dandyMECHANICS: The Saddle
Story by Derek Chadbourne
Illustration by Craig Marshall
There is nothing worse than partying all night only to come out and find your bike saddle stolen. As the sun breaks the early dawn, riding home on your bike, standing up -- it's the ride of shame. That is when you realize just how important that particular part of your bicycle is: very important.
How do you buy a saddle that will fit you? The best way is to buy them the same way you buy shoes, go out and try some on. Some say womens saddles are suppose to be wider and shorter than male saddles. But its all about your personal anatomy so its always better to try before you buy.
Bicycle saddles are called saddles because you are not sitting on the seat. Your weight should be distributed between your saddle, pedals and handlebars. A seat you sit, a saddle you straddle.
The first bicycle, known as the dandyhorse, was like a hobby horse: it had a two by four you straddled as you propelled the bike forward with your feet. From dead trees to dead animals, the saddle has become more comfortable over the years ...almost too comfortable.
This unusual seat - that harkens back to the day of the dandyhorse, or hobby horse - was spotted on University Ave. in Toronto in the middle of a weekday this summer.
Saddles today are made of a one piece support covered in foam, covered by a vinyl coating or lycra. Never buy a lycra covered saddle, as the first time it rains you will have a forever wet sponge to balance upon. And you will always have to have a plastic bag close by.
Leather saddles are eventually comfortable, but they will be stolen if not locked. Make sure your leather saddle is locked with a separate cable to the frame of your bicycle. Saddles that are not locked are susceptible to theft. Quick release is the bane of all cyclists, and happy go go time for bike thieves. Do yourself a favour: If you have quick release seatpost binder bolt (whoo that was a tongue twister) have it replaced. It shouldn’t cost you more than $5 and it will save you money in the long run.
The saddle and the seatpost are separate items. The saddle attaches to the seatpost and the seatpost is inserted into the frame of the bicycle. If you are buying a used bicycle make sure the seatpost is not seized (stuck) into the frame. Seized seatposts removal is labour intensive, costly and rarely successful.
Early suspension saddles were designed if by a metallic spider. Springs ran from the centre of the saddle to the outer frame of the saddle. Suspension saddles also have huge springs on the back end and now come in ring-shaped polymer. While seatpost suspension sounds like a great idea, be aware that it is not. The seat post will start to wiggle back and forth and will eventually separate into two pieces.
While what the saddle is made out of is very important, it's the adjustment that can make or break a riding experience. A saddle should be horizontally perfect as possible. You adjust the horizontal position by loosening off the saddle clamp by either wrench or Allen key and moving the saddle up or down. You then can eyeball if the saddle is straight or not. Usually a test ride or two is needed to solidify the adjustment. If you feel as if you are falling off the back of the saddle or you have to use the handlebars to push yourself back, your saddle still needs adjusting.
The saddle height is adjusted by sliding the seat post up and down in the frame. You should not have full extension of your leg when the pedal stroke is at its extreme. You should have a slight bend in your knee. A saddle height that is to low can be hazardous to your knees.
When buying a saddle think about what kind of riding you are doing. If you are just going to go back and forth to the store for smokes, the saddle you came with is fine. If you are an everyday commuter you will want a more comfortable saddle. Long distance saddles are usually lean like the rider. Don't be fooled by the wider is better philosophy. Chafing will occur and its not pretty. (Read out dandyARCHIVE: Debunking the carbuncle for more on that.) It is all about your specific anatomy. You should always test out a saddle before you ride away with it. Buying a saddle is like buying shoes; it has to fit you. Don’t let some cool salesperson tell you different.
The curious have noted the move towards the gap or indentation -- or cutaway -- in the saddle area. [To which Craig Marshall pays tribute to in the title of this accompanying illustration: "Love Channel".] Popular thought dictates that prolonged time in the saddle may cause pressure on the perineum causing numbness in the junkness. While the type of saddle can help, adjusting your riding technique is what you really need to do. Both men and women may get reduced sensitivity in the crotch. A sign of this problem can be a tingling sensation in the area when stepping off the bicycle after a ride as blood flow surges back into the area again. Although this is more related to the cycling technique than the saddle type, some saddle designs are meant to help relieve crotch pressure. Examples of such designs include a cutaway saddle. Cutaway saddles resemble regular saddles in their design, but with the middle part cut out to reduce pressure on the perineum among men and women. Although studies of this style of saddle's efficacy have only been done with men, researchers are now looking at women's crotch health too. If you are riding for a long period of time and start to feel…nothing, stand up and let the blood flow in, make sure your saddle is horizontal, try to sit on the back of the saddle and remember a saddle is a saddle not a seat. So don’t sit on it, ride it like the awesome stallion it is.
Craig Marshall is an artist in Toronto who rides his bike a lot.
Derek Chadbourne has many bike huts around the city.
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