Basic Considerations for Saddle Fit Determination

After observing how some riders approach saddle installation and usage, we thought we’ll put together a short article outlining a few basic considerations when determining saddle fit. Whether you’re completely new to road cycling, a professional cyclist, or just someone who’s been cycling for a while, this article is for you.

Sitbones vs Perineum

Side view and simplified representation of sitbone and rami
Top view of pelvis

Your sitbones are the pointed ends of your pelvis. If you have no idea where they are, how it feels for them to bear your weight, or even if you think you do, try the following:

Using your fingers, feel around the bottom of your bum. You should be able to feel the pointed, bony ends of your pelvis. These are your sitbones.

Press on your sitbones, remember how it feels and where the pressure is on your body. When you’re sitting on your saddle, the pressure should be around the same spots. If not, your sitbones aren’t supporting your weight. If your chamois is thick and/or dense and you have difficulty figuring out which part of your body is bearing your weight, you can wear normal clothes (i.e. without chamois) and take a short ride to confirm.

On the other hand, your perineum is the soft tissue region between your sitbones. This is the pink region in the second picture above. There are blood vessels and nerves running through it, hence it is strongly recommended that you not sit on it. Symptoms resulting from excessive perineum pressure include:

  1. numbness
  2. pain
  3. burning sensation

If you sit upright on the narrow saddle nose, you’ll be sitting on your perineum.

The Right Place To Sit

Most folks probably intuitively understand that we should be sitting on the areas shown in green in the picture above, and not so much on the nose (pink region). But, for different reasons, not everyone ends up doing that in reality. You need to check that you are in fact sitting on the right spot: while pedaling, feel around the saddle with your fingers to confirm this. Check by feel that your sitbones and not your perineum is supporting your weight. If you discover that the green areas are not supporting your sitbones for some reason, then there is an issue: the saddle may be too narrow, you may have subconsciously moved forward while pedaling, etc.

When You CAN Sit Further in Front

(a) No hip rotation: bending at the waist, lower back not straightened, rami does not bear weight. (b) Hip rotation done correctly.

The only time you can sit further forward on the saddle, is when you are able to rotate your hips so that your rami bears some of your weight. Without hip rotation, you’ll be sitting on your perineum. Your rami is narrower than your sitbones, which is why a narrower saddle width can provide sufficient support.

A necessary condition for effective hip rotation is a significant saddle-to-handlebar drop. If your saddle is on the same level as your handlebar, it most likely is not. When you rotate your hips correctly, your lower back should be straight, and your head will be tilted up so you’re looking further up the road. “Pushing your stomach forward” can help achieve this posture. We have a more detailed article on hip rotation at https://medium.com/@meld3d/hip-rotation-5919de70a956.

Check Your Chamois

Your chamois sits in between your body and the saddle, and is critical to comfort in the following ways:

  1. Positioning: if your shorts/bibs are loose and the chamois doesn’t cover your sitbones, the saddle will feel harder and you’ll get bruised sitbones. If the chamois shifts against your body while pedaling, it will result in chafing. Your chamois changes the effective shape of the saddle, incorrect positioning can result in discomfort.
  2. Wear: like everything else, the chamois will degrade over time. It will get thinner and be less effective at cushioning. If you find that your saddle is getting less comfortable over time, try a newer chamois.
  3. Collapse: the chamois compresses and expands as you pedal. During the course of a ride, it will gradually lose its ability to expand to its original thickness. The length of time this takes depends on the quality and age of the chamois: generally the better the chamois, the longer it takes for it to collapse and result in noticeable discomfort.
  4. Friction: for long rides especially during the summer, sweat build up on your chamois can increase friction resulting in chafing. Consider using chamois cream, or cleaning up (e.g. using wet wipes) at rest stops in the middle of long rides. We discuss more in our article on chafing here: https://medium.com/@meld3d/chafing-1643711e744e

Found this article useful? Check out other cycling-related stuff at meld3d.com/blog.