Saddle Battles

I’ve had it. I’ve tried several different saddles since first beginning to ride over 3 years ago. This is now my fourth season of riding, and somewhere during my first season, I purchased a very inexpensive gel seat. It’s heavy. It’s big. It’s not at all sleek. According to several “experts” in the field of cycling, these seats are not supposed to be any good beyond a 2 mile ride. Ha. They claim gels seats are quite painful upon which to ride. Ha!

Can you sense my irritation with these comments? Yeah.


Well, I’ve ridden on my Beloved Gel Seat (BGS) for several thousand miles…comfortably! However back in late June, my BGS developed a hole in the fabric covering. To say that I was merely “sad” just seems to make this development insignificant. Yet, I can assure you that it has affected my riding greatly since that time. One wouldn’t tend to think so, but it has. Granted, I haven’t shed any tears. No, nothing close to that. Although, the pain with which I’ve been dealing (intermittently) since the hole appeared has brought me close to tears.


Oh…I went and did something stupid. I tried to “conform” to what the cycling “experts” tell us we are “supposed to ride”. I tried to conform by getting something that was supposed to be “better for me” – a “real” cycling saddle.

Getting a picture, yet? No? Okay, let’s see if I can remedy that.

My Beloved Gel Seat (BGS)

Here’s the photo of my BGS complete with the newly developed hole. This seat makes for a rather pleasant ride. It’s soft. It has “give”. It has given me many (thousand) pain-free, comfortable miles. I have explored many new roads and “pathways” on this saddle.

My BGS has served me well, and I thought I was now done with it. I thought that by getting a “real” cycling seat that I was somehow graduating to the ranks of a “better” cyclist. Yeeeeeah, right. (Read on for the true target of that diss.)

Now to make this blog post more simplistic, let’s just go with a single exhibit (rather than many the examples of various saddles I’ve tried). Below, you’ll see a photo of the seat I’ve been riding for the past several weeks. I’m not going into all the bells whistles but suffice it to say that it is light. It has the largest center cut opening of any saddle on the market. It smaller, narrower, shaped differently, and most importantly, harder (much) than my current seat. I chose it (beside all the other reasons that it intrigued me) for the fact that it has the most amount of padding and gel than any other seat in this brand’s entire saddle product line. Furthermore, I even have a friend who has this exact saddle, and after trying so many other brands, she loves this one. So (after trying a several others), I thought this was the one.

Ouchie Saddle

I was eager to make this one work. I was certain that I could go through the adjustment period, natural to any change in saddle. I knew that it would hurt at first, but it shouldn’t be too much, nor last too long. That’s what I thought.

Well…you know what “thought” did, don’t you? Yeah, that. Except this was more on the metaphorical side, not literal (thankfully).

So with each ride, I found that I could endure this seat for longer periods of time. Once I got to the 50 mile mark, the endurance for this seat never got any better. I found that I had to take breaks off the seat, and I came to love rest stops for an entirely new reason – just so I could hoist my fanny off that saddle for longer than a few seconds.

It wasn’t getting any better. Yet, I convinced myself that I merely had to “get used to it” for a little while longer, and then, it wouldn’t hurt anymore. I did that through a 70 mile ride. I did that through a century (ouch!). Then, today was the last straw. I did the mountains, again. This was my third time climbing those particular mountains, and fountains of pain came pouring out of my body as if I were a centerpiece in an old Italian city.

Finally.   I got “my sign”.

I realized that the new developments (of pain and tightness) in my obliques and back muscles were a product of this seat. Furthermore, I found that climbing was made much more painful as result of this seat.    My.  Backside.  HURT.    (So did every nerve down there touching that seat that was anywhere close to my “sit bones”.)

Do you have any idea how much this will affect your ability to climb? Granted, I had another reason why this ride was uncomfortable, but the seat was the cherry on top. No, it was the whole damn cherry tree on top of that pain-filled Sunday. [Har, yes…today is Sunday, too. No, I didn’t plan that.]

So once I figured all of this out, I couldn’t wait to get home (and remove this damn saddle), find my old, holey BGS and switch them out! Enough with the pain. Most of all, enough with me trying to conform to what some schmoe cycling “expert” says that I should be riding. I want to enjoy my rides, again, and not have to spend so much mental (and physical) energy on “real” cycling saddles!

Far as I’m concerned? Those cycling “experts” can take their advice and shove it where the sun don’t shine. (pun intended) I’m doing what’s best for me.    :-p

Final notes – If you recognize this particular seat, I’m not out a “trash” the brand. Far from it. (I’m actually trying to get my hubby to try b/c I think he’ll like it better than his current – yep, you guessed it – “real” cycling saddle.) That’s why I never mentioned the name, and why I also edited the image to remove identifying insignias. I’m dissing “experts” who claim “cycling law” that you simple must do “this” or “that”. So, most cyclists do. Except what might work for “most” does not work for ALL. That’s my point. Follow what your instincts and what your body tells you – not what some “expert” claims.

  • Actually, I’m 5’7″. I’m an odd mix. B/c most women have a short torso, long legs, short arms, small hands and narrow shoulders. Not me. I’m the opposite, almost exactly…but not so far as a man, either. B/c my legs are longer than a guy’s of the same height. My hands and long fingers–the size of a guy who is 5’10”–add to my reach…so do my really long arms. (Most long sleeve shirts I find in the stores are at least an inch (sometimes 2″) too short. I LOVED the recent fad of having super long sleeves, meant to fold them back over b/c those fit, and I didn’t have to fold them back over. Gee, I make myself sound like an ape with these long arms. ;)

    I’ve often thought of putting a different longer stem on the roadie…but this is an old stem style. I’m not sure I could find one in the length I’d need. (Actually, I could but the PITB factor plays a role.) Not only that but (again), this is an old bike, and I’m not sure I want to spend any more money than I absolutely must to keep it running.

    I’m in the market for a new/er road bike this year. So, I’m not worrying about that facet, too much.

    No, I’m not a hammerhead by nature. I reserve use of that for certain situations. It is not the norm for me.

    Meh…I wouldn’t say that I’m all tensed up but not entirely relaxed, either. Somewhere in b/t.

    I didn’t know that today’s 54cm often measure 56cm. (Haven’t had my hands on one for long enough to piddle around.) Makes sense though in the fit comparison realm.

    Oh and btw, the Superfly is a 29’er, too. (I rode a couple of 26’ers and didn’t care for them.) The guy at the bike shop where we got the Superfly measured the SF M frame and then measured my Niner Med and noted the differences between the 2 bikes in different spots. (Even he was surprised!) After doing the measurements, even he agreed that I’d feel more comfy on the large frame. As previously posted/mentioned, I am comfortable on this frame.

    (There’s a whole story to this situation. I had borrowed a friend’s SF for a ride back in Nov and loved it. His bike is a L, and it felt just the same (fit-wise) as my Niner M. So, I commented to my hubby about wanting a L frame. However, he forgot once he got to the LBS and ordered the medium size by mistake. Xmas morning, I got on the bike (right there in the living room) and immediately noticed the difference. I didn’t even have to look at the size sticker; I knew it was smaller. Hubby did one of those palm-to-head smacks when he realized the confusion he had at store. Luckily, the LBS made it super easy to get them switched out.)

    It will probably take me a few days to get all the bikes out and measure them apples-to-apples, but I’ll let you know what I find out when I do it.

  • Hmmmm interesting indeed.

    With the way today’s bikes are designed and manufacturer’s having measurements taken from all different spots I have found the only real way to measure most bikes is with the bike on level ground (or near enough) take a tape measure and measure from the center of the steerer tube (at the top where the fork is hidden inside the frame) to the center of the seat tube measuring along a line parallel to the ground. This gives you the effective top tube length on all bikes.
    As seen here

    The sizing of the niner being smaller than the superfly makes sense as 29″ wheel bikes have/are generally longer and taller due to the wheel size and wheel base.

    You say your old road bike is a 56cm and it is possible the bike is quite similar to the 54cm bikes you have demo’d. Being that a lot of new bikes that are classified as 54cm actually measure 56-57cm when measured along the effective top tube measurement as mentioned before.

    Now for the fun part :) I am guessing that with the size of the bikes you ride, both on and off road you are around 5’10” and possibly have a long torso as opposed to long inseam/leg length? The interesting part for me is that the bikes feel too short and yet you ride with the seat right forward, hmmmm normally we would set you back to stretch you out on the bike when this occurs. Do you have a long stem on the road bike compared to the mtb’s? possibly a 120mm stem or thereabouts?

    How are the seat heights on all three bikes? If anything I would suggest the set heights for the mtb’s would be upto 15mm/1.5cm lower for the mtb’s because of the movement you mention when offroad. What are the measurements of each when measured with the crankarm extended in a line that continues in the same plane as the set tube, measure from the top of the pedal axle to the top of the seat (through the center of the seat post line) on each bike.
    As seen here

    Two other things I would consider are
    1: Are you a big gear grinder on the road and at spin class?
    2: Are you riding with a nice relaxed upper body and especially the arms/elbows. Many people tense up the elbow joints on the road and this makes them feel long on the bike, causes immense discomfort and inflexibility.

    Hope this is helpful :)

  • Well, the sizing is all over the map for my road and mountain bikes. The Niner SS is a medium frame…going from memory here, but I think it’s a 17.5 (measuring along the seat tube from crank). However get this, I had to go with a Large (19″) in the Superfly. Tried the medium, and it felt compressed. So, I measure the distance b/t the seat/tube and stem. Sure enough, the medium Superfly was shorter. Switching to a large frame felt MUCH better and still does.

    My old Trek roadie is a 56cm, and while the seat tube height is fine, the top tube is too short. I feel compressed on this bike (However in today’s measurements, I need a & have demo’d 54cm bikes. Go figure, the top tube length is just right on these bikes.) Granted, each manufacturer measures things differently. So, I’d have to pull all 3 of them off the wall in the garage and measure things apples to apples to see what’s what. (And get out my level while I’m at it.)

    Now, here’s one more thing that mucks things up. On the spinner bike at the gym, I have to have the seat all the way forward. (Just as I do for the road bike.) Go figure. I’ve tried lower the seat and moving it back to see if that makes any difference. My knees still complained, and I felt like I was riding a kids bike.

    All I can imagine on this one is that with mountain biking, I’m much more active – up out of the seat, down, back behind the seat, etc. Plus, there’s more stops b/t trails/trail runs. Lastly, I only use a cleat on the left side for one bike and not at all (for now) on the other one. On my roadie (and on the spinner bike), my body is pretty much in a steady state. Not much movement and only rarely out of the saddle (except to give my butt a break or on certain climbs). I’m always clipped into the cleats – always.

    Though I am curious…besides doing the apple-to-apples measurements, I’m thinking of taking the bikes down, getting on each one and having my hubby snap a photo from the side to see my body placement.

    As I wrote that, I thought of one more difference b/t the two types of bikes/biking. One the road bike/spinner bike, I’m bent over more. On the mountain bikes (with exception of rare occasions), I’m in a more upright position. I’m not sure how that it affect things. [Thinking aloud here.] Maybe, it has to do with hip flexors and/or the IT bands being too short? So bending over on the road/spinner bikes exacerbate that…but it’s not showing up in those areas – just my knees? Whereas the more upright stance could (would?) put less stress on those areas and therefore less on my knees?

    Who knows. When I get around to doing measurements/photos, I’ll post again.

  • Your side note is interesting Rapunzel and intriguing.
    You say when moving the seat back on your road bike you get knee pain, when moving a seat back you are increasing seat height effectively and I wonder if this is some of the problem for you. I will presume you are on the correct size frame for you?

    Generally speaking knee pain comes from a few set up or usage issues, being; seat height too high or too low. Have someone check this when/if you are on a stationary trainer, good starting point is leg extended at bottom of pedal stroke (and inline with the frame seat tube) the heel should be at least level with or slightly lower than the forefoot. Another issue can be incorrect cleat position and so can pushing big gears too often loading the muscles.

    May i ask what size are your mtb’s and what frame size is your roadie?

    One comment on the gel seat cover, they can tend to move around and they can prove uncomfortable during longer rides due to the side stitching rubbing, just a word of warning :)

  • I didn’t have the pain in the ummm…nether regions. The pain for me was right on my sit bones. Ouch. (Then, it would radiate to other areas b/c I was trying to lessen my pressure, which messed with my form.)

    I have done the research about saddle widths and lengths. I’m particularly keen to that b/c (on this road bike) I have to watch the angle my legs take as result of where I’m seated and where my pedals are. The wrong position and my knees tell me — fast.

    As a side note: Oddly enough, my seat is all the way forward on my road bike. Anything that puts me a little bit back causes that dreaded knee pain. However on my mountain bikes? My seats are all the way back…and the frame of my SS has a very different geometry, such that my bottom is further back. So, the angle of my legs to my body is greater. If I push the seats forward, my knees don’t like it, and I don’t like it. It makes me feel compressed, too close to the handlebars and messes with my center of balance/gravity while I ride. (On the SS, my butt is up out of the saddle quite a bit of time…and behind the saddle a fair amount, too — especially on downhills.) But I digress.

    Oh…and as for nose height (seat angle), I have to have the nose of my seat pitch a hair downward…quite literally a hair. If I do it perfectly level or a tad upward then, you’re talking pain in those unmentionable regions. (Of course, too far downward is also unpleasant.)

    Since writing the above blog post, I decided that I’ll give the saddle that I’ve been using on my mountain bikes a “go” on my road bike. It does have even more padding than the one referenced above…but not nearly as much as my old BGS. If it works out, great! If not…well, they don’t sell the BGS anymore. However, I found a saddle cover that has the wonderful gel in it that could work. We’ll see…

  • Painful story Rapunzel and I hear similar stories often :(
    You are right in saying there are too many experts willing to sell you this or that particular saddle/seat.

    Generally I ask what type of riding the person is doing and what set they are using currently, then I ask about the seats position.

    One thing a lot of people do not realise is the different shapes and sizes of saddles, for example there is width and length but most forget about the differences in saddle height from the top of the seat to the rails where the seat mounts. This distance if different needs to be adjusted by moving the seatpost so the seat height is as it was before changing seats.

    The saddle/seat you have pictured has been bought by several customers I know and they were buying due to recommendations from riding buddies etc. They did find they had to play around with the seat angle a lot more than their current saddle/seat, mostly due to rolling forward because of the shape causing them to sit more on their nether regions.

    Funny thing was one day I was working on a female customers bike and took the bike for a testride afterwards to check the work, during that ride I thought to myself “this is one of the more comfortable seats I have sat on” without realising what I was sitting on. When I got off the bike to see what seat was on it I was shocked to see it was the same as you pictured, I never thought it could be comfortable :)