Saddle Adjustment — The 4 Classes of Riders

We’ve interacted with a number of riders and observed how they went about adjusting their saddles’ fore/aft and tilt positions. We realized that they can be classified along two dimensions: knowledge of reference points, and inclination to tweak saddle position. This short article is written to disseminate information about how others adjust their saddles, and to shed some light on what to look out for.

The 2 Dimensions

  1. Knowledge of reference points
    Knowing where our sitbones are, and whether they are properly supported by a saddle, is a key reference point. We can tell where our sitbones are by feeling for them with our hands: they are the bony ends of our pelvis. On the bike, we can reach underneath the saddle while pedaling to get a sense of their location on the saddle. 
    Most people can tell whether their sitbones are being properly supported even without explicitly using their hands. If the saddle is too curved, or is too narrow, or the rider is sitting too far front, the resulting pressure on the perineum is very clear and should be avoided.
    The second reference point is relevant to those with an aggressive saddle-to-handlebar drop: know what is means and feels to have the rami support weight. An aggressive drop allows for effective hip rotation, distributing weight between the sitbones and rami. This is -not- to be confused with being upright and sitting further forward on the saddle, which causes the perineum to support weight instead of the rami.
  2. Inclination to tweak saddle position
    Interestingly, riders have different inclinations to adjust saddle setup (fore/aft and tilt). Some install the saddle level and leave that as it is, while others iteratively adjust the saddle after taking rides of varying distances.

The 4 Classes of Riders

Class I

These riders are typically new to road cycling. They do not know about sitbones, nor what it means to have them support weight. Furthermore, especially for those not mechanically inclined, it may not have crossed their minds that the saddle can be adjusted to mitigate any discomfort they may feel.

Suggestion: Learn about the basics of the pelvic skeletal structure (sitbones & rami), understand where the sitbones and rami are and how it feels to have them support weight. If the chamois is thick/dense, wear normal clothes (e.g. shorts without padding) to get a better feel.

Suggestion: Learn to use basic tools, such as a hex/allen key or a torque wrench (needed for carbon rails). Carry one such tool during rides so you can adjust the saddle if necessary.

Class II

These can be relatively new riders or experienced ones who have ridden for decades. They understand what it means and feels to have weight properly supported, but are not in the habit of adjusting, or tweaking, the saddle position to get more comfort.

Example: You notice that you’re slipping backwards during a ride and your KOPS setup goes out the window frequently. As a result, you have had to pull yourself forward too many times, or worse, you blame the saddle shape. Solution: tilt the saddle nose down so you’re staying in place.

Suggestion: Make a habit of a) being aware of and identifying any discomfort during a ride, b) thinking about small adjustments that might help mitigate the discomfort, and c) spending a minute or two after the ride to make minor adjustments to the saddle.

Class III

This class of riders includes those who are very hands-on and willing to adjust the saddle setup. However, they do not understand what it means to have the sitbones/rami support their weight.

Example: Riders who always had one (or more) bikes that are too big for them. Due to the frame geometry, they are unable to move the saddle forward enough for their sitbones to be supported. As a result, they get used to their perineums supporting much of their weight, and assume that to be the norm.

Example: Riders who started with narrow saddles and stuck with them. This can be riders with wide sitbones but who either don’t know, or consistently chose narrow saddles (perhaps because of aesthetics, or availability). Regardless of how willing they are to tweak the saddle positioning, a saddle that’s too narrow won’t ever work, and again they get accustomed to their perineums supporting their weight.

Suggestion: Accurately measure your sitbone width. Look for saddles that are at least as wide as your sitbones. When on the bike, check that the sitbones are resting on the saddle and supporting weight.

Class IV

Most riders we’ve encountered fall within this class. These riders, when given a saddle, know what to look out for and won’t hesitate to adjust saddle positioning, even over long periods of time (years).

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

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