The saddle is the most important point of contact with your bike. If you aren’t comfortable sitting on your saddle, then the rest of the fit is meaningless because you can’t even get on your bike.
Another factor in saddle comfort are your shorts. A well fitted/designed pair of shorts can impact your comfort as well. Whatever you do, DO NOT cheapen out on your shorts. If you value your health and the most sensitive part of your body, get shorts that FIT. Your starting price point for a good pair of shorts should be around $80 and up (even better if on sale). The shorts are supposed to be snug and supportive and NOT wrinkle or bunch in places where you sit or move. This is not a time to get self-conscious, honestly, NO ONE cares and no one is judging you except maybe the haters in cars. If they are, then who cares? I own a variety of shorts of varying padding (from little padding in tri shorts to super padded road shorts). Keep in mind, more padding is NOT always better. Too much and the padding bunches in places you don't want it to while too little may leave you feeling more discomfort than you want. As far as fit, I tend to size down if I can, knowing that with time the materials will stretch out after the first few rides. Again, this is all personal preference and what works with you and the saddle. YES, it makes a difference.
The last item: chamois cream. There are dozens of creams. I have my favorites and they work, most of the time. The one added thing triathletes need to keep in mind, you swim BEFORE you ride when you race so choose your anti-chafing/blister/friction lube wisely.
Finding the right saddle
Before we started the fit session, I told Chris, ”I’m gonna put a lot of pressure on you to help me find the right saddle. I’ve had a tough time finding one that would work on my own over the years.” I’m not sure if he took this as a harmless challenge or not, but little did either one of us know this was the beginning of seeking out the “Holy Grail” of saddles.
To help in searching for the “Holy Grail” of saddles, Chris utilized a saddle pressure mapping sensor, a wireless device that looks like a gel cover that slips over the saddle. The sensor determines where you contact the saddle, determines the ideal seating position, and the amount of pressure you place on that contact point. An example of what the maps look like are illustrated above. Obviously, this was simply a tool to aid in determining the ideal saddle. What really mattered was rider feedback and how they felt on the saddle.
During testing, I soon found I didn’t like sitting on the sensor much because it covered up the cut out of the saddles (I hope I don’t need to elaborate as to why. Are we done yet?). We looked for narrow nosed saddles since wider saddles in the nose would cause rubbing on the inner thighs and possibly to the hamstrings or other places not meant to be sat on for hours. We paid no attention to the actual width of the saddle (narrower the better) in the rear since I really wouldn’t be sitting on that portion of the saddle on my tri bike. My take on testing saddles: it should be like trying on running shoes, it should be like a pair of socks. A saddle should feel about right once your bum hits the saddle with a few tweaks, as your initial impression, assuming your rear was already conditioned to sit on a bike.
-Fabric Line: I never heard of the brand, but why not. I saw the price of the saddle (not that price was going to deter me) and was like wow…economical and not super heavy. Impression: firm, relief channel (not deep enough), the outer was a rubberized type of material, shaped like a traditional road saddle (pear shaped), eh, not a fan…it tested poorly on my pressure map.
After the conclusion of my first session with Chris, I was excited over the changes, but still very unsure of the new saddle. Within the first week, after the first two rides, I was ready to tear it off the bike. The discomfort and soft tissue pressure was worse than my Terry. I told myself to give it a chance, your nether regions need to get used to the new saddle points. After over 2 weeks, I couldn’t stand it. Different shorts and small tweaks, just didn’t do it. By small tweaks, we’re talking degrees and millimeters of movement. Yes, these minute little measurements make a HUGE difference to comfort or sitting on a pin cushion. Back to the Terry I went while I contacted Chris with my frustrations. He agreed with my assessment. I easily put over 200 agonizing miles on that saddle. It was not meant to be.
-Fabric Tri (new to market, Chris’ “I can’t wait for Jamie to try this one!”): It wasn’t bad, a split nose relief channel, narrow saddle (pear shaped), firm, but didn’t map well. Chris was kinda disappointed…
Also during our first meeting, Chris and I talked about the possibilities of shorter cranks (much shorter than what the main industry has on the market). I had given a lot of thought to doing this modification since that time and interested in what this would feel like. The literature reported that there would be no change in power output by going shorter. Shorter cranks would help improve my hip angle at the top of my pedal stroke (open it), allow for a little bit more wiggle room to get my upper body lower (more aero), and perhaps even help with running off the bike because I’d be more efficient with my pedal stroke and my fit. I asked if we could try it out on the Guru machine. Chris was game. My initial feel was like I was pedaling a tricycle, but my impression was that I really liked it. My pedal stroke smoothed out, the dead spot at the top of the stroke was near nonexistent, my cadence naturally increased, it just felt really nice, like my legs were finally free to turn my pedals. My hips felt stable on my saddle and didn’t feel jammed up like I had to fight with my bike at the top of the pedal stroke. It suited my body metrics and my riding style. I was sold.
After a couple of weeks of adjusting to the new position and barely tolerating my old saddle, I reached out to Chris again. My existing saddle was just not going to cut it. It had gotten to the point that the glass shards sensation was just too much for me to bear on my indoor trainer for an hour to an hour and half, let alone, the 5-7 hour training rides outside. It was agonizing. We both went in search for other options. Something out there has to work.
Part 4 continues with the struggles of seeking the "Holy Grail".