million varieties. The only caveat to these is that many
of them are far from optimized for mountain biking. If none of the 7 basic types of
seats work for you then definitely consider sticking to a low-impact biking path.
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