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Rec.Bicycles Frequently Asked Questions Posting Part 2/5
Section - 7.7 Women's Saddles

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Top Document: Rec.Bicycles Frequently Asked Questions Posting Part 2/5
Previous Document: 7.6 Seats
Next Document: 7.8 Women's Bikes
See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge

Many women who cycle have experienced frustration with trying to find
a comfortable saddle. It is amazing how many times I end up talking
with other women about saddles.  This article comes from those
discussions and an informal survey of woman's saddle preferences. This
is a dynamic article and changes on occasion, so if you have comments
please contact me (pamelab@pcdocs.com) and I will incorporate your
comments.

While this is intended to be an article on women's saddles, since so
many other things can contribute to potential saddle pain, it will
also address some of these issues as well.

Just as women are different from men, we are also different from each
other.  Since (fortunately) there is no mold into which we were all
poured, what works for one woman may not work for another.

First, be sure that your bike fits properly.  Many women end up with
overly padded shorts and a big fat thickly padded saddle instead of
with a bike that fits properly. No saddle will be comfortable if the
bike is too big, or set up incorrectly. It is important to find
someone who knows about fit and specifically about women's fit and get
the bike set up properly before making other changes. In addition to
being more comfortable, a bike that really fits will also handle
better than one that is improperly sized. It isn't always easy to find
someone willing to take the time, but when you find a shop that will,
give them lots of business and send your friends there! Go to shops
during non-prime hours for the best service. You won't get a salesman
to spend an hour letting you try different saddles on a Saturday
afternoon, but you might on a Tuesday morning.

[ See Section 7.8 for more information on bikes for women ]

Now to saddles. A woman's hip bones tend to be set farther apart than
a man's.  (This is a design feature to help with childbirth!)  Every
woman is different, and there are many women out there with narrower
hip bones. To determine where you sit bones are, sit on a low curb.
Sorry, a chair won't do! When you sit on the curb, you will be able to
feel your sit bones. This is what you want supported by your bike
saddle. Avocet used to run a great ad showing a hip bone sitting on a
saddle. (look in old copies of bike magazines). With a saddle that's
too narrow, a woman may find herself effectively straddling it with
her hip bones, or slipping off of one side and pinching nerves - which
may eventually cause the legs or feet to go numb. A saddle that's too
wide will also cause problems.

A saddle that's slightly wider in the back (than the man's saddle that
comes on most stock bikes) may offer better support for the sit bones.
BTW, I'm not talking about those foot wide saddles you see on exercise
bikes at the gym. These are too wide for anyone.

I have quite a few retired women's saddles with depressed gel
indicating exactly where my bones are. Actually, looking at and
feeling your old saddle will tell you a lot about where you do and do
not need support! It's important to try out several different saddles
to find one that fits.  Terry does produce a couple of different width
models but they are still somewhat limited.  Widths do vary from
manufacturer to manufacturer - so for example, if the Terry is too
wide or too narrow, try the Vetta or Avocet or some other brand. Ask
your local dealer to let you put your bike on a trainer in the shop
and try sitting on and riding a few of his saddles. Saddles are fairly
easy to change and a good shop should be willing to let you try this.
(But not on a busy Saturday afternoon!) Some shops now have a device
that makes this easier. It is a stationary bike with merry-go-round of
saddles. You can sit on the saddle, pedaling, and then dismount and
swing the next saddle to be tried in place. It isn't as good as trying
a saddle on your bike, but will tell you a lot more than holding a
saddle and poking it, which it seems it how most saddles are
purchased!

There are several women's saddles on the market, many of which are
padded with some form of gel. I have used (and retired) several of
these with no complaints. The gel does compress after a while
(regardless of sex), so these saddles do have to be replaced (for me
it's every 10,000 miles). Brooks also has several different models of
women's leather saddles, which some women swear by. I swar at them,
but that's me! (And there are women who swear at the saddles I swear
by!) And rather than needing to be replaced after 10,000 miles, the
Brooks is probably just getting broken in well at that point!

Many women who responded to my survey said that they have the nose of
their saddle tilted slightly forward to alleviate pressure on the soft
tissue. A large variety of saddles were used with this method. One
rider pointed out that having a seatpost with infinitely adjustable
angles, like the American Classic or Control Tech, will help one to
find the perfect angle. With the ratchet type adjustment of most, she
was never able to get the angle quite right. One problem with having
the saddle tilted too far forward is that you may end up with two much
weight/pressure on your wrists and hands. The result is numb hands and
pain in the lower back.

In John Forester's "Effective Cycling" book, he suggests getting a
cheap plastic saddle and carving out a depression in the area where
the labia would normally rest.  This would place the weight on the sit
bones where it belongs, and remove it from the genital area, where it
does not. A couple of women used this idea and modified saddle pads in
this way. I watched a Spenco pad slowly get modified in this way each
day throughout PAC Tour last year. One survey respondent cut up a
neoprene pad and put it under the covering of her Flite saddle.

There are a couple of women's saddles which specifically address this
issue, the Terry Sport and the (formerly) Miyata Pavea (see the end of
the article for more info on acquiring this saddle). Both are shorter
and wider than the typical man's saddle and both have a hole to
suspend soft tissue. These saddles should be comfortable when level.
The Miyata leaves the hole exposed, while the Terry is covered in an
open-cell low-density foam. I should also point out that with the
Terry, the hole is in the nose, while the Miyata saddle has the hole
in the middle, further back.

While like many women, I tend to bend more at the waist, I also roll
my hips forward on a saddle to get in a more comfortable (and aero
cycling position). This means that on a standard saddle I am pressing
directly on tender tissue. Since I've switched to a saddle with a hole
in it, I can without any saddle related discomfort roll my hips
forward, and strech out on the aero bars for hours!

I heard from Carol Grossman, an Australian rider praising another
saddle. She wrote , "I have a Selle Bassano modular seat, which may or
may not be available in the US ( I live in Australia now).  It has two
halves, with the split running nose-to-tail and a gap between them.
It joins together at the nose.  The width of the seat, and therefore
of the gap as well, is adjustable so you can set it to match the width
of your seatbones.  It has titanium rails, which give it a little bit
of spring.  I must say, though, that it is quite firm and if I have
not been riding much and go for a long ride I do get sore seatbones.
But I can live with sore seatbones!  Interestingly, the packaging
material said nothing about it being for women -- it was marketted as
a seat for men who suffered numbness."

My concern with this saddle is that as you make it wider in the back
to accommodate sit bones, you are also making the middle wider as
well. I have not personally triedon e of these yet.

T-Gear makes a leather saddle with a diamond shape cut in the middle.
The saddle is quite narrow and firm, and didn't fit me, but I've heard
some men rave about it. John, my SO found it too narrow in the back,
and too wide in the middle. Like the Selle Modular seat it is marketed
to men with numbness problems. (Mine is for sale!)

Another saddle I have tried very briefly is an Easy Seat. This is
actually two separate pieces, which rock independently. The only
points of contact are the hip bones - although the backs of my legs
rub the saddle. The two pieces can be adjusted for width and angle. I
know of a couple of women who used these saddles to salvage Race
Across America attempts, when saddle sores otherwise would have taken
them out of the race. I mounted this saddle on the bike on my indoor
trainer, but we had a wickedly mild winter, so I didn't use it this
year.

I have used both the Terry and the Miyata a lot. (These were the two
most popular saddles in the survey.) I've received lots of positive
comments from women (and men) about their experiences with these
saddles.  The men seem to notice the difference more after the ride
later in the evening :) when their partners weren't complaining about
saddle tenderness!

In 1992 I did BMB, a 750 mile ride in less than 4 days on the back of
a tandem.  That's a lot of time on a saddle. I'd been using the Terry
for over 6 months and it worked great on everything up to 200 miles.
But 400 miles into the trip, I was ready to rip the foam out of the
hole. Once the swelling started, the presence of the foam became
unbearable. Even though there was no plastic shell underneath, there
was still something! I asked our crew person to see if he could find
the Miyata saddle. It's often quite difficult to find women's
products, and I was almost shocked when he showed up 20 miles later
with this wonderful saddle with an exposed hole. He had found the
Miyata. The difference was immediately noticeable. In addition to the
missing foam, the hole was further back (more where I needed the
relief). I probably would have finished the ride without it, but I
wouldn't have been in a good mood for days! The Miyata is a little
harder under the sit bones than the Terry, but that's not where I was
experiencing pain, and as Carol said above, it was worth the
sacrifice.  Of course the saddle is different looking and draws lots
of comments and sexual innuendoes, but it saved my ride. Over three
years and 45,000 miles later, including 2 x-country rides and another
BMB, I still love my Miyata and won't ride anything else.

Not all women like the wider saddles. Some women find all women's
saddles too wide.  Several women responded to the survey saying they
prefer a man's saddle. Some of these even felt they had wide hip
bones.  For those who use a narrow saddle, finding one that was flat
on top seemed to help with the above mentioned problems.  Others who
liked various women's saddles still found them a little thick in the
middle, even if they were the right width in the back. Someday, maybe
we will see women's saddles in various widths. We must create the
demand though.

Terry does makes a men's version of their Sport saddle. It is narrower
and has a longer nose and hole than the women's model. It also doesn't
say Terry on it anywhere. Instead it is marketed under the initials
TFI. Both this saddle and new models of the Sport have a (politically
correct) simulated leather covering. I know of several men who really
like this saddle, especially when using aero-bars. Women who find the
Terry Sport too wide may want to check this one out.

I've seen Terry saddles change a bit over the past couple of years.
One change is from a lycra cover to a simulated leather cover. Some
women didn't like the feel of the lycra.  (I do.) Another women
noticed after replacing a stolen one with a new one that the foam in
the hole seems to be getting firmer, kind of negating the benefit of
the hole.  Terry does offer a 30 day money back guarantee on their
products, so you can *painlessly* decide if you'd like a Terry saddle
or not.

They have also produced a couple of racing saddles. The first was the
same width in the back as their Sport model, but narrower through the
middle and had titanium rails. I was one of the lucky few to get one
of these. They replaced it with a Flite lookalike with holes drilled
in the nose. I tried one of these and must say for me it was the most
uncomfortable thing I ever came into contact with. But if you prefer a
narrow saddle like a Flite, you'll probably like this one.

Speaking of which, many women do LIKE Flite and other really narrow
saddles. I know that at their cycling camps, Betsy King and Anna
Schwartz get many women on them. They stress the flexibility of the
saddle with it's titanium rails and thin shell. They are very good for
mountain biking where you want to slide off the back of the saddle for
balance where a wide saddle would get in the way. I even know of a few
women who use them for distance cycling. Two women used them on the
x-country ride I did in 93, but they had very narrow set hip bones.
The other 15 women had women's models of one type or another,
including Terry, Brooks and of course I had my beloved Miyata.

And I would be completely negligent if I didn't mention that one
respondent said that recumbents almost always solve the uncomfortable
saddle problem.  (Thanks to David Wittenberg for pointing this out.
His wife won't ride anything else.)

Other suggestions for improved saddle comfort included trying
different shorts. There are a lot of different shorts out there - far
more than saddles and just like saddles, they all fit differently. The
common theme from most women was to stay away from shorts with seams
in the center. This includes seams in the lycra as well as the chamois
(good luck!). On multiday rides, you may want to use different brands
of shorts, since having the seam in the same place day after day may
also cause irritation. Shorts that bunch up in front may cause also
discomfort.

Pearl Izumi and Urbanek make very nice women's shorts. And of course
Terry produces women's shorts. Some have fuller hips, longer legs,
wider elastic leg grippers, etc. I really prefer bib or one piece
suits, since there is no binding elastic at the waist. These are less
convenient for quick bathroom stops, but I prefer the added comfort.
Some women like longer legs, some shorter. Some prefer thick chamois,
some fake, some real. Try on as many different types as you can, until
you find one that fits you the best. Women are even more varied on
their opinions about shorts than on saddles, so just keep trying new
ones until you find the perfect pair for you.

(And while on the subject of saddle comfort, I use a combination of
Desitin (or some other diaper rash ointment) and powder sprinkled
liberally in my shorts to keep myself dry and rash-free.)

I can't stress enough that each woman is different and no one saddle
is perfect for all of us. Just because a local or national racer, or
your friend, or this author uses a particular type of saddle doesn't
mean that it will work for you. Don't let anyone intimidate you into
riding something that is uncomfortable, or changing the angle of your
saddle because it's different. Use the setup that's most comfortable
for you.

Among the saddles recommended by respondents were 
Terry Women's (most popular of the survey) 
Miyata Pavea (my favorite and a close second in the survey) 
TFI (men's version of the Terry Sport) 
women's Selle Italia Turbo 
Avocet O2 (said to be as comfy as the above Turbo, but lighter) 
WaveFlo Avocet Women's Racing saddle 
Viscount saddle 
San Marco Regal 
Brooks B-17 and Brooks Pro
Flite
Terry Racing (like a Flite with holes drilled in the plastic)
Selle Bassano modular seat

(Of course some women swear at saddles that others swear by! Did I
mention that we are all DIFFERENT?)

Since Miyata no longer imports into the US, another source has been
found for the saddle with the hole in the middle. Tandems East is now
carrying this saddle (with their name imprinted on the back.) You can
contact Mel Kornbluh at Tandems East at (609) 451-5104 or (609)
453-8626 FAX.

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Top Document: Rec.Bicycles Frequently Asked Questions Posting Part 2/5
Previous Document: 7.6 Seats
Next Document: 7.8 Women's Bikes

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