For access to all of our training, gear, and race coverage, plus exclusive training plans, FinisherPix photos, event discounts, and GPS apps, sign up for Outside+.
No part of a bike is more individual than your saddle choice. What sits underneath your most sensitive contact point can make or break your comfort — and therefore your enjoyment and performance — during a ride. Jonathan Blyer, master bike fitter and owner of ACME Bicycle Co. in Brooklyn, N.Y., stocks multiple saddles in his shop so he can get his clients dialed in with their perfect match.
“From my experience working with people, you’ll be much happier down the line if you spend the time to find the right saddle at the start of their fit,” he says. Ideally you have a bike fitter who carries various models to try, but if not, it’s important to identify what kind of discomfort is normal on the bike versus what’s not.
This Is Normal
— Minor bruising or a little bit of soreness under your skeletal system, particularly in the sit bones or pubic ramus area
— Minor skin irritation
— Discomfort when increasing time in the saddle
— On a split-nose saddle, like the ISM Adamo or Dash, discomfort more focused on the pubic ramus area (under the pelvis) that gets better as you acclimate to the saddle over a few weeks
This Is Not Normal
— Severe chafing (saddle sores or cysts)
— Inflammation of the genitals
— Prolonged numbness, including pain or difficulty urinating after riding
— Loss or decrease in bladder control
Breaking In A New Saddle
It’s completely normal to experience some discomfort on the initial few rides on a new saddle. You can make this adjustment period go more smoothly by following a few key rules.
— Increase mileage gradually
— Don’t ride in tri shorts all the time — try high-quality
— Use chamois cream liberally
— Keep the area sterile, dry and clean when not riding
— Use Aquaphor (or similar) ointments to help with skin irritation
— Try acne medicine to deal with saddle sores.
— If symptoms persist, see a doctor.
It used to be commonplace for bike manufacturers to throw a cheap, generic saddle onto their frames because most people would swap them for their own preferred model. But in the past couple of years, companies have started stocking their bikes with tri-specific saddles that often have aftermarket values upward of $150.
Guru, Cervélo, Quintana Roo and Felt offer ISM Adamo saddles on at least some of their models, and Trek and Specialized have added their own tri saddles to new bikes. This trend may save you the trouble of replacing your new bike’s saddle, but keep in mind that not every model is a perfect fit for every athlete.
Follow Triathlete on Twitter @Triathletemag for inspiration, new workout ideas, gear reviews from our editors and more.