Can a Bike Saddle be Too Wide or Too Narrow?

It’s essential to consider the comfort level of one’s bike saddle when riding. The bike saddle is what you use to distribute your weight evenly across the bike, achieving an appropriate balance level. With that balance, a person can hit the petals hard in comfort. However, if the bike saddle is too wide or too narrow, the entire bike riding experience won’t feel comfortable.

Bike saddles can be either too wide or too narrow because of an initial improper adjustment when the bike or saddle was purchased. So, don’t simply throw away a bike saddle because you think it is uncomfortable. Instead, try to have it adjusted properly.

Since there isn’t much information available on the Internet covering how wide a bike saddle should be, we created this article to help you out. Below we’ll discuss how both width and narrowness effect the comfort level of a bike saddle.

How Wide Should a Bike Saddle Be?

The bike saddle is vital to how comfortable the rider will feel. The size of a person’s saddle should factor in the space that falls in between the rider’s sit bones. If a person’s saddle is too narrow, then his or her sit bones will stick out over the sides, and the soft tissues will uncomfortably carry your weight. If the saddle is too wide, it can create chafing on a person’s inner thigh. That can be a difficult problem to deal with when the weather is hot.

Many people discover later that the challenges they have been experiencing with their bike saddles are due to improper adjustment. So, if you notice your saddle doesn’t fit well and it’s uncomfortable to sit in, don’t throw it away. While many people want to trash their uncomfortable bike saddles, it’s a waste of money. It’s better to adjust your bike saddle or have an expert adjust your bike saddle so that you can get the best fit for yourself.

Recently, several saddle manufacturers realized the concept of a comfortable saddle associated with width is essential to experiencing an enjoyable ride. Specialized was one of the first manufacturers to experiment with and actively market different bike saddle widths. They also offered sit bone width measuring devices in stores. Brooks also offers several different saddle widths, but unlike Specialized, they leave it up to the customer and don’t have devices that can measure and match you.

Measuring Your Sit Bone Width

There are a few different ways to assess one’s sit bone width and then match that measurement to the correct saddle width. While measuring the sit bone is a logical approach, you will need to know a few things about it to understand the readings.

One problem you’ll need to be aware of when it comes to measuring your sit bones is that people’s sit bones don’t work as single points. Instead, they are typically 30-40mm longer and narrower towards the front area of the bike saddle. For example, a person with a more upright pelvis may need to purchase a wider saddle without a strong anterior tilt, but how you sit on the sit bone measuring device may affect how you are measured.

Instead, it may be better to pair a sit bone measurement with some observation regarding how the person rides, and where he or she typically sits on the saddle. By assessing both of these standards, people will be able to find a more suitable saddle width measurement and a more comfortable saddle with which to ride.

Examples of Observation

Individuals that have wide sit bones typically sit way far back when paired with a narrow saddle. On the other hand, a person with narrow sit bones will feel pushed forwards in a wide saddle. If the saddle’s rails are not equipped to allow the saddle to move far back enough, then the saddle is probably too wide for you, or you could have an inline seat post fitted.

On the other hand, if you can’t get the saddle to move forward enough and you feel like you are hanging off of the end of the saddle, then the saddle is probably too narrow.

To understand saddle measurement even better, we’ll also break down the typical saddle measurements for men as well as women:

  • Men usually have sit bones that are about 120mm wide
  • Women typically have sit bones that are 130-135mm wide

Keep in mind that the list above is based on broad measurements. Remember, there is a lot of variety in human height. While that might make it seem like there should also be a wide range in sit bone width, it is very unusual to see a person have a width under 110mm or one that is over 140mm. So, our estimates are based on averages, and there can be some exceptions to this rule.

Most cyclists want to rest their sit bones on a nice, comfortable area of the seat and not experience falling off the bike saddle’s sides in some way. So, many saddles are made to be a minimum of 10mm wider on each side than the sit bone width that you are. Some standard sizes of bike saddles are usually between 138-144mm on average. For those that use narrow saddles, they may fall between 130mm. Wider ones may be over 150mm.

Hard Saddle Seats vs. Soft Saddle Seats

When a person rides in a new bike saddle and thinks that saddle is uncomfortable, they often want to go shopping for a soft bike saddle. However, thinking about your bike saddle this way is a mistake. For example, let’s compare mattresses to soft saddle seats. Not everybody feels that the softest mattresses are the most comfortable to use when sleeping. Similarly, the softest bike saddle won’t be the most comfortable one for you to use to ride.

The “Two-Bump Problem”

If you were to sit down on top of a coffee table, your weight would all be placed on two bumps, known as sit bones. The sit bones in your body were made to bear your seated weight correctly. So, when you experience saddle-related discomfort while riding your bike, it’s usually because that load is not being carried properly. Instead of being carried on the sit bones, the weight is now being carried on the soft tissues between the sit bones, and that creates an uncomfortable experience.

Now let’s say you place a soft pillow on the coffee table and sit down on it. As you sat down, your sit bones started to compress the pillow. So, now, your sit bones are almost solely against the table’s surface just like before. The only variation now is that you have pressure falling between your sit bones because of the middle area of the pillow.

Similarly, a saddle that is exceptionally soft and has thick padding can make you feel uncomfortable because it increases the pressure you feel in between your sit bones.

Unfortunately, many cyclists aren’t aware of this concept. So, many saddles try to impress a buyer who wants a saddle based on how easily his or her thumb can sink on the soft top of the saddle. However, buying these softer types of saddles only gives you a decent comfort level if you are going to be performing very small rides.

Bike saddles that use too much padding also create a lot of painful chafing on the cyclist’s inner thigh while riding.

Conclusion

While many people want to throw away an uncomfortable bike saddle and buy a new one, this is often a waste of money. It’s important first to check to see if your bike saddle discomfort is coming from the fact that your bike wasn’t properly adjusted in the first place. So, consider having your bike adjusted by an expert before you go shopping for a new bike saddle.

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