Saddle sores are the arch nemesis of any bicyclist. Body positioning on a bike requires balancing most of your weight on a small surface area which is in direct contact with the seat. Coupled with chaffing, discomfort in surface area pressure points can create saddle sore misery. The good news is that bike saddles have come a long way in terms of ergonomics and functionality, and the right one can drastically reduce discomfort. If your backside is crying out for a change, consider some important features that separate the best saddles from the rest.
According to Mike Kalmback, who works with saddle industry leader Selle Italia, the shape of a saddle is key to comfort. You should choose a saddle that's compatible with the width of your sit bones and which provides pressure relief to sensitive groin areas. A saddle that's too narrow will not properly support your weight and cause excessive pressure, which can lead to saddle sores. Similarly, a saddle that doesn't have an anatomical cutout or divot for delicate tissue can result in pressure sores in the worst spot. Typically, women have wider sit bones and require a wider saddle, so the best saddles for men and women differ.
Novice cyclists tend to assume that a soft, cushy saddle will result in less discomfort and pressure, but the opposite is usually true. As bike guru Sheldon Brown explains, riding on a highly padded saddle causes your sit bones to sink into the saddle base. The extra padding then pillows up and creates excessive pressure between your sit bones. Lots of padding can also cause painful thigh chafing. Generally, soft saddles are only comfortable for very short rides. If you're riding for moderate to long distances, opt for a harder saddle and just give your butt time to adapt.
The material and texture that covers the saddle can be cause for saddle sores. Some saddles that are topped in very smooth leather or vinyl can cause the rider to slide around in the saddle. This rubbing can eventually lead to chaffing and sores. To avoid this, the best saddles usually have a textured cover that provides some friction against bicycle shorts, helping to keep a rider's body firmly planted in one spot on the saddle.
Other Factors to Consider
Proper bike fit and a good pair of padded bike shorts are just as important for saddle sore prevention as the perfect saddle. If you're having problems with saddle sores, you may need to see a bike fit specialist to make sure your saddle position and angles are correct. Also, Lycra shorts with a quality chamois can provide relief from pressure and chaffing which can cause nasty saddle sores. Always wash your shorts after every ride, as bacteria buildup in shorts can also lead to sores and infection.