Bicycle Seats – The design of bicycle seats, otherwise known as “saddles,” had remained unchanged until the 1990s, when manufacturers responded to public demand for a kinder and gentler design. The biggest complaint, by both men and women cyclists who rode long distances or in rough terrain, was that they experienced numbness in the perineum area. This area, located between the ischial tuberosities or the “sit bones,” is traversed with the nerves and arteries responsible for regulating everything from waste to sexual function. So the new design for bicycle seats featured a raised and padded area that distributed weight evenly across the sit bones and a cutout or softened groove where the perineum would come in contact with the bicycle seats. Bicycle seats are also ranked as a high wear component. They are subject to breakdown caused by more than half of a cyclist’s weight continuously compressing and sliding around on it for hours and its vulnerability to scuffing should the bike hit the ground. Bicycle seats like shoes, required a personal-fit, and therefore, need to be tried on for size. Everyone has a different bone structure, and bicycle seats that work for your friends may not work for you. So before you start sampling, here’s the lowdown on the parts that make up bicycle seats.
Bicycle seats that are too wide will chafe and rub, while those that are too narrow can make you feel like you’re straddling a stairway banister. A female’s sit bones are generally more widely spaced than those of a male, therefore, a women-specific bicycle seats will need to have a wider shape. A few manufactures of bicycle seats now supply shops with special pads to measure your sit-bone width, to help take the guesswork out of picking the right-width seat.
The shell determines how bicycle seats will flex and give under a rider’s weight. The hard structural shell are made from injected-molded plastic, typically nylon. Sometimes carbon fiber is mixed with the plastic to lower its weight and tweak its flex characteristics A few models use an all-carbon shell for even lighter weight. In recent years, many shells have incorporated holes, slots or grooves through the nose section to shift pressure away from soft tissue and toward the sit bones. Solid-nose bicycle seats are said to work best for those cyclists that naturally sit crooked on their seats. You can also find the traditional leather bicycle seats that use a piece of cowhide riveted to a frame on the rails, rather than the plastic sandwich system.
Urethane foams along with polymer gels are most commonly used in varying thicknesses and densities for padding on the shells on bicycle seats to add comfort at high-pressure areas. More padding doesn’t mean more comfort. For example, when you sit on overly thick padding, it can deform and migrate to places where you don’t want pressure, like between the sit bones. If you want nothing between you and your carbon fiber, there are flyweight bicycle seats with no padding at all.
Until around 15 years ago, virtually all rails on bicycle seats were made from cheap, heavy, chrome-plated carbon steel. Today, titanium remains the material of choice for due to its lighter weight and durability. However, for cost savings, strong, light weight steels, such as chrome-moly, in hollow tubular form, are most commonly used. Super light-weight carbon fiber rails can be found on some high end bicycle seats, however, since they can be easily gouged by steel seat clamps, they are often wrapped in aluminum to increase toughness. A few companies offer a proprietary monorail or beam system with a dedicated seat.
The smooth, outer skin can be leather (cowhide, or even exotics like alligator or snake skin), synthetic leather, or assorted kinds of fabrics and plastics, including bulletproof Kevlar. Some are perforated with tiny holes to increase friction to keep you from sliding around. Since off-road bicycle seats can take a beating, reinforced corners are offered on some models to increase durability when the bike meets the road. Color options are also available to stylize your bicycle seats, but basic black hides wear and fade the best.