[This article was last updated on April 5, 2018]
The saddle is the single biggest source of discomfort for female cyclists, especially those fairly new to riding. But there’s no need to suffer: saddles designed to better fit a woman’s anatomy can take away the pain.
As you’re no doubt aware, men and women are different. When it comes to cycling, that’s nowhere more important than the saddle and the bits of you that rest on it.
Leaning forward on a saddle puts pressure on the soft tissues of your vulva, which can quickly lead to pain, numbness and lasting soreness.
Part of the answer is a saddle that reduces or eliminates the pressure on your genitals. There are a number of ways to make this happen. Some saddles have a cutaway in the hull, with either a hole right through to the top of the saddle, or soft foam over the hole. Some just use softer foam under the genitals, while others are shaped to better support a woman’s wider sit-bones and so take pressure off your squishy bits.
Feel the width
Manufacturers are getting better at helping you to choose the right saddle. Most have their own system of narrowing the choice, either by deciding what type of cyclist you are — usually by your range of flexibility and your position on the bike — or using a fit system that measures the distance between your sit bones, to pair you with the saddle that best matches your anatomy.
A good saddle should support your sit bones, not your entire bum. It’s where your sit bones contact the saddle that is key; a saddle needs to provide adequate support in these two areas. That’s why some saddles are offered in up to three widths. Saddle makers that offer multiple widths, such as Specialized and Bontrager, usually supply dealers with a device to measure the width of your sit bones so you can choose the right seat. Just because you have a bigger bottom it doesn't necessarily follow that you have wider sit bones.
Try before you buy
Ideally, you want to try a saddle on your bike before parting with your money, and a few saddle manufacturers recognise the problem of spending a lot of cash on an untested saddle. Some then offer try before you buy schemes, where you can run a saddle for a desired amount of time to decide if it’s right for you. That can save you collecting a large pile of saddles in your shed as you enter the quest for the ultimate saddle.
Check your position
If you’re uncomfortable on your bike, it may not just be the saddle that’s the problem; in fact it may not be the problem at all. Similar problems can crop up if your saddle angle is wrong, or the reach to the handle bar is too great or too deep.
As important as picking the right saddle, ensuring you have the saddle at the correct height and distance from the handlebars is also very important. Sometimes, you can have the right saddle, but you’re not sitting on it correctly, which can be a case of it being too far forward or backwards. If you find yourself wriggling about on your saddle a lot when riding, it could be a sign it’s not correctly positioned.
The saddle angle is the easiest problem to fix. As a starting point, your saddle should be level, with the back and nose at the same height. If that isn’t comfortable, try lowering the nose of the saddle a little. Don’t lower it too much though, you still want to sit on the saddle, and not slide forward off it.
To adjust the saddle height, you loosen the bolt or bolts under the saddle that hold it in place. If there’s a single bolt, then you just loosen it, move the saddle, and tighten it again. If there are two, one in front of the other, then you loosen one and tighten the other to change the angle.
Changing the position of the handlebar will usually involve changing the stem to one of different length, or putting more spacers under the stem to raise it, which is all best done under the watchful eye of your bike shop’s fit expert.
We’d recommend getting a professional bike fit, and there are many available these days. They’ll assess your level of flexibility, physical limitations and your cycling goals, and ensure you’re correctly fitted on the bike. The bike needs to fit you, not the body fitting the bike.
If your comfort problem does turn out to be down to the saddle, most manufacturers now have a large choice of women-specific saddles to recognise the differences in anatomy. Many women do get on just fine with men's saddles, just as many women happily ride men's bikes, but generally women have wider sit bones so there’s a choice of suitable wider saddles to suit.
Georgena Terry developed a reputation for comfortable saddles aimed specifically at women, in doing so pioneering the first women’s specific designed products. She produced a saddle for women in 1992 with a cutaway section, a design she later expanded to men’s saddles.
Here’s a selection of popular saddles one of which should solve your saddle comfort problem.
9 great saddle choices
The highest-rated women's saddles tend to be fairly pricey, but this inexpensive little number from WiggleCRC has generally favourable reviews for its fit — some are absolutely rapturous — and seems to have scored points for its understated looks too.
The Selle Italia Diva Gel Flow saddle is one of the most widely rider-recommended women's saddles and it's easy to see why. It's comfortable, flexible, light and it even looks good too.
This is a superior quality design offering superb comfort for all styles of bike and ride. An excellent women's saddle.
The Kappa Dea2 is women-specific saddle with a comfy cutout. If it suits your sit bones it's a very good all-rounder.
Prologo lists the Kappa Dea2 saddle under ‘Enthusiast’; it's narrower and with less padding than a ‘comfort’ saddle aimed at more casual cyclists. If you're looking to spend more time on your bike, the Kappa Dea2 is a good step towards keeping things happy on longer rides – it’s light enough, comfortable with its cutout and central groove, and it looks the part too.
The trick of this saddle is the groove that runs from the tip of the nose right to the rear, with a cutout in the centre. Not only does this add to the sleek look of the design, it means reduced pressure – something that you'll appreciate after a few hours in its embrace.
Specialized's Body Geometry Ruby Expert saddle is one of those rare beasts, a lightweight women's specific performance saddle that's available in a choice of widths including a properly narrow 130mm to suit your style of riding and just as importantly your sit bones too.
The cushioning is placed exactly where you need it to support your sit bones, effectively alleviating any discomfort or feeling of pressure. It's a super light, firm but comfortably supportive road saddle with width fittings to suit most riders.
The B17 S is the women’s version of one of Brooks’ longest running and best selling designs, the B17. As the women’s version, it is 7mm broader in the rear and 35mm shorter.
The shiny leather takes some getting used to, but does help to reduce friction where it matters, and the saddle is so well crafted and shaped, that our tester experienced far less discomfort than with pretty much every other saddle she’d ever ridden on. There is a cut-out version, the Imperial, but we found the B17 S sufficiently comfortable to feel the Imperial to be a case of fixing something that isn’t broken.
It’s a pity there aren’t versions with different widths as being female doesn’t necessarily mean broader sit bones. The only narrower saddle Brooks produce for women is the Finesse Titanium, designed for sportives and racing, which is the same width as the men’s B17 standard.
Italian performance saddle specialist fizik offers several women’s saddles, all very much aimed at faster riders. The Vitesse was one of the company’s first products and gave rise to a narrower version for men, the popular Aliante. The Vesta has a similar shape with a deep central channel to further reduce pressure on your soft tissues.
The Vitesse and Vesta both have light weight hollow K:ium rails, while the Vesta is also available in a lower-cost version with manganese steel rails.
At the go-faster end of the fizik range, the Arione Donna is the women’s version of the long, sleek Arione. It’s one of the lightest women’s saddle we’re aware of at a claimed 189g, and if you’ve got a very deep purse there’s a carbon fibre-railed version that lops off another 20g http://www.probikekit.co.uk/bicycle-saddles-seatposts/fizik-arione-donna....
The Arione Donna boasts a pressure-relieving channel and a fizik’s Wingflex feature which reduces chafing by allowing the saddle hull to move with you as you pedal.
In total contrast to most of the saddles here, this is a very wide, deeply-padded seat that even boasts springs to help absorb the bumps. It’s perfect for casual cyclists though, and it works particularly well on very upright bikes.