A bicycle saddle, often called a seat, is one of three contact points on an upright bicycle, the others being the pedals and the handlebars. The bicycle saddle has been known as such since the bicycle evolved from the draisine, a forerunner of the bicycle. It performs a similar role as a horse's saddle, not bearing all the weight of the rider as the other contact points also take some of the load.
Typical saddles are composed of a few identifiable components.
The shell creates the shape of the saddle. The nose of the saddle is the forward most part. It is usually rounded. The shell can be made from several materials.
Leather saddles do not have a hard shell. Instead a moulded piece of thick leather is stretched, like a taut hammock, between the front and rear ends of the rails. Traditional leather saddles such as those made by Brooks have been used for many years. Such a saddle is generally more comfortable after a break-in period during which it conforms to the shape of the rider, so long as the basic shape is right to start with.
Saddles designed for hard use e.g. mountain bike or BMX style riding, may have additional cover reinforcements such as kevlar sewn to the cover to withstand abrasion on those areas most prone to abrasion.
The rails of a saddle are the connection point to the rest of the bike. They run along the underside of the saddle from the nose to the rear. Most saddles have two parallel rails that the seatpost clamps to. They provide fore and aft adjustment of the saddle, usually an inch or so (2.5 cm). Rails can be made of steel, titanium, aluminum, manganese, or carbon fiber. Rails may be solid or hollow.
Saddle rails are typically a 7 millimeter diameter, an industry standard for some time. Today some companies are introducing saddles that use carbon fiber rails that have a larger diameter or even an oval shape requiring use of a seatpost specifically designed for the particular rail diameter and/or shape.
A recent innovation, used with carbon shells and rails, is for the rails to be integrated into the shell for their entire length. Another is an interface called pivotal. Pivotal seatposts are common on BMX bikes. They have a concave semicircle of ridges at their top that matches the convex semicircle of ridges on the bottom of a pivotal saddle. The two semicircles are held together with a bolt to attach the saddle to the seatpost. A recent rail type is the i-beam; it extends along much of the saddle's length and uses two clamping bolts. Because the beam is long and the clamp narrow, the i-beam mounting affords a wide fore-aft adjustment range; the saddle clamp however, is of a unique type.
A saddle may contain one or more suspension components to improve rider comfort by absorbing or deadening vibration and shock transmitted by the frame and seatpost.
Saddles may incorporate gel, gel-foam, and/or multiple-density foam padding or lining to cushion impacts from the roadway, while integrated saddle rails may be designed with added length in order to flex vertically, providing limited shock and bump absorption.
Another method encountered on recreational, comfort, or 'cruiser' saddles is to attach a pair of steel coil springs to the rear terminus of the saddle rails, affixed at their other end to the rear of the saddle. Some newer suspension designs replace the twin coil springs with four or more elastomer donut-type springs. By using interchangeable elastomers with variable densities the suspension saddle can be tuned to the rider's weight and riding style. 
Yet another method of suspension utilizes a web-spring platform made of eight or more coil springs mounted horizontally beneath the saddle shell. These springs are connected to each other at the approximate center of the saddle, with the ends connected radially to the perimeter of the saddle frame, forming a spider's web. A shock transmitted to the seat is partially absorbed by this web-spring platform. In an effort to cut cost and weight, some suspension saddles utilize a skeletonized, flexible nylon frame in lieu of the steel web-spring.
Saddles may incorporate two or more of these suspension designs in an effort to provide additional comfort and shock absorption.
The position of the saddle should be adjusted relative to the bottom bracket, not to the ground or handlebars. For example, if the reach to the handlebars is too far, it is better to get a shorter stem than to move the saddle forward of its ideal location. More accurately, saddle height should be adjusted relative to the position of the pedals as fitting different pedals or different length cranks would also mean the saddle needs to be re-adjusted. In practice, the distance from the top of the saddle to the center of the bottom bracket is used as the saddle height, e.g., setting up a new bicycle using measurements from another, as this is easier to measure. Other methods and calculations are used for determining seat height, such as LeMond's formula.
The saddle height should be set so that when pedaling, the legs have a slight bend even when the pedals are at their furthest distance. This means that if the saddle height is properly adjusted, on bikes with traditional geometry, the rider cannot place both feet flat on the ground when seated on the saddle. If they can, their saddle is too low, unless the bike is a recumbent or other crank-forward design.
The saddle should be nearly level, although the height of the handlebars and style of cycling will cause this to vary. In professional bicycle racing, UCI rules require that the saddle be within 3° of level.
Fore and aft
Conventional wisdom dictates that the saddle should be positioned so that when the crankarms are horizontal and the feet are on the pedals the head of fibula of the forward leg is approximately above the pedal spindle in a vertical line. However, several authors argue that there is no anatomical basis for this. Furthermore, the relative position of saddle and bottom bracket varies between road racing, track and triathlon bicycles.
The range of adjustment differs for each saddle, and the comparison of saddles for increased ranges of adjustment can be confusing owing to their different shapes. In comparing them, it is the range of adjustment of their comfort points that need considered, and because the matter is largely subjective, giving it proper attention is difficult to do. The range of fore-aft adjustment for double-rail saddles rarely exceeds an inch or so, but advertisers claim that i-beam saddle designs can give up to 200% more adjustment range than some of these.
When the fore-aft adjustment range of the saddle needs further extension than the clamp affords, it may be possible to add a saddle adjuster. One such adjuster mounts on the existing saddle clamp and allows up to 40mm of increase or decrease in the fore-aft position of the saddle. Another method for increasing the fore-aft adjustment is the swept-back seat post, where the seat post has a curve in it over the six inches or so before the saddle. Because of the gentle sweep of the tube, the top part of the seat-post cannot fit within the seat-tube, so this solution is useful only for high seat positions.
While small saddles are available for children's bikes, the primary size parameter for adult saddles is width. Performance saddles, such as for racing, tend to be narrow. Comfort saddles, often found on hybrid bicycles, tend to be wide.
Several variations have been developed, either for aesthetic reasons, or to address issues mentioned in the next section.
Women-specific saddles have been recently introduced by several manufacturers. These incorporate a variety of differences designed to suit female anatomy. These differences may include a wider seat area, shorter nose, and center relief.
While not adopted by competitive cyclists, no-nose saddles have been shown to improve erectile function among cyclists suffering from ED. A 2008 study measured ED and genital numbness among bicycling police officers who used traditional saddles versus the same officers after using no-nose saddles for six months. The number of officers experiencing genital numbness fell from 73% to 12%. Cases of erectile dysfunction also fell significantly. This research won the Bullard Sherwood Award of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, for intervention research. However, some authorities say this type of seat causes more problems than it cures.
Several issues associated with sitting on traditional bicycle saddles have been identified.
Though riding an upright bicycle improves the cardiovascular system and can therefore actually improve the erectile function among men, riding a bicycle for prolonged periods of time with an unhealthy cycling technique can still cause problems for both men and women due to a reduced blood flow in the crotch area. Some male riders — recent survey data indicates around 5% — may ultimately get erectile dysfunction problems if a poor cycling technique is used with prolonged pressure on the perineum. Both men and women may also get reduced sensitivity in the crotch. A sign of these problems can sometimes be a tingling sensation in the area when stepping off the bicycle after a ride, as blood flow surges back into the area again. This issue is more related to the cycling technique than the saddle type, although there are special, more anatomically correct, designs to relieve crotch pressure as well. Examples of such designs include the cutaway saddles and noseless saddles. Cutaway saddles resemble regular saddles in their design, but with the middle part cut out to reduce pressure on the perineum among men. Noseless saddles are basically two separate saddles next to each other, with one smaller "saddle" per buttock. Such saddles achieve a similar relief of pressure by using a different design.
Some useful techniques to reduce crotch pressure while cycling include:
- Ensuring the saddle is roughly horizontally aligned, or only slightly nose up. Having overly upwards nose alignment will directly increase the perineum pressure, while a downwards alignment will reduce the sit bone support of the pelvis, again resulting in an increased perineum pressure.
- Standing up occasionally, such as on hills and when accelerating.
- Adjusting seating position from time to time. For example, sitting closer to the rear when cycling on hills and only sitting on the nose for brief periods.
- Sitting up now and then without leaning forward as much.
Erectile dysfunction and genital numbness
Bicycle riding has been correlated with genital numbness, erectile dysfunction (ED) and perianal hematoma, and several studies have shown that long-distance cyclists have an increased incidence of ED as compared to the general population. ED and genital numbness result from compression of the cyclists' perineal region while sitting on their saddles. To alleviate the problem, manufacturers have designed a number of bicycle saddles that purport to allow greater blood flow through the pudendal artery[disambiguation needed]. These saddles vary in shape, width, and padding and have been studied to determine any actual effects on cyclists' health. (However, most current research excludes discussion of female sexual dysfunction and genital numbness.)
The studies have shown that wider saddles tend to increase penile blood flow while cycling, though wider seats also induce chafing and impede a cyclist’s full range of leg motion. A downward-tilted saddle relieves pressure on the perineum and the "sit bones" (ischial tuberosities), thus improving a cyclist's perineal blood flow. Most saddles include padding, generally foam or gel. Gel padding tends to distribute pressure in the perineum and provide higher levels of penile oxygenation than does foam padding. However, width and design have proved to be more important than the amount of saddle padding in determining the intensity of perineal distress the cyclist suffers. In fact, some researchers have postulated that extra padding, foam or gel, can result in an increased prevalence of pain in the sit bones.
Gallery of saddle types
A Brooks leather saddle.
- Brown, Sheldon. "Glossary: Saddle". Retrieved 2009-05-28.
- "Selle San Marco Handmade in Italy since 1935". Archived from the original on 27 March 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-29.
- "Brooks England Since, 1866 Saddles, Bags, Etc.". Archived from the original on 23 March 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-29.
- "Koobi Saddles Handmade in Italy". Archived from the original on 12 July 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-24.
- "A Comfortable Saddle by Sheldon "Comfort" Brown". Archived from the original on 25 March 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-29.
- Brown, Sheldon. "A Comfortable Saddle". Sheldon Brown. Retrieved 2010-06-17.
- Steve Frothingham (2011-12-22). "On the level: UCI clarifies saddle rule". Bicycle Retailer & Industry News. Retrieved 2011-12-23. "The saddle rule — requiring seats to be no more than three degrees off horizontal."
- Jim Langley (2010). "Bicycle Seats Explained". Archived from the original on 11 February 2010. Retrieved 2010-03-08. "Hold a plumb line (a thread with a nut on the end works fine) against the indentation just beneath the bone that’s below your kneecap. Adjust the seat fore and aft on the rails until the plumb line bisects the pedal axle."
- Keith Bontrager (1998). "The Myth of KOPS - An Alternative Method of Bike Fit". Sheldon Brown. Archived from the original on 29 June 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-27. "The ... rule of thumb has no biomechanical basis at all."
- Peter Jon White (2007). "How to Fit a Bicycle". Retrieved 2010-03-08. "Most fitting "systems" specify that some part of your knee be directly over the pedal axle at some alignment of the crank, usually with the pedal forward and the crank horizontal. This is pure nonsense."
- Brown, Sheldon. "Banana Seat". Sheldon Brown. Retrieved 2010-06-27.
- "Women's Cycle Racing Association, FAQ, What's so special about these "women specific" saddles?". Archived from the original on 2006-12-21. Retrieved 2007-03-29.
- Breda, G., Piazza, N., Bernardi, V., Lunardon, E., & Caruso, A. (2005, September). "Development of a New Geometric Bicycle Saddle for the Maintenance of Genital–Perineal Vascular Perfusion." Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2(5), 605-611.
- Wiley-Blackwell (2008, August 8). "No-nose Bicycle Saddles Improve Penile Sensation And Erectile Function In Bicycling Police Officers." ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 22, 2008.
- Brown, Sheldon. "A Comfortable Saddle". Sheldon Brown. Archived from the original on 10 June 2011. Retrieved 2011-07-05.
- "Research On Bicycle Saddles And Sexual Health Comes Of Age". Retrieved 2007-03-29.
- Gemery, J., Nangia, A., Mamourian, A., & Reid, S. (2007, January). "Digital three-dimensional modelling of the male pelvis and bicycle seats: impact of rider position and seat design on potential penile hypoxia and erectile dysfunction." BJU International, 99(1), 135-140.
- Schrader, S. M., Breitenstein, M., & Lowe, B. (2000). "City of Long Beach Police Department." Health Hazard Evaluation Report 2000-0305-2848. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
- Tolme, P. (2005, October 31). "DON'T BE A SOFTY." Newsweek, 146(18), 66-66.
- "Standard bicycle seat can lead to erectile dysfunction." (2007, June). Mayo Clinic Health Letter.
- Dettori, N., & Norvell, D. (2006, January). "Non-Traumatic Bicycle Injuries: A Review of the Literature." Sports Medicine, 36(1), 7-18.
- Huang, V., Munarriz, R., & Goldstein, I. (2005, September). "Bicycle Riding and Erectile Dysfunction: An Increase in Interest (and Concern)." Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2(5), 596-604.
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