How to choose a good saddle for yourself – girl’s version

Finding the perfect saddle for yourself can be a daunting task, particularly for those of us who are sensitive in the nether regions, aka, girls. I don’t know how boys feel in the saddle, because I don’t have those parts. I have girly bits with double the nerve endings, pointing in exactly the wrong direction when it comes to a bicycle saddle. BUT, thank our lucky stars, technology has caught up with our bits. The shapes and varieties that are available for women were great in 2008, but will be even better in 2009. Oh no, more variety, more choices; how the heck do you choose?

Well, here ya’ go. This is all the information I can muster, along with a few recommendations for brands and models.

If you are sitting on a saddle that fits, you should feel the majority of your weight on your sit bones, and you should feel supported around the sit bones and through the labia. There should be no weight at all on the clitoris or urethra. So you should feel weight on the sit bones and only support everywhere else on the saddle.sits-bones

1. Find some way of measuring distance between your ischial tuberosities.

Your Ischial Tuberosities are your Sit Bones. This is the place where you want the majority of your weight. The more upright you are on your bike, the more weight is on your saddle, therefore sit bones. So start your perfect saddle search by answering these three questions:

  • How upright is your spine on this bike?
Specialized Jett Saddle

Specialized Jett – Best Saddle Redesign

  • What kind of riding will you do with this bike?
  • Will you be wearing some kind of chamois on this bike (or what kind of clothes will you wear)?

The more weight you have on your sit bones, the more padding you need at that point on the saddle. Not a lot more, just enough. A good example of getting this design right for women, is the Specialized Jett (pictured). They’ve redesigned the Jett this year, to include more padding directly under the sit bones, and have also taken away excess volume on the side to reduce thigh rub. They also got rid of the annoying seams that used to encircle the sit bone pads, which used to rub and wear out clothing, and felt quite uncomfortable without chamois. This is an excellent update for this particular saddle, and shows that Specialized is willing to listen when they find out something is wrong with a part of their design. For such a large company, I’m well impressed. This saddle is excellent for road riding, mountain biking, track, and touring. It comes in three sizes, so get your sit bone width measured at a Specialized dealer, to find out your size. For commuting, which is very upright, choose something with a bit more cush, all around.

2. If you’re a girl, admit that you are a girl and get yourself a split saddle.

I’ve had a survey up for a while, and it is clear from the answers that those who lean on their clitoris because they do not have a split in their saddle WILL in some way experience discomfort. Maybe not for a while, but eventually your body will shift sitting position off of the clitoris to avoid leaning on nerve endings. This subtle shift in bike position can cause a HUGE host of problems that seem to have nothing to do with your saddle, such as numbness in the toes and fingers, pain in the front of the shoulders, and lower back issues. Of course saddle related problems also occur, like thigh rub, sit bone pain, pain or aching in the labia and surrounding tissues. For these reasons, (and because I’ve fit enough women successfully), I’ve become convinced that a split saddle is the way to go for women.  The exception to the rule is commuters, who might be so upright and in such inappropriate clothes that the split in the saddle would not make a difference. For such women, my premier choice is a Brooks saddle, from England. These saddles also come in varying widths (do NOT assume you will fit a women’s saddle) so you can definitely find the saddle for you. The thing that distinguishes the Brooks saddle is it’s fine leather, which you can think of as forming a hammock for your buttocks. The leather can be tensioned to be more or less supportive, and after a while the leather breaks in and comforms to you buttocks, giving you an extremely comfortable ride. Just keep in mind that these saddle don’t work as well if you lean forward while riding (as that will put pressure on the clitoris). If you sometimes lean forward, but like the idea and comfort of leather you might try a Selle Anatomica (pictured).

Selle Anatomica
Selle Anatomica

3. Make sure that the cut out and shape of the saddle fits you.

Saddle brands have different shapes to their cut outs, so you’ll just have to look around to find what really suits you. Most saddle companies and bike shops these days have saddle demo programs, so that you can try their shape and style. An example of an unusual cut out is the 2009 Selle Italia Lady. Pictured below, it’s easy to see the differences in the cutout, between the 2008 model, pictured first, followed by the redesigned 2009 model.

Old Selle Italia Lady
Old 2008 Selle Italia Lady

2009 Selle Italia Lady Redesigned
2009 Selle Italia Lady Redesigned

As you can see, the back of the cutout is more open, which will lead to better airflow. Less volume in the center is probably more comfortable, but I’d be interested to hear how ladies who have been dedicated to the old shape will feel about the new cutout. By the way the shape of the old 2008 Selle Italia Lady, is very similar to the Classic Terry Butterfly. That is, the old SI Lady has a Y shape, like the Butterfly, while the new one has more of a T shape, so like the Specialized Jett, trimmed for less thigh rub. One non-plus thing I noticed about the 2009 model; it has stitching in the thigh area that may prove to be a problem. It may not, but the stitching was definitely raised enough to annoy a “Princess and the Pea” like moi. Ladies, if you get this saddle, please tell us how it is! Kudos to Selle Italia for trying such an innovative and different design.

4. If you love your saddle, don’t change it. But always be open to better design.

I admit that I have a personal preference for the Terry Damselfly, which is a classic performance  saddle for slim sit bone widths. I love it for road, track, and cyclocross (though the nose is a bit long for cross) . For my commuter bike, I use the slightly fluffier men’s Terry Fly Carbon, because the carbon rails make for a dreamy comfortable ride when I’m not wearing chamois. For my mountain bike, I use the Specialized Jett 130, which has a very similar shape to the Damselfly.

Terry Damselfly
Terry Damselfly
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9 Responses to “How to choose a good saddle for yourself – girl’s version”

  1. Chantalle Says:

    I love my Specialized Jett! The first 2-3 times my sitbones hurt, but after that…wow, it’s a dream to sit on. I don’t even feel it.

  2. Ellen November Says:

    Thank you for this info. I trained and completed a Century Ride and even though I had a girl saddle, I trashed my sit bones. I took a long break and then rode 15 mi. yesterday and am feeling the sit bones pain again.
    I’m going to read your writing over several times and decide what to do.
    I currently have a Bontrager Black Carbon saddle with a white butterfly on it.
    Many thanks,
    Ellen

  3. serene Says:

    I’ve tried out several saddles and my current one is a gel saddle that is supposed to be really comfy but when I go to the bathroom after every single ride, it hurts when I pee!
    What should I do?

    • girl meets bike Says:

      Serene,
      I have exactly the same complaints about gel saddles, which is why I don’t use them. Here is my experience:
      – The gel radiates heat back to the body, causing more sweat in the area.
      – Gel saddles often caused a bounce for any irregularity in my pedal stroke (if you think about it, a gel pad is an uncontrolled spring, or trampoline). I found that gel amplifies that bounce, causing urethral compression and irritation.
      – That bouncing, even micro-bouncing, caused extra friction in the area, leading to chaffing and saddle sores. It was awful.

      At first signs of irritation, I drink gallons of water, green tea, and diluted cranberry juice, and I ice the area (yep). I also soak in a dead sea salt bath, and lay off the bike for a day or two. If the signs are still there or worsen, I see my doctor IMMEDIATELY, as it is possible for urethral irritation to be the beginning signs of bladder infection.
      I would get a new saddle, with a full cut out; this allows air to circulate in the area. And remember that softer is not necessarily better; the longer you ride, the harder more supportive a saddle you’ll need. Next get a good Chamois Cream, so that you don’t have any friction problems during the break in period of your saddle. Go somewhere that has Specialized saddles, have them measure your sitbones. Have them put it on your bike and try it out on their trainer, if you can.

  4. serene Says:

    Thanks! I’ll go take a look at some new saddles right away!

  5. nishiki Says:

    hello,

    i have a fixed gear road bike. it is an older men’s track bike and i am a 5’9″ woman. i realize that the problem i have (just the one – saddle) may be alleviated by having a bike that better fits me, but i converted it, i am attached to it and this is the only problem i have with the bike. i have never been super comfortable with my (non-split) saddle. recently though, riding is no longer enjoyable. i experienced pain and discomfort for a considerable amount of time even after i finished riding. i know that there is no other issue at hand (no uti/std). i feel that i need to get a new saddle asap. my concern is that the seats you recommend still have a horn. will the split saddles with a horn continue to put pressure on my clitoris/perineum? are there any saddles without horns that you recommend? i would really appreciate any recommendations. i wish to start riding again soon, but i’m kind of scared to do any more damage.

    thank you

    • girl meets bike Says:

      The correct split saddle can make a world of difference in comfort for women; yes, it can definitely take the pressure off the clitoris/ perineum area. The trick for you, may be to find a narrow horn, rather than no horn at all; after all, the horn serves a purpose in that it helps you maintain balance, and takes some pressure off the arms and wrists. My limited experience with a hornless saddle was this: I found it immediately and constantly annoying , because I had far less control of the bike with my hips. But some people swear by them, so if you find one you like, let us know!

  6. Mike Says:

    The SELLE ITALIA Lady saddles shown in your article are actually 2 different models – LDY GEL FLOW and DIVA GEL FLOW. The LDY GEL FLOW was introduced about 8 years ago. The DIVA GEL FLOW was introduced about 2 years ago. They are totally different designs with different rail mounts, rail materials and shape. The LDY GEL FLOW has a shorter overall length with a flat sitting area and shorter nose. The DIVA GEL FLOW is longer, has a longer nose and a shape that is lower profile. The shape and soft tissue cutout of the DIVA GEL FLOW was developed over a a 3 year period with the help of a Doctor studying saddle shape and cutouts.

    The use of “Gel” in current saddles is much different than the original gel saddles. The original “Gel” saddles used a large/thick slab of gel that did provide the rebound effect indicated in some comments. Current “Gel” production uses a thin “Gel” layer co-modled with the foam and then covered with a thin layer of foam. It is far more effective in absorbing road shock/vibrations than foam and doesn’t have the “rebound or heat effect of the thick slab gel of the original Gel saddles

  7. bike trainer for mountain bike Says:

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    […]How to choose a good saddle for yourself – girl’s version « Girl meets Bike, Girl on bike[…]…

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